You’re Only Human: Kelly Kapic
Join Kelly Kapic as he explores the concept of limits and how they reflect God's design for humanity. Through discussions on finitude, sin, faithfulness, prayer, and embracing dependence, discover a vibrant perspective on living a fulfilling and purposeful life.
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What if you’re only human—and that’s a good thing? Author Kelly Kapic recounts finally embracing limits, redefining faithfulness, and finding freedom.
You’re Only Human: Kelly Kapic
Kelly: What is God crucifying? What is God upset about? He actually loves what He made. He loves you and I. He loves our particularity. He doesn't love the sin that's entangling us; that's distorting the good gifts He's made. And I think this matters whether it's pastors or parents trying to think through discipleship. Because if we don't understand this, then we think of a particular personality as the godly personality.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: I know you. You wake up every day with a running list.
Ann: Don't you? Doesn't everybody? [Laughter]
Dave: I don’t. No, I don’t; that’s what's so interesting.
Ann: Wait, wait, wait. You wake up like, “Huh, it's today.”
Dave: I mean, not every day, but I don't have a list. You are like jumping out of bed and I know there's like 18,000 things that you feel like you got to check off.
Ann: Well, and I don't know if anybody else—I don't think you do - do this, but I have a list. But it's almost like, “I need to be better. I need to do more.” Do you not have this in you?
Dave: Not married to you; you just have it. I just, I, you know, tail off of your list.
Ann: But this list can get heavy.
Dave: Well, we’ve got some help in the studio today. Kelly Kapic is with us, and you know you could, like, counsel us a little bit, you know? Kelly, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Kelly: Oh, it's so fun to be with you guys. Thanks for having me.
Dave: You’re a counselor. You’re a professor of theology at a school in Chattanooga. Tell us what you do every day.
Kelly: Yes, thanks. I teach at a place called Covenant College on Lookout Mountain, Georgia. It's a beautiful area.
Ann: It is beautiful.
Kelly: I teach undergrads so it's fun.
Ann: So you have the heartbeat of this culture, in this time, for these kids in college.
Kelly: My own journey is part of what took me to write this book, but also, I work with youth, college students and mental health and exhaustion is massive for them. I don't think it's just college students, but they are kind of the canary in the coal mine kind of thing. Like something's off and we're not addressing it. We need to think through it.
Ann: And your book is called You’re Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God's Design and Why That's Good News.
Dave: In some ways, when I was reading your book, you talked about even college students, you know they spend their whole lives getting up doing class, homework, and then they get out of college and it's still the same kind of thing and they carry—so talk about that a little bit. That was pretty intriguing to me because I'm married to a woman that does that. [Laughter]
Ann: Well, I want to know, like, is this something that you faced as well?
Kelly: There are some theological reasons that drive the book, but also personal ones. And the two biggest: one is that I have—I mean, I'm much more like you, so I—whenever I stop, there is this often this wave of guilt and shame that can come over. And I—you know I'm a theologian, and so if it's because I start to think about ways I've been cruel or greedy or what, I need to repent and enjoy God's kindness and grace in that. But actually, what I've found is so often that guilt and shame was associated with “Why didn't you do more today, Kelly? Why don't you get more on the list done?”
And some of that's personality. You know not all personalities are the same. But that has been an issue for me and part of what's driving this book is I really think as Christians we've confused finitude and sin. Finitude is a very fancy word for limits. Limits of space, time, knowledge, and power.
And so anyways, the book is me working through “Should you and I feel guilty at the end of the day if we haven't done everything?”
Dave: You’ve got to dig into that. You just unloaded a pretty heavy deep—you're only human. When I saw the title and we've already discussed it, I thought, you know, Human League [singing] “You're only human.” And you know we talked about Billy Joel, but I was like, what do you mean by that? The limitations that we have as humans, and you just sort of opened it up so explain that.
