In an often viewed TED talk, artist Phil Hansen talks about “embracing the shake.” It is a great message, one truly worth watching (above) or reading. In the face of nerve damage that left his hand shaking too badly to make his preferred art, he learned to embrace this limitation, and it led to more creativity than he could have imagined. His message of embracing limitations should ring especially true for followers of Christ, and may be particularly hopeful for those facing mental illness.
“…at the time this was really doomsday.”
On first encountering his problem, Phil gave up on art, thinking his limitation was a total block. We often think that we have to have perfect health or great abilities, and without them we cannot accomplish anything worthwhile. He thought he needed steady hands and a pile of supplies. We think we need time, money, confidence, motivation, more support or a better body. We can waste our lives trying to accumulate resources or find the perfect conditions, putting off getting started because we think we are not yet good enough. The tragedy is that when we finally are in what seems like a much better position, we realize it is still no guarantee we will get what we really want. When he finally had the money and bought a load of supplies, Phil found himself creatively stumped.
“… embracing a limitation could actually drive creativity.”
Phil found that intentionally embracing the limitations of his current situation was actually freeing. Working with only a dollar, instead of being constricting, set his imagination on fire. As Christians, we realize we are limited, especially when we acknowledge our place as creations of God. God repeatedly tells us that we need to lean on Him. Many saints give us the inspiration to just start with what we have, and watch as God transforms our few loaves and fishes into something much greater. How many times has God showed us this? Juan Diego the poor native, Jacinta and Francisco the little children, Matthew the tax collector, Francis the failed fighter, Peter the tower of impulsivity, Joseph the carpenter – God has always shown that he can do the greatest things through the most limited people.
“… the ultimate limitation actually turned out to be the ultimate liberation”
I know that I like to be in control. I like to feel that I can make things come out how I want them to. I would like to believe that with enough research, I won’t buy a bad product. With enough planning I will ensure a good adventure. With enough work, I will always be successful. But we are not ultimately in control. I was confronted with this this past week, when I arrived with my family for a much anticipated vacation and promptly came down sick. Nothing I could do changed it. At times I complained, fought it, thought of how it could have been better. At those times I was miserable. But other times I turned it over to God, said “I can’t change this. What can I do?” At one point I found myself just sitting on a porch, whittling my daughter’s name into a walking stick. And I enjoyed the stillness in a way that I do not often let myself. I was more peaceful because of my enforced inactivity than if I had had all the energy I wanted. Embracing my lack of control liberated me from my funk.
This is true for all of us, right? When we admit the limits of our control, our power, we become free to do what we can. When we realize that God is our source, we allow ourselves to depend on him. When we own our creaturehood, we allow God to create beauty through us.
“I was learning to let go, let go of outcomes, let go of failures, and let go of imperfections.”
I think this message applies to all of us, but it is one I particularly would want to share with those who have been given a mental disorder label. I think there is a tendency in our society to highlight the flaws, to say what cannot be done. Those with a mental illness can feel like so much possibility has been stolen, like their struggles are a dealbreaker.
Here is what I would say: So your hand shakes. Can you still create art? Even if it’s not the exact pieces that you thought you might? How could you “embrace the shake?” If you accepted your limitations, and worked within them, what might you do with your life? If God can work with the angry Peter, the fleeing John, the doubting Thomas, what might he be able to do with you?
What would happen if we all were less wrapped up in outcome, success/failure, imperfections and flaws? What if we looked for and embraced all the good? Saw the ways that even our cracks allow the beauty of God to shine through?
“And instead of telling each other to seize the day, maybe we can remind ourselves every day to seize the limitation.”
The pressure of trying to be perfect can crush us. The guilt of feeling like we failed to seize the day can poison us. Comparing ourselves to our “could-be” self, our “if-I-just-had” self, or our “except-for-that” self can drown us in disappointment. In contrast, we thrive when we can recognize and accept our situation, own our limits, and work with what we have. Then, instead of spending our energy breaking down all barriers, we can live in ways that are truly creative. When we stop believing that we need to be flawless in order to do something valuable, we open ourselves to the possibility that God can use our brokenness. We can place ourselves at God’s feet, and rather than trying to do it all ourselves, embrace our role as vessels of His truth, goodness and beauty.
Please feel free to share the ways that God has worked through your limitations!
This article originally appeared on PsychedCatholic and is republished with permission.