More Than You Can Handle

God never gives you more than you can handle: A misquote of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which promises that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear but will instead provide a way out. This phrase is regularly misused by well-meaning Christians to assure the hurting that they can get through the worst kind of pain and grief.

We’ve taken to meeting at a restaurant that we call Moonrock. It hasn’t actually been the Moonrock for years, but neither of us can seem to remember the new name. So we just go with it.

We sit on the deck, where you can look out on a tiny man-made pond with a little fountain in the middle. The traffic on 169 creates a wall of white noise. It’s a good place for mini-corn dogs and for boneless wings and for long conversations, so we call it Moonrock, and we go with it.

The sun is sinking faster now, end of summer fast. It’s almost dark when she mentions the party that she went to this weekend, the boy she saw there who once leered over her in the backseat of a car, violated her in the worst kind of way.

“He’s married,” she says, and the Sad that’s been at the edge of her smile all night comes all the way out. “His wife is pregnant. They weren’t even trying. It just happened.”

“Of course it did,” I say, wearily. Because the deeper we get into life, the more it seems to go like this. Of course the jerk would get the golden-edged dream that she’s been reaching for. It would happen justlikethat for him, while she tosses out yet another negative pregnancy test and buys more folic acid. While she waits and aches and then waits some more.

It’s that age old question that echoes through the book of Psalms. That question of fairness, of karma, of why bad things happen to the good and good things to the bad. And all the theological arguments and well-crafted answers in the world don’t change the tinny wrongness of it all reverberating in your heart.

We are quiet for a while. Every now and then, she adds a detail to the story, or I ask a question. Mostly we just sit silent while night falls around us.

The giant rock that is the moon is in its waning phase, half-disappeared in the sky.

“The important thing to remember,” I say finally and with a kind of faux-seriousness, “is that God is in control.” And we both crack up a little. The sudden burst of laughter from our quiet table makes people around us look up.

And it’s not that we don’t believe it, that statement. We’re laughing because it’s such a wildly inappropriate, overused phrase. It is the period meant to end the run-on sentence of another person’s pain. It’s the thing we say to each other when we don’t know what to say.

“Everything happens for a reason,” she adds, joining in on my irreverent little game.

“God always works for the good of those who love him.” I say, quoting now a Bible verse. The one that tends to be applied like spiritual shellac to all that is mysterious and hard. On their own, they’re good words, but they rub like sandpaper against your heart when used by the well-meaning Christian to explain why you’ll be just fine.

“Or my favorite,” she says, “God never gives you more than you can handle…which is not in the Bible.” She takes a swig of Diet Coke. Her third refill. Neither of us felt much like booze tonight.

“Shut up,” I say, “It is too in the Bible.”

“Mmmm…nope. Not.”

“Well for crying out loud,” I say. “That explains so much.”

It explains the heaviness of my own daily life, for one. How, in the course of about five minutes, I can be the world’s most patient mother…and then a little-less patient…then losing my mind, having a full-fledged yelling match with my three-year-old.

It explains why I have to send him to his room, where he flings himself angrily against his door again and again. I lie on my bed, watching the ceiling fan go round and round murmuring over and over again, I can’t do it God. Help me, help me, help me. I cannot do it.

When I think of the word handle, I think absorb. You handle something, and it sort of disappears seamlessly into your life. I used to be so good at that, and then all of the sudden, it got to be too much, and now it seems like the slightest thing undoes me.

Among the things I cannot handle (even after the longest “quiet time,” even as I murmur prayers under my breath):  a new pile of dirty clothes at the bottom of the stairs after I just washed and folded five loads. The pre-dinner crankies and the post-bedtime mess and my son’s 3am night terrors. I can’t handle the unkind words from strangers, shot sharp and straight from somewhere in the Internet. I can’t handle all the Tired.

The waiting, day after day, for a hope deferred — I can’t do it. And I can’t handle the fears that sweep, unbidden, into my own heart.

Most of all, I can’t handle the pain of my friend, sitting across from me, holding a Diet Coke instead of the baby she so desperately wants. I can’t do a single thing about any of it.

