In our fast-paced culture, we can often view life’s limitations as barriers that we must try to fight through. But as Christians, we often find ourselves drawing closer to God the more we embrace our limits and how He created us.
So argues Dr. Ashley Hales in her new book A Spacious Life: Trading Hustle and Hurry for the Goodness of Limits. Along with being an author, Dr. Hales is a mom and a pastor’s wife, and she joins Traci DeVette Griggs on this week’s episode of Family Policy Matters to discuss her new book and how we can embrace the goodness of life’s limits.
In Psalm 18, the Psalmist says, “He brought me out into a spacious place.” “I think so much of us are looking for that sort of spacious place,” says Dr. Hales, “that God would lead us beside still waters and green pastures. And yet we tend to think that that spacious place is dependent upon our circumstances rather than dependent on our relationship with God.”
Dr. Hales shares how her book’s topic of life’s limitations and finding peace in God is aptly timed for the season many of us are in. Many of us “realized we were just so emotionally exhausted from the whole world feeling like it had been turned upside down,” during the COVID-19 pandemic. A Spacious Life, says Dr. Hales, is an invitation into contentment and wrestling through the hardships we have all experienced the past few years. And in this place, God is there with us.
“Our limits—our normal, God-given, natural, human limits that we all have—are actually invitations to knowing God. […] Once we see our limits as invitations, then we can find this sort of spacious place growing inside of us, even when our circumstances are not ideal.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Dr. Ashley Hales talk more about her new book, A Spacious Life, and how we can all embrace our limits to grow closer to God.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. We all know as believers in Christ that our lives are supposed to be marked by joy and purpose as we rest in Him. Well, do you feel like your life is full of purpose, joy, and rest? Well, that’s a tough thing to achieve, isn’t it? Especially at certain times of our lives.
Well, Dr. Ashley Hales is here to talk to us today about this very thing. As a mom, a pastor’s wife, and an author, Dr. Hales can certainly understand the lure of busy-ness that’s constantly pulling on our lives. She’s just finished writing a book, entitled A Spacious Life: Trading Hustle and Hurry for the Goodness of Limitations, and she’s here to share some of what she’s learned.
Dr. Ashley Hales, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
ASHLEY HALES: Thanks so much for having me.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Alright, start off by explaining what do you mean by a spacious life?
ASHLEY HALES: I love the verse Psalm 18, where the Psalmist says “He brought me out into a spacious place. He rescued me because He delighted in me.” And I think so much of us are looking for that sort of spacious place that God would lead us beside still waters and green pastures. And yet we tend to think that that spacious place is dependent upon our circumstances rather than dependent on our relationship with God.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Talk about how we achieve this. I’ve listened to your podcasts, you talk about embracing life’s limits as invitations. What do you mean by that?
ASHLEY HALES: Unfortunately, so much of what we have kind of learned by birthright in the much of the Western world is that our limits are something that we need to either control, or we ignore them or push them off, or we try to work past our limits. Our limits we think of as barriers, but really our limits—our normal, God-given natural human limits that we all have—are actually invitations to knowing God. And in the book, I talk about Jesus, who is both fully God and fully man. So he had human limits and each of his limits are also an invitation to us to press into who God says we are and to begin to kind of sluff off this, “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, keep hustling, keep hurrying…that spacious place that I long for, it’s going to happen one day in the future, or once I get a promotion or when I’m on vacation.” Actually once we see our limits as invitations, then we can find this sort of spacious place growing inside of us, even when our circumstances are not ideal. You know, I think of Paul, he talks about he has learned the secret of being content and a lot of his letters were written, of course, in jail and in prison. And so that contentment that we all long for, it can’t be based circumstantially. Our limits are actually an invitation into that sort of contentment that Paul talks about.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: That’s a wonderful example about Paul, but can you also give us a today example of that?