Kelly: Well, let me give you the second personal story. I think that'll help frame it. And then I would like to answer your question, but I think it will help. In 2008, my wife and I—we got married in 1993, but in 2008 she got cancer. We were married nine years before we had kids and so we had two young kids and went through cancer. By God's grace, she survived. After a year or so later, surgeon and stuff declared cancer free. And then in 2010 to this day, summer of 2010, she developed a pretty serious chronic pain and fatigue. And we deal with that every day. And that led to a book, with her encouragement, I wrote called Embodied Hope on suffering.
The only reason I give you all of that background is to say, we're both kind of driven people and it was like things are being taken away and what do you do when you start to realize, “Oh, there is some—I think I was getting worth from how much I was doing,” but also just that that makes it bad. There are also good things we want to do that we couldn't. My wife was a big hiker with the kids and then all of a sudden, she just became the reader in bed for a while and then she was able to do some more of that. That's kind of the background.
And when you asked me, what does it mean to be you're only human? There's something actually liberating about realizing you're only human. Well, when it was really bad, with my wife, for example, you never know what you're going to pray. Are you going to be really angry? Are you going to be despondent? And you know some of those things came, but it did surprise me when I didn't feel like I could pray, the simple prayer that I could pray for a while was “I'm so glad I'm not you, God.” And a part of me is like, “Why are you praying that? Where is that coming from?”
Ann: Yes, why did you?
Kelly: And I think it was, I think I thought I was God. And none of us would say that. Like if you asked me that, you know, I had a seminary degree. I know I'm not God. But I think it was like, “If I don't pray, things aren't going to happen.” If I'm not doing this, if I'm not doing that, if I'm not keeping up. Also, you realize “I can't,” and “I'm so thankful I'm not you, God, because You're going to hold all things together and apart from Christ, they're going to fall apart.”
But what does that look like? And it really took me into the world of lament and gratitude and starting to rethink “What does faithfulness look like?” And for me, I think there are, whether it's perfectionism or just well-meaning Christians giving us these lists of things we should do, I find it exhausting, so I want us to rethink it in terms of faithfulness rather than a to do list. What does faithfulness look like? And that looks different when you're home with a newborn than it is when you're an empty nester. But we don't tend to honor those differences. We just create lists and say everyone should do them and if you're not, you're not living up.
Ann: So what does faithfulness look like when you wake up? Instead of that list, what do you have?
Kelly: Well, for me, in some ways, honestly, the test case for this has been prayer. Because it's not just laity; pastors know. We all know we should be praying more. But if you really look at it and if you really get honest, it's like, well, we don't pray because it seems like a waste of time. We're not getting anything done.
So we know we should do it. We'll kind of slam it—you know, it's kind of in and out; nobody gets hurt. But if it's actually—if it's not about efficiency, if something else is going on, if it's about being with our God, for me that's been huge. And those mornings of quiet have been huge, recalibrating my life and my day. And anyways, you know we could talk more about prayer, but I think prayer is a very interesting test case of how comfortable we are being human.
Dave: You know, there's part of me when I read your subtitle about our limits, I’m like “I don't want to talk about limits.”
Kelly: Right. Yes, yes.
Dave: We don't have limits.
Kelly: Yes, yes.
Dave: And yet, as I'm reading through your book, I'm like, “No, limits do reflect God's design.” So help us understand how that works.
Kelly: Yes, thank you. That's a great question. I mean, think about it. If we're talking and I said—we have a mutual friend, Keith—and I say, “Yes, I saw Keith last night.” And you guys were like, “How was it?” And I was like, “You know it was good, but he's like super dependent.” That doesn't sound like a compliment, right? [Laughter]
Kelly: He's dependent on us.
Ann: It sounds needy.
Kelly: It sounds needy, exactly. And part of why I think Christian discipleship in North America and the West is so difficult is that word and idea is just purely negative to us. And part of what I'm interested in is the reality when God made us, before there's any sin or fall, part of the goodness of creation is God made us to be dependent on God, dependent on our neighbor, and dependent on the earth. And so that dependence is part of the goodness of human flourishing as God designed it. And when we culturally, even in the church, think of that as purely negative—I'm aware of the problems with codependence and some of those things—but when our whole goal is autonomy and independence, it undermines Christian spirituality and just healthy lives.