But we keep saying this crap, over and over. We’ve got each other convinced that by putting a little bit of Jesus on it, we can handle life’s worst.  That God measured out a certain dose of pain for you – not more than you can handle, of course – and you should be able to say a prayer, inhale, and take it straight to the heart like a champ.

At the Moonrock, we sit across from each other, silent under the weight of all that we can’t handle, all that we can’t understand. We’re breathing in and out under the summer sky and there are no easy answers. Just the mystery of the moon and its phases. The mystery of God’s love, sure as the sky.

105 thoughts on “More Than You Can Handle

  1. I have a frustrated unpublished post sitting in my blog drafts about this. It felt too angry to press publish on maybe. I was responding to a few Christian friends’ comments after I had a miscarriage earlier this year, that “there’s a purpose in everything” and “everything happens for a reason”. I knew they were trying to bring comfort and hope but it was one of the most insensitive things they could have said about the death of my child. It hurt but I didn’t know how to respond without sounding like I’d completely lost faith. Sigh. Thanks for writing about this.

    1. Oh, Addie. Oh, Fiona. I wish I had more time to respond. But yes. We have been told that and when that explanation got to hard, you throw in a “it will give God glory.” Really? Always? We had a friend lose her baby at 9 weeks old and another friend lose her 13 year old. Then another friend at 25 and then the youth pastor. I still look back and wait to see where the glory is on that. Sometimes bad things just happen. Now I see it as part of living in the now and not yet. When we throw around these phrases, it takes away part of what makes us human…the ability to mourn. When we are able to weep, to question, to cry out, and still hold on to some shred of our faith? I don’t see how that hurts God. I’d rather hash it out with God and come out on the other end with Him, then to have to hold my chin up but secretly have a space between me and God where all the things we are supposed to “handle” reside.

      1. I always want to say something to those people but never do, because picking a fight in the middle of someone else’s grief probably isn’t appropriate. But I always want to say something like, if this is to bring God glory, then I’m done with that God. What a sadistic view of God 🙁

    2. We’re just so bad at being powerless. Being out of control. Not being able to fix things. I think that’s why we say these words to each other… Sorry you were at the receiving end of them at a really hard and vulnerable time.

  2. I think I struggle thinking that life should be fair. It makes sense that it should. I have learned that life is far from fair and we would be better off flinging that thought as far from us as possible. Sometimes the best I can come up with is “life is tough then you die”. I so want life to be fair for my family; for my friends. The work of waiting on God at times grinds on my soul and I shout for relief that does not seem to come. How do I encourage a daughter that is struggling with life and wonders if God loves her so much then why is she always sitting alone on the end of the bench?

    I look to the Bible and I see no promises of life without hardship; really the opposite. I see that fairness is not promised anywhere.

    I am thankful that life is not fair when I realize that due to my sins I should hold a room in hell not a mansion in heaven; that the separation from my God should be ongoing instead of none at all.

    Fair or not I take comfort in the fact and hope my daughter sees this as well; we have thrown our lot in with God and stand ready to wade through the mess called life knowing that he really does have our back and knowing that heaven is real and maybe it will not be until we are within the walls there that life will seem to be what it should be. I may not feel it but I do know that God does not abandon us and God loves us more than we imagine. This is when we abandon our heartache to trust. So hard to do but for our sanity we must.

    Sometimes there are no answers and we have to be ok with that.

  3. By the way my wife likes to call your “The pre-dinner crankies” “fig treeing.” This from the time Jesus was hungry and looked for some figs and upon not finding any got a “little” bit upset. She mostly reserves this barb for us guys in the family when we get grouchy close to time to eat.

    1. That is brilliant. My husband has actual stages of food-related crankiness. He goes from Fig-Tree to Silence (like the time between the OT and the NT maybe) to Full Out Wrath. We all know: if he gets quiet, THROW FOOD AT HIM.

  4. I totally relate. I was very into dolling out this Christianese after healing from a long long battle with a tumor in my spine. Finally the third person I thought would also get better didn’t, and suddenly all the platitudes make me angry. I love prayer still, but platitudes not so much. Glad to know the best one isn’t biblical!

