There's a commercial for Sprint making the rounds that begins with the phrase “The miraculous is everywhere, in our homes, in our minds. We can share every second in data dressed as pixels.” It continues, brim full of optimism, a tiny hymn of praise to the power invested in every human being (with an iphone) to capture “every second” of their lives in photographs and upload them all onto the internet. This kind of democratic photojournalism is proof, it declares, of progress and the power of human spirit and ingenuity. It concludes by saying, “I need to upload all of me. I need, no, I have the right to be unlimited.” How dare any phone company limit how many bits and bites of data I can funnel to the world wide web? The very idea that I could be charged extra money for the privilege is an affront to human decency!
I'll set aside my concerns with the dubious (or maybe downright disturbing?) wisdom of sharing every second of our lives in “data dressed as pixels” with the world at large for the moment. Ever since I saw this commercial, it's been that last phrase that I've had phrase repeating round and round in my head: “I need, no, I have the right to be unlimited.” It seems to me a particularly American sentiment, this idea that limits are evil and ultimate freedom is the ultimate good. And in a way, I can identify with that. We're in the process of buying a house, and let me tell you, the number of limits and rules and regulations that have been imposed since the last time we did this can be downright maddening at times. The same goes for homeschooling. The Mr. and I have a libertarian streak, after all, and the idea that I have to be accountable to the state to tell them what health curriculum I am using with my second grader is more than a little irritating. In my day-to-day life, I bump up against limits all the time, some of them imposed from the outside, some of them self-imposed, many of them frustrating and even painful. I hate facing the limit of a budget. I hate facing the limit of time, most of which is already spent before the day even begins. I hate facing the limit of space which prevents me from being close to people I love. I hate facing the limits of my own will and many days have to admit that most of my failures are the direct result of my own apathy and laziness.
On the other hand, I am not of the school of parenting which believes that “no” is the worst word a child can hear. I think that the limits I put on them actually are for their good and give them a feeling of comfort and security. If nothing is off limits, then nothing is certain. I do my best to make sure that the limitations I put on them aren't random or arbitrary, but are rather for their good, for their safety, and to help them grow into the people that they were designed to be. I love them, therefore, I limit them. I can't see that life without limits results in anything but chaos for them. And, if I believe that for my kids, don't I have to accept that for myself too? Certainly I am capable of far more than I produce on any given day, and certainly I allow myself to be more limited than I need to be in many areas. But is “having it all” really what I want? Really what's best for me?
Anne-Marie Slaughter caused a bit of a ruckus in some feminist circles when she published an article in The Atlantic entitled“Why Women Still Can't Have it All” in which she asserted that it frankly wasn't possible for her to hold a high-powered job in Washington D.C. and fulfill all of her obligations to her family in New Jersey, and that this was not just true of her, but of women generally. It's an interesting read, and I agree with many of her points. Her ultimate conclusion, however, still makes me a bit uneasy. She says, “I still strongly believe that women can 'have it all' (and that men can too). I believe that we can 'have it all at the same time.' But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured.” In other words, it's the system's fault, and if we could just fix this male-designed and dominated system, we'd all be good to go: “If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too. We have the power to do it if we decide to, and we have many men standing beside us.” She's probably right. The kinds of changes she suggests probably would make our society more humane, more flexible, more accommodating to more people. But, she never even asks the more basic question: “Is 'having it all' even something that is good and healthy for me? For anyone?”
Perhaps it all comes down to a question of trust. Do you trust the limit-setter or don't you? I think we are right to strain against the limits that come from forces more interested in economic gain, political power, and the maintenance of a cultural status quo than in the welfare of human beings. Any limit that comes with a “because this is the way it is” or “because this is what will make me rich or powerful or happy” or “because this will give us more control over you” deserves to be at least questioned, possibly stretched, and perhaps eliminated entirely. But a limit that comes with a “because I love you” is a different thing entirely. My choice to give up teaching, a job I loved, and focus on being a stay-at-home parent had little to do with traditional notions of womanhood and absolutely nothing to do with the demands of a domineering husband, but everything to do with the fact that I realized I was up against a limit that I simply couldn't, and shouldn't, hurdle. It was and continues to be a limit that I clearly feel was placed there by someone who really loves me, someone who has searched me and known me, someone who knows when I sit down and when I stand up, someone who knows all my thoughts and understands them even better than I do myself, someone who is familiar with all my ways, someone who has literally “hem[ed] me in behind and before” (Psalm 139:1-5). It doesn't make living with these limits easy, but it can, at times, make it easier. And there are even grace-ful moments when I can delight in my limits, saying with the Psalmist: "The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;/surely I have a delightful inheritance" (16:6).