So that's part of—you can't understand that until you start to rather than think all of your limits are bad, start to see some of them as actually gifts from God, gifts from God.
Dave: Yes, there's definitely something in the human condition that you just hit on. I want to. I want to say I'm dependent, and that's a good thing, but inside I don't want to be dependent even on Ann or on other guys. You know when we got married, our first night of our honeymoon was in—our second night was in Boston, and we get on the subway to go, I don't know where, and I remember getting lost and it was craziness. We come back to the room that night—was it second or third night of our marriage?
Ann: I think it's the second night.
Dave: I like breakdown, like in tears. I don't know what's going on.
Ann: And I'm shocked. You know we're young. I'm 19; Dave’s 22 and he starts crying hard. I'm like, “What is happening? What's wrong?” And he said, like, “I don't even know what I'm doing. I got us lost on the subway. I couldn't even find our way back. How am I going to be a husband? How am I going to provide? How will I ever be a dad?” I was amazed. One, I loved his vulnerability.
Kelly: Yes, for sure.
Ann: But I remember saying “Because Jesus has us.” It was the first time, and I haven't really seen you quite like that.
Dave: Yes, I mean it was one of those moments where I didn't know what was happening and I was—
Kelly: You were carrying a lot.
Dave: I was.
Kelly: Yes, you didn't realize.
Dave: I didn't know until that moment.
Kelly: Yes, sure.
Dave: I'm sort of a self-made man. I was on a scholarship to play football in college and a lot of things in my life went well, successful. Then here I am as a young husband, and I'm like, “I can't do this.”
Dave: And the only reason I bring that up is like, when I'm reading, “You're only Human and we have limitations.” Like, that's where I was. I was at the end of myself. And I didn't want to be dependent, but it actually was a good thing, right?
Kelly: Yes. I work with college students and often before Christmas break when they're, you know, about to head home, I say, “I have a homework assignment for you.” Because some of them are going back to not great families—you know, situations. But some of them have really healthy—they love their parents and everything, but even in those, it's amazing how by like day three they're annoyed, right? Dad, he talks, he breathes too loud and mom dresses funny or asks too many—whatever it is, it's amazing.
So I give them a homework assignment and you have to listen to the whole thing otherwise it's just creepy. But I say “When whatever it is, day three, day five, day one, when you find yourself pretty annoyed with mom and dad and they're driving you nuts, go take a shower. And when you're in the shower”—you’ve got to listen to the whole thing—"when you're in the shower, look down and notice your belly button. Because your belly button has huge theological significance.
In college, you're trying to say ‘I'm my own. I'm making myself.’ I mean culturally, that's it. I decide who I am. I decide my identity. And your belly button, it just screams “You are not your own! You came from people!” And that's biologically; that's relationally and otherwise that is just built into—that's part of the good though. And so, if you can stop living in the myth that you make yourself, it can start helping you appreciate, not blindly, but appreciate those that you’re dependent on. Because that's just another way of talking about relationships. But love requires that kind of thing.
Ann: That's deep, actually. I've never had that thought but it does show our humanity, our need, our connection. And I think too, Kelly, I'm thinking about your wife and as you guys walked through this cancer journey. I feel like I've become more dependent on God and more human as I've suffered. I've walked through suffering and pain, where at times I had felt like “I can't take a breath without You, God. I'm so dependent on You.” Did you feel that, and your wife, as you walked through that cancer journey?
Kelly: Yes. And part of what has been very significant for us and for me is it portrays certain things we actually think or don't think about Jesus. In the ancient church there was this fancy term called Gnosticism. But basically, they really struggled to think that creation is a good thing. And so, our bodies are bad; the earth is bad. Spirituality is trying to leave these things behind.
Dave: I mean, they wouldn't even acknowledge that Jesus was in a human body because the body's evil.