  5. I was at the gym this Sunday when Joel Osteen came on one of the TVs. His basic message was: God’s got you in a frame, and that frame will protect you from death and from bad things–unless God wants them to happen. I couldn’t help think of that when I read your post, Addie. The concept so does not square with the God I know–the God you’ve described so eloquently here. Give me the God of the psalms any day, who welcomes our rants at his sometimes maddening elusiveness.

    1. That message from Joel Osteen is bullshit. Teaching like that is what caused me to throw everything out and start over. Because it isn’t true. God doesn’t protect us that way. Lies like that bring up a rage that I can barely control because it’s so dangerous and damaging to people.

      1. Ah. but its like a narcotic, it makes people feeeeeel so good, the frames, the control, the cheap cliches. Marx had it right, religion is the opiate of the people. That’s what so many peddle, religion, a little Jesus butter. But there is a growing awareness within many circles that the emperor has no clothes. The one born in a dusty back roads place moves with us, into our broken and tragic circumstances, walks smack into the ugliness that life throws our way on that Friday long ago. But he also encountered them and encounters us like two at a table late in the evening over a diet coke. Thank God.

  6. While this saying is not biblical, and yes, life is full of hardship and unfairness (I have experienced my share of both), I never took the word “handle” to mean the same as you did. I always felt like this saying, and not from a toss-someone’s-feelings-aside intent, really spoke to many situations because, no matter what happens, God’s grace wins out, God redeems, and I am still breathing and walking around. I didn’t just keel over or go comatose or turn into a zombie. I am still walking, functioning and growing as God teaches me to walk through the valleys and develops faith and perseverance, character and hope in my life. We go on. We don’t just shrivel up into a lifeless carcass when calamity strikes. I guess the better thing to say, because I don’t believe God GIVES us these terrible things, is that God will give you strength to get through anything.But if you are saying anything, even scripture, to discount someone’s suffering or avoid the hard conversations then, you are right, it would be better for someone to not speak at all.

    1. I think that’s definitely the heart of the people who say these sort of things. Yet I also think that the process of being able to receive that divine strength and live out of it can be a long and hard one. For a lot of people, there IS a “lifeless carcass” stage in there. Some of them give up altogether because His strength feels inaccessible (though, if we are to believe his word, it is always there.)

      The truth is both beautifully simple and excruciatingly complex, and that’s why I think we’re better to, as you said, “not speak at all.”

  7. By far my least favorite Christian cliche is this one. I wrote about in a five minute friday post not long ago. Umm, yes he gives us more than we can handle- all the time. And he gave people in scripture more than they could handle.
    Trials, pain, loss is very different than what Corinthians is saying about temptation. It is also a misquote of sorts from Mother Teresa who said “God won’t give me more than I can handle, just wish he didn’t trust me so much.” Which seems more playful than giving a theological truth.
    It was after one of our many miscarriages, at five months, that I cried out I can not handle this. And felt God saying, no you can’t. It led to a long season of wrestling and crying and surrender and wrestling more. He can handle it, he can handle me….but I cannot.
    Ok, this is turning into a long comment!

    1. That’s right. I’d forgotten that Mother Teresa said that. So it’s like a Bible/Mother Teresa mash-up gone wrong. 😉

      I love always how you own that the process toward surrender is LONG. It’s not as easy as like, switching into another mode of existence where you’re just cruisin’ by on “his strength.” It’s “wrestling and crying and surrendering and wrestling more.” Yes.

  8. I like the way you wrapped the debunking of this awful cliche inside a real story. My heart goes out to your friend. Why can’t Christians just sit with one another and say, “That sucks” instead of try to say that bad is good? That’s what so much of this “God is in control” and “God makes everything turn out for good” sounds like to me — it sounds like they are trying to say that the evil in the world isn’t really evil. And THAT, my friends, is EVIL.

    (Can you tell you struck a nerve?!?!)

    1. Yes, that to temptation to try to minimize the bad, as if to admit that it’s terrible and evil is to somehow diminish God’s goodness. And if anyone’s qualified to speak to this issue, it’s you lady. You’ve been through more than your share of it, and I’m sure you heard these things all the time. So thankful for your insightful comment here.

