I am tip-toeing—or perhaps lurching—toward the age of 50. Whatever it means to be middle-aged, I am indisputably now well within that range. This stage of life has introduced some new trials, new difficulties, and new indignities, many of them related to a body that is no longer what it once was. But this stretch of time has also introduced some blessings.
Among those blessings is a sense of realism about myself that may have been missing in my younger years. I increasingly know who I am and, of equal importance, who I am not. I have a deeper understanding of what I am capable of and what I am incapable of. I have learned what I can expect of myself and what will only ever be beyond my capacity.
When I was young I aimed for the stars and honestly thought I was capable of reaching them. I modeled my life after luminaries and saw no reason why I couldn’t match or even surpass them. My ambitions were as great as my assessment of my own abilities. My energy was very nearly boundless. Such is the charming naiveté of youth.
But through many false starts, through many broken attempts, and through many sore failures, I have been forced to learn that even though I have strengths, I also have weaknesses and even though I have abilities, I also have inabilities. God has gifted me in some ways, but not others. He has provided certain opportunities but denied many more. As important as it has been to learn who God has made me to be has been learning, admitting, and embracing who he has not made me to be.
God has not made me the kind of person who can produce vast quantities of the highest standard of work. To the contrary, he has limited my capacities, my abilities, and my opportunities, not to mention my intellectual capabilities. I am physically weak and easily fatigued, and though my writing plans may be ambitious, my hands are damaged and can type for only a few hours each day before I have to step away from my desk and let them rest. Though my mind may be quick, my formal education is relatively small and limits my ability to think and write in great depth. These weaknesses and so many others mean that I never can and never will produce the quantity and kind of work that some others seem to produce and that I may have expected myself to produce. They serve to limit me.
And while there may have been a time when that would threaten to discourage me, there is actually a sense of relief that comes with this kind of self-knowledge. There is a kind of freedom—freedom from false and unfair expectations. I know now that God won’t assess me according to the gifts, talents, and opportunities he has given to someone else and neither will he assess me according to the ambitions I might have once held for myself. He will assess me according to what he assigned to me and what he made me to be.
I used to see weakness as a trial I needed to challenge and overcome. I used to see weakness as an obstacle that stood between me and my purpose. I used to see weakness as one of life’s great discouragements. But now I see weakness as part of God’s plan for me. Now I see a realistic assessment of my weakness as what guides me to my purpose. Now I am encouraged by weakness, for it helps me understand and even become the man God means for me to be.