ASHLEY HALES: You know, one thing I’ve noticed is as I have chosen as much as possible to create a margin space in my calendar, that that has been one thing that actually brought a lot more peace. I think it’s easy to say, “Okay, yes, I’ll sign up for all the volunteer opportunities at church. I’ll take my kids to all the extracurricular activities.” To choose to put limits on our time so that we can actually enact our values, whether it’s eating dinner around the table as a family, or as a family or individuals, we’re going to go and do this sort of mercy ministry activity, or just getting to know our neighbors and practicing hospitality. Once we actually put limits on some of the things like time or our use of social media, we find that there’s an actual peace that grows.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So you’re talking about saying no here, aren’t you? And that’s a really difficult thing, isn’t it, for a lot of people?
ASHLEY HALES: Yes it is. And besides even us just saying no is to learn how to accept the no of God is another kind of way in which we choose to say that my life is not my own. All of our little, small deaths to self can also be ways in which we are pressing into the limits of our actual lives. Not as something to get angry about or to fight, but to actually say, “Hey, Jesus, would you be in this with me?”
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So are there some habits or disciplines that help you? I guess I’m wondering when you find time to write a book. You’re a mom; you’re a pastor’s wife. Are you an early riser, or what’s the key to that for you?
ASHLEY HALES: You know, a lot of this book got rewritten during the pandemic and some of that was our children were all home and we were homeschooling them. And so a lot of it happens in early mornings or my husband would take them out for a long hike and I’d get a few hour’s worth of work in. But you know, also just realizing that sometimes their limits mean that other people are implicated. So I ended up turning in the book late, and I think probably there was a lot of mess ups with how publishers had hoped books would go given the COVID-19 crisis. And yet just realizing that our limits, they don’t bar us from community, but they actually encourage other people to help carry that load for us. And we can, we can ask for help.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: I love that. I love that idea that if you think you’re going to do it all, and if you try to do it all, you’re not leaving room for others. And so that’s a great point. So you mentioned how important rest was, and I don’t think you use the term “practicing rest,” but it sounded somewhat like that. Why is it important for us to consider rest kind of a discipline in our lives?
ASHLEY HALES: Well, you know, I love that when Jesus was baptized, the audible voice of God the Father says, “You’re my son. I love you,” and telling other folks, “Listen to him.” And before he’s done anything, he already has the pleasure of his Father. And it’s from that place that we rest. There’s so much too in the creation of the world, in Genesis 1, where we actually, the day starts in the night, Traci. The day starts in rest, where we’re vulnerable and that we don’t actually have any ability to earn our rest. And often I think we, in America, we try to work really hard and then we collapse. And so we cycle between cycles of production and then escape, and the gift of rest is something that is so transformative to actually say, just like Jesus is called beloved, we are also given rest first and it’s from that rest that we’re able to work.
So even practicing the discipline of a weekly Sabbath, maybe we turn off screens, in my family, we have dessert; we want it to be celebratory. These are the sorts of activities that remind us that our primary identity is as God’s child, and so we get to rest. I mean, Jesus rests on a boat in the middle of a storm. He doesn’t have anything to prove. And really we don’t have anything to prove by our work either. So practicing rest, putting away your phone, maybe you plug it in the kitchen at eight o’clock at night; you’re not on screens until midnight. Take a bath or read a book or, you know, do something that’s delightful so that you can actually sleep because ultimately those sorts of practices help us to remember that we are God’s child and he gives rest to the weary.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: You also mentioned Paul and how he was in prison for so much time, and that was productive time for him. Talk a little bit about how you might accept some of the limits that God imposes on your life. What is your thought process like when you’re trying to sort through that?