    2. C’mon Joy. You’re just getting warmed up. Keep ’em coming’. Love, love your perspective.

      Life DOES suck sometimes. And sometimes God feels distant … Psalm 22 why-have-you-forsaken-me distant. And other times God is right there with us … sitting in the mud and muck of our cave with the spiders and bats … holding our hands and helping us find our way back out into the light … and back into life.

      What are your doing HERE Elijah … with me … in your cave?

      And sometimes God does that through precious moments with special friends who are willing to shine God’s light into our darkness.

      OMG. Why am I crying?

  9. Yes. But why do I get so frustrated when people do the opposite as well? “Well, the truth is we don’t deserve anything good, so we should just be grateful for what we get.” It feels like a wall to hide behind and pretend the pain isn’t there. Teach me about love then. Because if God loves us…. Give me wisdom to understand because the pain of others breaks me.

  10. Good post, Addie. “Everything happens for a reason” and “God always works for the good of those who love him” always struck me as cop-outs. I’ve always wondered why god gets all the praise for the good things that happen, but whenever something bad happens he gets a pass. Truth is, a lot of things happen for no good reason, painful, terrible things, but it is during those times that we find strength to move on. Cheers!

    1. I agree. They feel like cop-outs to me too; something you say so that you don’t have to engage with things that are hard and don’t have any really good answers.

  11. I am so glad you wrote about this. God does give us more than we can handle, because he doesn’t want us to handle life all on our own. He wants us to come to him, broken, hurting, needy, and to cry out for him to do it for us. Because we can’t. It’s the whole “when we are weak, he is strong” thing. That’s how e brings glory to himself through tragedy. When believers walk through those things and come out still believing- that glorifies God. It shows others that he is still trustworthy, still real, still THERE, even through life’s worst. I am so sorry for the pain that your friend is experiencing. I’m thankful that she has such a sweet- spirited friend in you, who will listen to her hurts and pain and go through it with her.

  12. This is my biggest pet-peeve of a phrase. My hackles were up just reading your title. Great post. I hate that phrase, because if I can handle it on my own, then what do I need God for? Of course we can’t handle it. And then we sit and feel like a failure b/c somehow we’re not handling it well, instead of just sitting in the hardness of it and relying on God to help us just get through it.

  13. I hate this phrase too, after years of hearing it thrown into so many painful situations, from the mundanely frustrating to the truly awful. I am through trying to pretend that I know what God is “up to” in these hard things – it only leads to more frustration. I’m so sorry for your friend, and so thankful you have each other.

    1. “I am through trying to pretend that I know what God is “up to.” SERIOUSLY. Agreed. I think this is one of the ways that the Christian romance novels I read in my teens screwed me up a little. In those books, the pain always had a very obvious reason, and once the main character “surrendered” or whatever, that reason became clear. Sunshine and roses! Happy, happy romantic endings! What-ever.

      1. Addie – the next time you are lost in my ‘hood looking for a coffee shop that your GPS has no clue actually exists can I join you and just listen to some of your stories. You crack me up.

  14. Oh, Addie. Some of us (me) can be so quick to grasp for words in the face of pain. It wasn’t until my sister’s death that I realized how hollow those words fell on hurting ears, how much I needed to just hold the grief, to be allowed to work through it – slow and ugly. I have found redemption unfurling, but not in the ways I expected. And I’ve learned to say less, listen more. Thanks for pulling out this tension here.

    1. “I have found redemption unfurling, but not in the ways I expected.” Yes. Beautiful.

    2. “Just hold the grief”–also, YES. So many in today’s culture (Christian or not) cannot deal with grief, so they throw out a cliche (and after the conversation’s over, start avoiding that person–“so depressing”) instead of being WITH the person IN their pain.

  15. This is why the “god” of Calvinism pisses me off.

    Absolute sovereignty, in every convoluted way that I can find to view it, results in a god who CAUSES bad things, under the excuse that they result in “good”. He’s selfish, he’s vindictive, he’s manipulative, and he will sacrifice anyone who gets in his way for his own pleasure.

    Yet, I find a Jesus who wept with Mary and Martha. I find a Jesus who got pissed off at the freaking empty fig tree. A Jesus who mocked Satan just a little bit.

