The blessing of limits

Dear colleagues, 

Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve heard several people connect public health guidelines intended to restrict the spread of covid-19 with Jesus’ commandment to love one’s neighbour. It makes sense: wearing a mask and keeping physical distance are about protecting other people. If all of us do this, we reduce the spread of the virus and come pretty close to doing what Jesus taught: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) 

In Quebec, we are now in week 2 of an 8pm to 5am curfew. As the reality of this has settled in, I have found myself wondering if this curfew is teaching us something new about our Christian life: not only are we called to care for others, we are also called to care for ourselves.  

“Self-care” has become a popular concept in recent years, both in the church (especially in ministry training) and in broader society (especially advertising). The curfew has me thinking that instead of self-care, another phrase we could use is self-limitation. Sometimes the best way we can take care of ourselves is by placing limits on what we allow ourselves to do. This has sometimes been called “the spiritual discipline of saying ‘no’” and it is an immensely important skill for Christian ministry. While we all want to care for others and share Christ’s love with the world, we also need to know the limits of our ministry and our energy. 

In a monastic community I once spent time in, the final service of the evening was about 8pm and the first was about 5am. In between, it was expected that everyone would be asleep and resting for the next day. It was a conscious limitation imposed for the good of all. Perhaps inspired by this community, when the curfew was announced I thought about changing my bedtime to 8pm and morning alarm to 5am. (This idea lasted about a nanosecond when I realized it didn’t work with my family’s sleep schedules.) But there are many other limits I try to place on my life—when I go to sleep at night, what I eat, when and how I look at screens, the amount of time I spend on those screens, and much else. Sometimes I can’t stick to these limits. Still, in the always-on, non-stop world we live in the idea that it’s possible to have done enough for a day and go to bed can feel like a revolutionary act. 

Living under curfew is not easy, and it’s especially difficult for those who have inadequate or challenging housing arrangements. But this external limitation may be a reminder, again, of the importance of boundaries and limits in our lives and in our ministries. 

Faithfully yours,

This message was written by Principal Jesse Zink for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.