Capacity is a word that keeps jumping out at me recently. Shopping for appliances, I heard much about “capacity.” Often capacity is viewed in terms of quantity – the amount of space which can be filled or contain something. The implication is that more or larger is better. When talking about human capacities, whether that be mental, physical, emotional or spiritual, we are usually thinking about abilities or potential.
Physical capacity usually involves strength, endurance, and stamina. Some people are able to physically do more or for longer because of greater physical capacity.
Mental capacity is what is referred to as the power of receiving and holding knowledge – the ability to comprehend, reason, to learn and understand.
Emotional capacity is something we don’t think much about, but I think it is real. I recently heard someone comment about another’s “capacity for chaos”. Some people seem to be able to handle stress, adapt to changes or deal with upsetting situations better than others. Some have greater capacity for self-reliance. We look to first responders and leaders for such capacity in dealing with emergencies.
Spiritual Capacity is about the potential of our souls to develop and expand and progress. Our goal may be described as “enlightenment” or becoming more Christlike – more loving, understanding and giving.
Capacity varies greatly among people. Just as our physical bodies vary in size, our capacity in regards to strength and endurance vary. Some people have been blessed with much greater intellectual capacities than others. We call them gifted. Others due to conditions beyond their control have lesser mental and/or physical capacities. Someone may have great capacity in one area but smaller in others.
We should be careful not to judge others based on personal ideas about capacity. It is very difficult for one person to understand the real capacity of another. We may push beyond one’s limits or expect what is not realistic. As I have had to deal with people with diminished mental capacities, I have found myself becoming more tolerant and accepting of what other may be capable of. I remember Shrek saying “That’l do donkey”. I think we need to be willing to accept the best people have to offer, saying “that will do”. It may not be as much as someone else could do, or what we could do ourselves, but it is sufficient.
Personal capacities are not fixed. Our physical and mental capacity may have individual limits, but can be expanded and grow with exercise, work and practice. The whole point of education should be increasing individual capacity as much as possible. Physical exercise and training are intended to increase strength and endurance.
Capacity also can diminish as I am learning as I grow older. This usually happens naturally with age or can temporarily diminish with illnesses or other circumstances. Sometimes our abilities change daily with circumstances. But we try to do the best that we can at that particular time. That is all any of us can do.
While our personal goals should be directed toward increasing our personal capacity as much as we can – to live up to our potential, we sometimes are too hard on ourselves.We strive for exactness, correctness, and excellence but often make mistakes because we are human. As I practice Yoga, I realize that I may never, as much as I practice, be able to do some things as well as others. It is important to keep trying, not to seek a perfect result, but to keep pushing to improve.
President Gordon B. Hinckley challenged women of the Church to rise to their potential, yet he said:
“I do not ask that you reach beyond your capacity. I hope you will not nag yourselves with thoughts of failure. I hope you will not try to set goals far beyond your capacity to achieve. I hope you will simply do what you can do in the best way you know. If you do so, you will witness miracles come to pass.” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church, Gordon B. Hinckley, 2016, Chapter 5)
Those who are aware of my aversion to balloons might realize that this analogy is a bit of a stretch for me, but I would liken capacity to balloons. Balloons have a flexible nature and their ultimate size – maximum capacity – depends upon how much air is put into them. Balloons, like people, come in different sizes with varying capacities. Those with smaller capacities will never grow to be as large as one which started out larger, but a larger balloon which is only partially inflated may not be as big as a smaller one. Like a deflated balloon, we can not always know the full capacity of a person until they are stretched. This can be a gradual process or occur under situations of great stress.
As I think about what things might hinder or limit human capacity like the capacity of a balloon, scriptural and other phrases come to mind. A “hard heart” is like a condition which might make a balloon rigid rather than flexible and therefore unable to expand. “Stiff necks” likewise do not allow air to enter easily. Hearts and minds must be able to open to receive new knowledge or understanding. A “closed mind” is like a balloon which has been tied off. Even if not inflated to its capacity, it cannot expand as long as it is closed.
I have learned this simple, yet powerful formula:
Me + Christ = greater capacity to love, learn & serve
If we use only our own efforts and abilities – the air from our lungs – to increase the capacity of a balloon, we may fill it to capacity, but it will still be limited. Adding another gas – helium – not only fills the balloon to capacity, but allows it to rise.
Allowing the Lord to add to our efforts, through a partnership or covenant with Him can increase our limited human capacity in all aspects of life. This is especially apparent in regards to spiritual capacity. This capacity expanding, or enabling power is often called “grace”. Elder David A. Bednar explained: “Grace is the divine assistance or heavenly help each of us desperately needs . . . the enabling power of the Atonement strengthens us to do and be good and to serve beyond our own individual desire and natural capacity.” (Elder David A. Bednar, “Strength beyond Our Own” New Era, March 2015) This can result in the “miracles” that President Hinckley was talking about.