    Someone recently told me that God “grows”. That the God of the OT is an SOB, regardless of the verse that assigns him the attribute of being the same yesterday, today, and forever, suggesting instead that God has changed because of Jesus.

    Some things in this world just flat, freaking SUCK. We need to stop trying to clothe that fact with some kind of “having a good attitude.”

    And you know what? I believe Jesus weeps with us. I believe God cries when we hurt. I believe the Holy Spirit feels every bit of our pain, and I honestly believe he says “THIS SUCKS” along with us.

    Why the heck do we feel the incredible need to LIE about something that is horrible and claim that it is good?

  16. Oh how I hate those one-liner cliches. All I hear is “Suck it up and shut up.” wrapped in a clever soundbite with a Jesus bow on top.

  17. The truth in acknowledging pain that has no answer is much more comforting than the empty words so often offered to try to explain it away. Jesus never promised that we wouldn’t have pain or trouble or heartache (go read John 16:33, Mr. Joel Osteen), but He DID promise to be with us, to walk beside us and offer the comfort of His presence. This is what we can offer those in pain–the comfort of our presence and His presence in walking alongside them as they hurt, not useless, empty platitudes.

    1. “This is what we can offer those in pain–the comfort of our presence and His presence…” Absolutely. I love how you put those two things together. Because sometimes I think that in our worst moments, you can’t feel his presence on your own; you need other people to sort of be it for you when you can’t see the beautiful invisible of it all yourself. Thanks for adding this.

  18. WELL said, addie. and i can’t even begin to imagine the pain in your friend’s soul with all that she is processing.

    i think sadly, we say those one-liners out of ignorance or selfishness (or both). ignorance b/c we’ve been trained to believe that those one-liners actually help, & haven’t walked through something painful enough yet to learn that they don’t. and selfish b/c it’s uncomfortable to enter somebody’s pain (& who wants to be uncomfortable?). those moments when our friends gift us with the sacred treasure of sharing their pain usually leave us feeling helpless, & we haven’t given ourselves permission to leave room for that in life; it goes against every fiber in our pride-filled beings.

    thank you so much for this, addie. after having walked through a recent health crisis, i’ve thought about writing a piece about how to help a friend in crisis (incl. what *isn’t* helpful) — i’ll be linking over to this piece when i do.

    1. Love this idea of another’s pain as a kind of gift…and our helplessness in the face of it. Beautiful. Thanks for the kind comment and insightful words.

  19. Holy Moses Yes, Yes, Yes! I understand this, both the hatred for the easy band-aid Christian see and the wondering if we will get through another day of parenting in the chaotic, hot, intense afternoons.

    So many events in my life have mixed up my beliefs and changed it all from black and white to gray and confusing. Yet they have taught me grace for the hurting and not to dish out rote answers. We have to be tender for the hurting and never dish out cliches as periods, only, if ever, as openers.

    1. I agree with Leanne here and sometimes I think the best thing we can say is nothing… just be there.

    2. Well, I know it’s good when I get a “Holy Moses” out you. 😉 Thanks for this great comment — glad someone else can relate to the not-feeling-like-you-can-handle-parenting thing. Sometimes those exhausting little daily things added up feeling as insurmountable as the tragedies.

  20. Addie, this may be my favorite thing you’ve written yet. So much goodness here. So many lines had me nodding in understanding.

    We need to learn to be comfortable with another’s discomfort and pain. The Church so often brushes these “negative” emotions to the side. We want to put the band-aid on, make things better. We don’t want to admit we’re not in control. We don’t want to sit with our helplessness. And often because of this, unless you’ve traveled through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, you don’t know any better. You don’t know how those verses and platitudes cut like knives and smear the pain further.

    The greatest gift we can give someone in pain is exactly what you did with your friend: sit with them and listen. Let them be your guide. It doesn’t take away the helpless feeling but it means more than we often realize.

    I’m so glad that platitude isn’t true. Because if God really thought I could “handle” some of the crap that’s come my way, I’d have stronger language for him than usual.

    1. “We need to learn to be comfortable with another’s discomfort and pain.” I keep thinking that too. I keep thinking that so much of our hypocrisy begins here, in this unwilling to be in it with each other.