Kelly: Exactly, and so in the in the ancient church, people like Irenaeus and a guy named Tertullian from North Africa. Tertullian is fascinating. He actually talks about Mary's birth a lot. And he'll talk about afterbirth, anything; how irreverent. What's going on? He's trying to say what you think is quote unquote gross and bad and small when you talk about our humanness, he's like “God's not embarrassed by this stuff. He enters in.”
Kelly: This isn't sin; you've confused being a creature with being a sinner. They're not the same thing. I really want to help Christians. I'm not trying to make light of sin. But we have confused those, so we just feel guilty for being human. And so, I do think you're right. Sometimes in suffering and pain we get reconnected to our humanity, and we stop pretending. And there's something powerful in that.
Ann: You mentioned, and you've talked about: does God love us or like us?
Dave: It’s one of the things that jumped out of your book. You know we often say, “God loves us,” but do we really believe he likes us? So you ask your students.
Kelly: Yes. So sometimes when I'm dealing with students in my office and they'll come in and often it's, you know, we're dealing sometimes with something with their parents or something and if I ask them “Do you think your parents love you?” They inevitably say yes. But then if I ask, “Do you think your parents like you?” it is amazing how often a change of face happens and sometimes tears just start to flow and that's all you've done.
And I think that for me is an insight into God, because we all—do you think God loves us? We all say “Yes,” but you realize, “Oh, it's like your parents. He has to; He's God.” But life starts to portray like a delight, a pleasure, and so when we think God loves us, do you just mean he's just putting up with us? Or more like, you know, this prophetic Old Testament image of Him singing and rejoicing and singing over us, right. This kind of imagery, the bride and the groom imagery, this delight, I think that's really hard for us and that's part of why the Christian life seems heavy rather than hopeful sometimes.
Dave: Yes, one of the things I loved in your book is you really zone in on identity in Christ and if I remember, almost a whole chapter on Galatians 2:20, where you walk through what identity looks like. Because there's that paradox of, we're limited, but yet we're in Christ. Explain that a little bit, because that really is freeing.
Kelly: That's a lovely question. I think it's an example of maybe where we learned half a verse, right. Kind of like, “I've been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live period.” And so sometimes we'll take from that, that God hates me or I'm bad. I need to die. And it's really talking about dying to sin, right?
Kelly: It goes on and “The life I live, I live by faith,” but it's still me. After you believe, it's still you, so what is God crucifying? What is God upset about? He actually loves what He made. He loves you and I. He doesn't love the sin that's entangling us; that's distorting the good gifts He's made. He loves our particularity. He doesn't love the sin that's destroyed us. I think this matters whether it's pastors or parents trying to think through discipleship because if we don't understand this, then we think of a particular personality as the godly personality. It's not about a particular personality. God doesn't like one personality more. He doesn't like sin, but that's different.
So I do think it's worth trying to honor people's distinctions and personalities, their particularity, because they're all finite creatures, and trying to distinguish that from some kind of idyllic, romanticized view of what it means to be human.
Dave: I think we all struggle with this, and this impacts a marriage and parenting: am I a sinner or am I a saint? There's that tension that you sort of dive into. Help us understand: what am I? What's my identity?
Kelly: Yes, I think it's fascinating because I'm not denying that we're sinners, but you will—when you look at the New Testament, when it's talking about believers, that's not how they're referred to. We are saints. We're the saints in Ephesus. In the diaspora, we're the saints. This is how they're writing the letters. And John's clear If you say you're without sin, you're a liar. So we are saints who struggle with sin. But sinner is an identity that doesn't actually belong to Christians.
One of the reasons why sinning is such a problem for us is we're not being who we are, right. We're daughters and sons of God. It’s not about guilt or shamelessness. Like, no, you don't have to go back into that prison. You've been liberated. You're not a slave. I do think helping Christians understand your fundamental identity is in Christ, and you are a saint. You are a holy one.
Dave: But we're only human.
Kelly: Yes, but those aren't contradictory. Jesus is only human-.
Dave: That's what I want to get at.
Kelly: -And also, divine. [Laughter] But without in any way compromising His humanity.
