Knowing your limitations

I sit in our screened in porch gazing into the woods. I am at our summer weekend retreat by Port Austin, Michigan. Our RV faces the woods. Behind us is Lake Huron. We are fortunate to be here. Life is quiet, simple and slow. The birds are chirping in the woods. The newly sprouting leaves are pushing outward from the trees. New life seems to be emerging everywhere. I don't like the lady bugs visiting us in our RV but I respectfully gather them and toss them back into the woods. They also are filled with life.

Today my wife and I chatted with old friends that we have known for the past ten years since we have been coming here. They know me well because they realize how awkward and ignorant I am about practical handy person tasks. "Fred, don't touch anything in your trailer. You will only make it harder to fix" said a good friend whom I have hired to make sure I don't harm myself or anyone else. He opens our trailer and does many tasks that I would fail at miserably. It is important to know one's limitations. For the first fifteen years of our marriage my wife would say: "Fred, please fix this." For the past 28 years of our marriage she says, "Fred, please don't try to fix it." I am not a handyman and I have come to accept this. Without my friend up north I would never survive spending weekends at our RV in a marvelous campground. Without his help and practical advice this would never be a peaceful place for me. The courage of my wife to embark upon this adventure also has given me courage and strength. I have come to know and accept my limitations. As a result I have learned to ask other people for help.

Because of this acceptance of my "handy person" limitations I know how to survive in a world when common handy and mechanical sense is needed. I seek out someone to help. I find someone whom I can hire. It has saved my life many times. I can write. I can listen to people. I can give talks to large groups. All this is comfortable and most enjoyable for me. But ask me to fix something that needs a bit of mechanical, electrical, or handy person ability and I am quite ignorant and incompetent. Once I accepted this, life was much easier.

Whenever someone accepts their own limitations a new found wisdom happens. This is the wisdom of asking for help and depending upon someone else. This fundamental principle has powerfully helped me through my life.

We all need other people. We all need a God in our life. Other people help me to understand myself. Having a relationship with God helps me to realize how everything has a sense of direction and organization. Other people give me wisdom and insights as long as I make the effort to listen attentively and admit my own mistakes and limitations.

Life is always about learning and receiving. Every minute of life becomes a gift of experiencing something energizing and profound. I continually recall Elizabeth Barret Browning's quote "Earth's filled with heaven and every common bush afire with God." It is a poem about experiencing something profound and divine in each moment of life.

When I refuse to accept my own limitations in life I am not open to learning new things. Instead of learning from each moment of life I become the teacher who needs to give advice to everyone about life. This closes me off from learning new things. A good teacher always learns more from their pupils. A woman or a man searching for truth will listen carefully to everyone because there can be wisdom in the lowliest of persons just as much as there may be some wisdom in the highest or most well- known people. Both can tell us something about life, self and God.

I have some wise friends who are in their 8th and 9th decade of life. They inspire me at how patiently they listen to others. These wise men and women so humbly share about their own lives. I was with a group of people having a discussion the other day when I noticed this 85 year old friend of mine wander over to the group of us that were talking and listened carefully to what we were saying. Later she said to me "I was listening to you and now I have peace." What humility and what an open mind and heart this woman had to listen to what others had to say.

Every religion and every institution needs to humbly listen to the rest of the world and hear what the people are saying. There is truth in everyone and there is falsehood in everyone. If I listen with a condemning and judgmental attitude I will never hear the truth that may be buried within you. And of course you will never hear the truth that is within me because if I am saying things in such a condemning and critical manner I will be pushing you away from hearing anything I have to say.

This is why I love my weekends up north. It is quiet and reflective. I can look at my limitations because it is easy to admit those limitations up here. In the silence and reflection and sharing there is much I learn about myself and much I experience about God and spirituality and emotional honesty. I can talk deeper with my wife. I can listen more carefully to God. It is very refreshing to realize and accept what I can do and what I cannot do in my life. It is even more refreshing when I can admit this to other people who can understand and smile knowingly and patiently.

Not everyone can get a chance to have weekends up north. I know that I cannot get up here as often as I would like. But as the years pass by, I realize more that I need quiet time with God to discover myself. I need sharing time to learn from others. I need to share my wounds and limitations so that I can listen to the wounds and limitations of others with patience and compassion. When I do this I learn. I discover your wisdom. I discover God again. And I discover goodness within me that has resulted from knowing you and experiencing a Loving, Compassionate and Kind God. If psychology and spirituality has taught me anything, it has taught me the importance of silence and attentive listening to everyone and admitting and accepting my limitations and mistakes and sharing this with others.

@Bio Copy:Fred Cavaiani is a licensed marriage counselor and psychologist with a private practice in Troy. He is the founder of Marriage Growth Center, a consultant for the Detroit Medical Center, and conducts numerous programs for groups throughout Southeast Michigan. His column in the Legal News runs every other Tuesday. He can be reached at 248-362-3340. His e-mail address is: Fredcavi@ and his website is

Published: Tue, May 24, 2016


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