    2. ‘We need to learn to be comfortable with another’s discomfort and pain. The Church so often brushes these “negative” emotions to the side. We want to put the band-aid on, make things better. We don’t want to admit we’re not in control. We don’t want to sit with our helplessness. And often because of this, unless you’ve traveled through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, you don’t know any better. You don’t know how those verses and platitudes cut like knives and smear the pain further.’

      That was really well put and lovely.

      A friend of mine pointed out that even if a person has been through the valley, it doesn’t mean that person is necessarily more able to understand someone else’s pain. That was a comfort to me in the long valley I’m still in because the expectation seemed to be that I should understand the pain of others now. I may be more aware that it’s there, but I have no special words to make things better for others any more than I have words to make things better for myself.

  21. This is such a powerful sentence: “It is the period meant to end the run-on sentence of another person’s pain. It’s the thing we say to each other when we don’t know what to say.” We want life to make sense and to work out because if someone else is out of control, then we know that can happen to us too. The Bible is short on answers and long on incarnation.

    1. “The Bible is short on answers and long on incarnation.” THAT is a great line too. Thanks Ed.

    2. “We want life to make sense and to work out because if someone else is out of control, then we know that can happen to us too.” As one who has experienced loss and grief, I can tell you how true this is. People often avoid grievers because we serve as reminders: “That could be me someday.”

  22. Oh Addie – I have so many things to say on this and don’t know where to start!
    1. Your writing is outstanding and every time I read one of your posts it seems to be even better than the last. You are seriously, seriously good.
    2. You’ve just managed to express perfectly the inadequacy of applying our favourite Christian verses like band-aids onto first degree burns.
    3. I love the pastoral, compassionate heart that I see in you from your conversation with your friend. If I were your friend, that is exactly, completely, the thing I would want to hear from you. I kind of feel ministered to even though it’s not my situation – just knowing that there are people who can hear awful things without needing to fix them, but can acknowledge their awfulness.
    4. I wish you lived a bit nearer, or you know, there wasn’t an ocean in the way. I would so love to hang out and have coffee.

    As you were. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for these kind words Tanya. Love this image of “band-aids onto first degree burns.” Yes.

  23. I totally relate to suddenly not being able to handle small children or the chaos that accompanies them – and I have 4! And sitting in my bedroom trying to calm myself down so I can go out and be a ‘good’ mother, only to hear the fighting intensify the instant I enter my room… and then walking back into the maelstrom even madder than I was when I left it!
    I don’t know why God doesn’t come and pour peace and grace out on me when I ask Him to, when I desperately need it… any more than I know why He does or doesn’t do all of the other things that don’t make sense.
    I hate those cliches as well, and have always felt patronised when someone hands me one and walks away. Like somehow it shouldn’t be hurting so much, or if it does I should be able to deal with it better.
    I have sat with friends in great pain, and felt the desire to do or say something – anything! – that will help. It’s hard work, being with people who are hurting. So I can understand why people say these one-liners… but it also indicates to me that they aren’t willing to give their time and compassion. Because really? That’s all I’ve got to give.

    1. Thanks so much for this comment, Donna, and for the honesty about the chaos of kids! This line struck me particularly: “I don’t know why God doesn’t come and pour peace and grace out on me when I ask Him to, when I desperately need it.” I relate to that so completely. Thank you.

  24. One of the most freeing (and ironically hopeful) things I have ever had a friend say to me: “If there is one thing I know for sure, it’s that life is inherently unfair…and then we die.”

    There was just something about hearing someone else admit that.

    1. In the wonderful YA book I just finished (John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars), the main characters (both of whom have cancer) always say to one another, “The world is not a wish granting factory.” Kind of loved that.

  25. I got behind on my blog-reading this week, so I’m late to this powerful discussion. But I just want to thank you for putting such eloquent, careful, well-thought-out words around this sad messiness that too often epitomizes “Christian concern.”

