Discerning Whether to Push on or Not

I lay on the itchy carpet, my knee swiveled across my body and my arms splayed out to either side like a fallen cornstalk. A deep breath found the sharpness of a clenched back muscle and I shivered into the pain. “Feel the feeling.” My right eye trickled, the salt trail hot, then cold as it rolled into my ear. Another breath, another pain. The soothing voice of the legging-clad lady murmured “Honor your boundary, don’t push past.” I relaxed the effort to stretch, and waited for my muscle to retreat to an ember from it’s flaming pain. My right eye kept trickling; my breath alternating between deep and held. 

I had queued this video intentionally to pay attention to my body and heart aches, to intentionally turn towards difficult emotions I knew I had been avoiding and were now clenched into knots. For a long time, I’d been repetitively blowing past personal boundaries to cope with ever-changing situations and care for the people I love. Now, even in relaxing I was pushing my boundaries. Lord, have mercy.

“Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup, you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, surely I have a delightful inheritance.”

Psalm 16:5-6

I knew I had pushed beyond my margins because my delight in many things had diluted, even disappeared sometimes. I was in pleasant places, but my heart was unpleasant. I was not feeling secure, but worried, controlling, doing more and more, and having trouble resting. It was taking longer to replenish energy when I exerted myself, which I did only to honor my commitments, not because of a sense of purpose or delight. 

Maybe you recognize the feeling of diluted delight, or extra exerted energy? There are many different kinds of boundaries that we can push past: emotional, physical, interpersonal, spiritual, and mental. We know we’ve exceeded one by things like pain, illness or tension in the body, resentment, not knowing why we did something, irritation, fatigue, sudden emotion (ours or anothers), feeling down or depressed, among other tells. 

One thing we can do is ask ourselves,

“What do I–my body, my mind, my heart–want to do? What am I longing for? What depletion is it pointing to?”

It’s important to ask and look without judgment, to just let your body, emotions, thoughts inform you that you’ve pushed too hard. This is information given you to turn and make the needed changes, not a judgment. We all cope, and God invites us through noticing how we do into a deeper experience of his care. Generally speaking, our culture, Christian or American, has not taught us to pay attention to our bodies and longings in healthy ways, so we have a lot of learning to do. 

Take some moments to breathe deeply and sit with your attention lovingly turned to your body and emotions. Imagine Jesus’ loving gaze on you, present and helping, offering compassion. What do you notice in your body? What message is it giving you and Jesus? Allow your emotion to arise and inform any prayer to the One regarding you with Love. Linger and listen.

What was that like for you? 

Especially when we are in or recovering from difficult circumstances, this practice can help us access God’s compassion. But there are also times when we need to push, in which case this can help ground and empower us to persevere. God is always in the process of lovingly transforming us which necessarily means going beyond a previous limit. His love, his kingdom is generative and multiplies, so we do too as we lean into his purposes for us. We grow! But the push of growth is different from the push of coping. It comes from a deeper place, from deep in the roots of who God made each of us to be and offer in this world, from one’s soul, rather than one’s reaction to life’s circumstances. 

Wonder around the pushing you notice in yourself, is it a striving reaction or from a settled conviction? What stirs the pot to push on–a pestering worry or an invitation to grow? 

One of my favorite questions when it comes to discerning these motivators comes from Emily P. Freeman. She asks,

“Are you pushed by fear or led by love?”

Emily P. Freeman

So, as you continue on your way, maybe carry this question with you as you encounter the jostles of life. Keep turning back to the compassion of Jesus and wonder with him what is pushing you and why. As we are increasingly led by love, we will grow in Christlikeness.

2 thoughts on “Discerning Whether to Push on or Not”

  1. This was an apple of gold in a setting of silver, and a needed good word, as I return from the lake and woods and enter back into my high-octane, fast-paced life.
    I am going to remember this question, whether I am pushed by fear or led by love. for perfect love casts out fear.

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