The Sacredness of Limits
BY BRENNA DAVIS | May 3, 2021
“He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.”
Recently, I’ve been pondering the connection between freedom and limits. When given the space and complete freedom to spend time however I wanted during the past year (as someone who has worked from home without children) I have not thrived. Without the limits normally placed on my day, such as a time that I need to leave my house for work, I have learned that even with all the extra time I’ve ever wished for to explore hobbies, exercise, or pray, I mostly chose to veg out. I’ve paradoxically lost a certain amount of zest and energy for life—I’ve recently seen this named as languishing here and here— despite an increase in freedom of time.
Wisdom can always be found in nature, and the gospel passage about the vine and the branches has a lesson to teach us on the sacredness of limits. The image of being pruned is one that I find particularly intriguing after a year in pandemic. Cutting away what no longer serves us gives us true space and energy to continue to grow and thrive. Remaining tapped into the vine, the source of Life and energy, is essential to bearing abundant fruit. If we feel barren in this moment, we can invite God to help us discern what we can let go of and what limits we can set for ourselves. That will help us to thrive in our work for justice.
The Ignatian term agere contra reminds us to “act against” that which is no longer helping us to love and serve God, especially when we find ourselves in moments of desolation. If you feel you don’t have the energy to do that, St. Ignatius tells us we can pray for the grace to desire what we know will bring us more abundant life. When all else fails, I can desire the desire to pray the Examen at night instead of falling asleep to a video on my phone. I can desire the desire to do the dishes. I can desire the desire to live life more abundantly. Slowly, sharing those desires with God can bear fruit.
As you enter into this week, are there opportunities to prune or let go of certain practices that are draining your energy? How might unchecked freedom in some areas of your life inhibit the true freedom that Christ promises?
Brenna Davis is director of Education for Justice and environmental initiatives for the Ignatian Solidarity Network. She graduated from Boston College in 2010 and served in Cleveland as a Jesuit Volunteer. She previously taught theology, coached cross country, and served as main office coordinator at Saint Martin de Porres, Cleveland’s Cristo Rey High School. During her time there she was the self-proclaimed assistant to the director of facilities in all sustainability initiatives on campus. She is a certified spiritual director and a Cuyahoga County Master Recycler.
As you enter into this week, are there opportunities to prune or let go of certain practices that are draining your energy? The practice of doing the Examen has been helpful in identifying those practices that need to be pruned. I’ve pruned the time I spend on devices. The great thing is the machine tells me how much time I spend on the device! So far I’ve gotten the time down to 21% of the week. Now what I do is talk to people in person as they really want to talk! I’ve pruned my branch so it will flower by spending less time worrying about my own issues. I try to concentrate on the needs of others and how to fill those needs. The more I prune the issues of self-indulgence on my branch, the more I am able to flower into a servant for others, whether it is reading a paper or shopping for groceries for someone, it is focused on the other. This time for pruning helps me to spend more time in prayer for those in need….the people in COVID in India, those getting ready for ordination and certainly those who are looking for work.
Thanks, Brenna for your reflection on the Sacredness of Limits. I can relate to “vegging” instead of choosing a more profitable activity. You urge me on to “desire to desire”…. I’m in with you!
The Ignatian term ‘agere contra’ is loaded with meaning and possibilities. “Cutting away what no longer serves us gives us true space and energy to continue to grow and thrive – Well said Brenna Davis. Saint Ignatius of Loyola – Pray for us.