    My daughter’s husband was slowly dying a truly horrendous death, their lives and those of their three young sons, were in complete turmoil, and pain literally seeped out of their pores. Their church family was wonderful in so many practical ways – meals 2X week for two years! But too often, even some of her dearest friends (one of whom was on the staff) simply did not get that their words were adding to the pain and confusion, not helping it. There were times when she had to literally bite the sides of her mouth to keep from screaming back, “Are you KIDDING me? I’ve had more than I can handle for nearly three years now!!!”

    Even if all you say is, “I am so sorry,” over and over again, that is better than dropping these over-spiritualized, Bible-misquoting, conversation-stoppers of trite, hackneyed, misused, oblivious-to-the-point-of-callousness remarks. You’ve touched a nerve for me with this one, can you tell? Don’t even get me started on the thinking that goes down the road of God SENDING these horrors to people so that they will ‘learn dependence.’ It literally twists my stomach to even type those words in this box. Sigh.

    This is important. This is really, really important and I’m grateful for your beautifully written, story-centered words in this space. Thank you.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your family’s unbelievable struggle, Diana. I’ve been sitting here for the last ten minutes, trying to think of what I can type — see, even here in writing, even on THIS post, there is that urge to speak some kind of magic over it and make the pain ebb for a moment.

      I’m so aware these days of the way that deep pain separates us from one another…because even if our journeys are similar, we alone who have to bear it (with God, yes, but, also, alone). Your daughter — she alone has to hold this thing. Her husband, his own separate excruciating part of it. You yours.

      I’m thinking about Exodus 17 where Moses has to hold up his arms, and as long as he’s holding his staff over his head, the Israelites are winning the battle. I’m thinking about how exhausting, how tired his arms were. How eventually, Aaron and Hur had to come alongside him and prop his arms up for him. And I think it’s like that maybe. Like, not about words at all, but just about staying there, next to each other. We can’t hold each other’s burdens, but we can hold each other’s arms.

      Love and peace to you all. Hug your daughter hard for me.

  26. You say Christians use Romans 8:28 as shellac. I’d say a baseball bat.

    Yup, sometimes all you need is a friend to sit and drink Diet Coke with you.

  27. “Spiritual shellac.” Your imagery in this post is spot-on. Thank you. I’ve struggled with this issue a lot over the last few years, especially as I have mourned my mother. Yes, losing my mother was “more than I can handle” and most of my Christian friends don’t want to hear that.

  28. So good, so true, so right – thank you so much! I wish I could have your faith in the light of this negative evidence. I have bookmarked your blog, so maybe there is still hope for me!

    1. Faith takes time. Give yourself space to figure it out, and yes, please come back to this space. We’re pretty honest about the negative evidence here, and about the struggle of it. You’re not alone, friend.

  29. There are too many verses from scripture taken out of context, and as you say, often by kind-hearted, well meaning Christian people. It’s just that occasionally they just don’t THINK about how it could damage the recipient.

    A dear friend of mine when quoted the ‘God doesn’t give you more than you can handle’. Her response was “So you’re telling me God thought I could ‘handle’ losing my son”. Needless to say there was no answer given to her and, quite understandably at the time, she was left feeling very angry all over again with God.

    Luckily (if that’s the right term to use), a few months later I felt compelled to look deeper into this verse and even more compelled to explain it to her. Again as you mention Addie, the fact that it is about not having more temptation than we can bear. She was so very grateful as she told me that no one had ever explained it to her like that before, and it really helped. Thank God.

    Thank you for your post. It was so refreshing to read a common sense – beautifully written I might add – view of what can often only be termed as ‘throw-away verses’ even though we know they are well meant.

  30. That statement is one of my top pet peeves and I cringe when I hear someone say it. Just yesterday I was standing with a co-worker who was crying because it was the day divorce papers were signed. Her husband of 27 years left her without warning because rather than talk about his unhappiness and working through issues, he kept in all inside until he had to leave. She was blind-sided and heart broken and this other co-worker came up to us and said it – “God does not give you more than you can handle.” I waited until this well-meaning, but totally wrong person left and told my friend that God did not “give” her this and certainly it is more than she can handle. What He did give us is free will and some use this for good while others do not. She seemed far more comforted by that.

    I’m not sure what perpetuates the myth of “more than we can handle” because even at it’s very basic meaning, if that were true then why would we even need God in the first place? It is the opposite of comfort.

