Paper Ceilings - Breaking Through False Barriers
by Keith Wahl
Matthew 23:4 (NLT), “They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.”
I want to mix a book recommendation with one of my favorite ideas this week. The idea of “Paper Ceilings” is mentioned in the book Pound the Stone by Joshua Medcalf. He tells the story of the 4-minute mile and Roger Bannister. Bannister eclipsed this “paper ceiling” of a 4-minute mile in 1954. Then John Landy broke his record in the same year. Then more and more athletes eclipsed the 4-minute barrier over a short period of time. It seems that Bannister’s efforts allowed people to break through an artificial barrier, proving the impossible to be possible. Another friend of mine would call paper ceilings “limiting beliefs.”
The world record in the mile is now 3:43.13. Author David Epstein wrote The Sports Geneand explains how technology can affect world records, but the idea still remains that it is important to break through widely-held beliefs that control our performance or behavior.
In Matthew 23, Jesus is criticizing the religious leaders of the day, encouraging people to avoid following the example of the Pharisees. He told the people that everything the Pharisees did was for show, and that they crush people with unbearable religious demands. I see a parallel between the idea of unbearable religious demands and the paper ceilings we place over our heads. Too often we succumb to man-made systems or limits that are placed above our heads artificially to prohibit pushing our limits. I believe it’s part of our call to understand these limits and break through them appropriately.
I see a lot of “paper ceilings” in baseball - what a good batting average is, the idea that you can’t win every game, etc. At the high school level, I believe teams could have team batting averages of over .500 and win every game if players and coaches could live in a place of freedom, be present in every moment, and live with a heart of faith. None of those things are easy, in fact they are tremendously difficult. However, “difficult” or “hard” can be a paper ceiling that we allow to limit us.
At the Major-League level, more home runs have been hit this year than in any other year in the history of the game, including the steroid era. Why is this? Could it be that more and more hitting instructors are encouraging hitters to hit balls in the air and training the ability to hit home runs by measuring ball exit speed and launch angle? Has this intentionality crashed through a paper ceiling created by previously-held beliefs? I don’t know if it’s best for the game or not, I’m not concerned about that. I think that’s an argument for another context. I’m far more interested in people challenging previously-held notions about the game and whether or not you can truly train a hitter to hit home runs en mass.
I’d encourage reading Pound the Stone, but I’d also encourage all of us to look at paper ceilings that might exist in our lives. I’m convinced that those false barriers keep us from the freedom that Christ intended for us.