Dave: Yes, my identity is, I am His beloved son. I have the Holy Spirit power. I can change. We can change. This family can change. I have the power to do that so let's go, rather than “I can't do anything. I'm just a sinner. I've tried before and it's never failed, so I'm going to give up.” That's a major change.
Ann: I think we both lived in that as believers in our early years. Like “We're such sinners. We're such sinners. We keep sinning.” And that whole concept of “No, you are now a saint in Christ. The Holy Spirit lives within you,” that was so foreign to me because I still identified myself and my identity as the sinner. I'm thinking like that must grieve God. Like “No, I died for you. I live in you. I love you. I rejoice over you.” That's really different. I think we need to remind our kids that as they walk in Christ, “This is who you are.”
I love how you said that Ann. It's a struggle. I mean, sometimes when we leave church, if the main thing our kids or we are convinced of is what bad sinners we are, we've missed it. Now, that doesn't mean that you should leave church, not thinking, not having to confront the reality of your sin.
Ann: —or repenting.
Kelly: Yes, or repenting, absolutely not. But the main thing we should leave worship is how beautiful Christ is, how good the gospel is. I think sometimes we're worried that people are going to abuse the good news, so we just focus on what bad sinners we are. And that can be a moralism. And so though the beauty of Christ allows us to be brutally honest about our sin, but still hopeful. This whole now and not yet. Like we are saints not because we don't sin right now, but because God is doing something and will—He began it; He'll see it to completion.
Ann: Give us a homework assignment as a family.
Dave: You know we’re students in your class.
Ann: Yes, as a mom and dad, like because we sit down to have dinner with our kids.
Dave: I’m not going to go get in the shower and look at my belly button. [Laughter]
Kelly: Oh, you will now. [Laughter] But you won't admit it to anybody.
Ann: What's a question we could ask at the dinner table tonight?
Shelby: I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Kelly Kapic on FamilyLife Today. You've got a homework assignment coming up from Kelly here in just a second, so make sure you don't miss that.
But first, Kelly has written a book called You’re Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God's Design and Why That's Good News. In the book, Kelly offers a better way to make peace with the fact that God didn't create us to do it all. This book is going to be our gift to you when you partner with us financially here at FamilyLife. To do that, you can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com. Or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, the number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
And feel free to drop us something in the mail. Our address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Dr, Orlando, FL. 32832.
Alright, here's Kelly's answer to our homework assignment for the evening as you sit down to dinner with your kids.
Kelly: I would ask, what's the good life? I would actually explore as a family: what is a good life? And I think it's surprising what sometimes comes out, because we know things we're not supposed to say, but when we and our kids start to really explore that, it is very interesting. And that is an indirect way of—because actually, we only have so many hours, and so many days and one life.
And so, starting to imagine—I think part of this is getting healthier imaginations. What does faithfulness look like? What's a good life? That's a way into, have I done enough? Am I enough is the deeper question there. And for us, I do think—and you guys could speak to this I'm sure better than I can—one of the challenges on parenting this stuff is children definitely need to grow, and we need to teach them and correct them and say “No, that's not good,” and discipline, you know, all those kinds of things.
Sometimes people hear what I'm saying they think “Should you never push yourself against limits?” No, no, no. I get all that; the athletes and everything like that. It's so how do you learn to correct, guide, without getting the people to think they're not enough?
I guess the flip side of that is sometimes you've heard the phrase like, “You are enough.” It's interesting because I kind of like it and I don't like it. Because the phrase, you are enough, is a problem is because you're not enough. And only when you realize “You're not enough” can you be comforted that you actually are enough. Like you were never meant to be the Messiah to your children. You were never meant to be the Messiah in your marriage or in the community. You're meant to be a particular human creature, faithful to this God within your limits. And so, you're not enough and that's a beautiful, good gift.
Ann: We're going to have to talk more about that tomorrow.
Shelby: Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are back again with Kelly Kapic as he points out that God values process, the process of us growing, and in that process, He extends grace to us. That's tomorrow. We hope you'll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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