You Can Do Anything. But You Cannot Do Everything


October 26, 2018



I want to pursue an idea I floated a few weeks ago here, because I think it's amazingly good news.

And that has to do with taking seriously Paul's language (in 1 Corinthians 12) that each of us is a particular PART OF -- but none of us IS -- the Body of Christ.

There's a line from the book Essentialism that captures this pretty well:

"I can do anything, but I cannot do everything."

I love that line. I love it so much I'm trying to make it a bit of a mantra. Not only for myself, but as a reminder about others, and the church.

Part of the reason I love it is that it contains both confidence AND humility in equal measure.

"I can do anything" (confidence).

"But I cannot do everything" (humility).

It's true, of course, for each of us:  

"You can do anything.

  • Good parents tell their children this: "you can do anything you set your mind to: want to be an athlete? A clarinetist? An accountant, social worker, teacher, doctor? You can do anything."

  • But more practically, apply this to you, right now. Today you can do anything: go to the post office and mail that package? Get a haircut? Answer emails? Fertilize the lawn? Volunteer at a Get-out-the-vote drive? Watch something on Netflix?

"But you cannot do everything."

  • Good parents also tell their children that!  "Life is full of trade-offs: if you want to play soccer, then clarinet lessons will take place in the off-season. If you want to be an accountant, then you'll need to take lots of math classes, and fewer history classes."

  • But more practically: "well, I have an hour right now: if I get a haircut, I won't be able to fertilize the lawn...I can do anything, but I can't do everything."

It's also true of others and a good thing to remind ourselves about others:

  • "He/she (my spouse, my boss, my colleague, that overworked employee at the checkout line) can do anything, but he/she cannot do everything....so...

  • "Maybe I need to adjust my expectations about this person, give them a break."

It's also true of our church:

Unfortunately, there are not a lot of voices in our culture reminding us of this truth. Sure, sometimes we hear it in bits of wisdom like, "choose your battles," or "you can't be all things to all people."

But more often the voices in our culture try convincing us of the exact  opposite: our culture whispers (and sometimes screams) 

"you can have it all!"

"You can DO it all!"

"You can please everyone -- all the time!" 

That's perhaps flattering. And as advertisers and self-improvement seminar leaders well know, it sells lots of products.  But it's a lie. An oppressive lie.

Liberating us from that lie and oppression is 1 Corinthians 12: "be the part of the body YOU are."

Feel the liberation that comes with saying, "I can do anything, but I cannot do everything" -- and of giving yourself permission to do fewer things better. Feel the joy of doing quality work, not just a greater quantity of work.  

Feel the confidence (and humility!) to trust that both these things are true:

  1. you have an important, even critical role to play, AND

  2. it is not all about you. Other parts of the Body of Christ will play their parts, as we play ours.

For it is God, not us, who the coordinator: the one who knits us all together for God's purposes.

See you Sunday,

John

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