ASHLEY HALES: You know, I think a lot of time, especially maybe a decade or two ago, I have really fought against the limits of my life. I have a PhD; I kind of thought I would live all over in these global cities, and if we had kids, they’d just kind of come along for the ride and life would basically be unchanged. And yet we’ve found ourselves, like everybody, in real seasons of pain and loss of realizing, you know, your life doesn’t maybe look like what you had planned. Wendell Berry says, “We live the given life, not the planned.” And I think I wish someone, especially my early years of motherhood, had told me that our limits aren’t something to fight against, that they’re actually something to press in towards. So part of what that has looked like for me is choosing to bring my anger, my dissatisfaction, my lack of being able to lean into my limits to Jesus and to ask that he would do something with them. Because I think now a decade later, some of those earlier limits of young motherhood, I’ve really reaped the benefits of. To see that God is more concerned about our character than he is about what we accomplish. And sometimes our limits are the exact things that, as we ask God to sit with us in them, as we express our anger and our lament to him, that they actually shape us into the person that God wants us to be.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: You know, I feel like this book is so timely because of the season that we’re in with COVID. And I know people that are listening will find that there are a lot of disappointments. They may have thought, oh, the last couple of years we were going to travel or, you know, I was starting a business and then there’s been a lot of illness, and of course we’ve had to change our plans quite a bit because of that. But you wrote a book, so there is that sense, isn’t there, that we’ve got to trust God with this time, especially as a world and a nation, that we’re in?
ASHLEY HALES: I think that’s so true. I think we’ve always been limited, but the last year and a half has really shown us in stark relief what our limits are. You know, I think when the pandemic started, everyone’s like, “I’m going to learn a new language and make sourdough bread!” All of these sorts of things. We realized we were just so emotionally exhausted from the whole world feeling like it had been turned upside down. So I think so many people have said, as they have read A Spacious Life, that it felt like a breath of fresh air. And so I think that’s just so encouraging to me as an author. But for future readers, I think I realized there’s so many things written out there about you need to hustle, right? You need to show that you’re worthy, even in Christian spaces, that our work is what defines us and this idea of freedom as something that we achieve and that we’re only free unless we can always make any sort of choice at any point. That makes us really thinly connected in our communities, and it also is a thin connection to Jesus. So I think I just want to encourage folks that we don’t need, probably at this point in our lives, more arguments right now. They’re everywhere. But we actually need invitations. And A Spacious Life really is an invitation into contentment and wrestling through those hard limits that we all have to.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: You mentioned the arguments, and there’s so much contention, and we look around and there just seems to be so many areas that are calling us to get in and fight. So how do we justify resting at a time where there just seems to be so many disturbing things happening around us in our country and our world?
ASHLEY HALES: One thing I keep coming back to is there’s a little bit from—I think he’s a sociologist—Friedman talks about being a non-anxious presence, whether that’s in parenting or on the internet or in your work. And I think that’s such a beautiful way of thinking about this sort of spaciousness that grows when we are hidden in Christ, when we have our primary identity as his beloved child, as we’ve wrestled through our limits with God, as we have kind of got our hard edges sluffed off, that we will be in the places that God has called us to be non-anxious presences. So there is a sense in which rest helps restore us so that we can then participate in the work that God’s already doing. I think so much of the anger and the vitriol that we see across political spectrums all across the board is because ultimately we think that our idea, whatever idea it might be, is the thing that’s really going to be the linchpin in our lives to give it meaning. And yet I think we can still fight for justice and for healing and for wholeness. But when that is not our thing that justifies us, when it becomes, “Hey, I believe God cares for this group of people, and therefore I want to be participating in that,” it will make our tone much less anxious, much less vitriolic. And rest is a thing as we learn to hide ourselves in Christ, that then enables us to do good work well.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Great. Thank you so much. This new book is A Spacious Life: Trading Hustle and Hurry for the Goodness of Limitations, besides that you also have a podcast. So tell us where we can find that, so we can continue to learn from you.
ASHLEY HALES: Well, thank you. So I host the Finding Holy podcast, and you can find that wherever you listen to your podcasts. You can also get that link at my website, and listen directly on my website at aahales.com/podcast. And yeah, I’d love to continue the conversation.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Great, thank you. Dr. Ashley Hales, thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.