  31. I am rather late to this discussion, though I’ve had this post open in a separate tab for many days now. This topic is of huge significance to me.

    As one whose fiance died and who lived at the verge of suicidal for *years*: let me tell you…I have often thought, “Am I ‘handling’ THIS?!?” Is continuing to draw breath though feeling suicidal “handling” it?

    This was one of my Christian cliches that people felt the need to tell me. Don’t get me started. People say a lot of stupid things to grievers. Oh, and this was only the very worst of a long list of difficult realities in my life.

    What’s worse, I once had a pastor tell me that “temptation” in this passage really means, in the Greek, “testing.” I don’t know Greek, so I have no way of knowing whether he was right. If he was…what then? Vanessa (above) studied and says it really is about “temptation.” How to know? Also, in the book of Joel, after locusts came, God said “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm—my great army that I sent among you.” What are we to make of that? In the very same breath: “I will repay” and “*my* great army that *I* sent….” I don’t know if I’m taking something out of context here, so someone more knowledgeable than me can correct me if I am. Believe me, I don’t “want” it to be true that God SENDS calamity of any kind.

    It would not be accurate to say that I am “struggling” with this: I am down to full-on disillusionment. It’s difficult for me to even imagine that changing anytime soon.

    1. Hi Connie,
      It is certainly confusing, particularly when different people have different views on a subject. I don’t know Greek either so I was challenged (which is good) to look it up. It would appear there are a couple of possibilities for the word ‘temptation’ and I would therefore need to throw this out to someone more scholarly than I to confirm which one was originally used.
      What I can tell you, and I really pray it helps in some way, is how I came to look more closely at 1 Cor 10:13, which then led on to me speaking to a particular person about it’s meaning – and I will try and be concise.
      I try and follow a Bible reading plan on a daily basis. One day 1 Cor 10:13 was part of my reading and I honestly believe that I was Spirit led as I immediately had a strong sense of “My goodness! It’s about temptation not about us ‘handling’ everything”. My very next loud thought was “I must tell Tina”. However, I did not feel comfortable so I kept looking into it and praying that the Lord would guide me. I searched online Bibles as well as my own to see if there was anything else that indicated God only ‘gave us what we could bear’ and I found nothing. I also discovered however (and again, I believe this ‘insight’ was Spirit led) a number of cases where it was clear people could not bear what had happened and, if some Bible teachings are to be believed (and I do), one of these very occasions was God himself, momentarily turning away at the point of Christ’s final breath on the Cross – because He could not bear it; which is why Jesus cries out “My God, my God why have you forsaken me”?
      Others are when Jacob ‘refused to be comforted’ (Gen 37:25); Cain “my punishment is too great for me to bear” (Gen 4:13) and in Jeremiah 31:15 you find “Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted“, in other words, she cannot bear it.
      So I
      do believe that 1Cor 10:13 relates to ‘temptation’ and not about us being given ‘only what we can bear’ and I also believe that Father-God does hear us when we cry out to Him and He will answer us, but sometimes we’re just not in a good enough place within ourselves to always hear Him.
      I pray you are able to take something from this that helps you, and I pray that our Lord God fills you with His Spirit to guide you, because His Word is truth and He tells us in Psalm 32:8 – “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you”. I pray this for you today. Amen.

  32. I am new to this blog. I clicked on this post because of the title, hoping it would be…well, precisely what it is. As a theologian/psychotherapist I was totally tracking as I read along. And then it happened. “The waiting, day after day, for a hope deferred…” Instant tears. Not small sad tears that slip softly down the face. Deep, gut-wrenching, ugly tears. Heartsick tears. Familiar tears that once again bathed my heart in the awareness that I’m still in this place. The unknowing, the anger toward God, and the bottom line truth that unless God’s faithfulness is bigger than my faith, we won’t be together on the other side of this.
    Thank you for writing.

    1. Oh, Amy, I know that place so well. Praying that his faithfulness would be big enough and solid enough. That it will hold you when you can’t hold on anymore.

  33. My daughter brought this blog to my attention. Thanks for it, and the comments and raw truth from the nerves it struck in the replies. I think we are at heart “fixers,” at best trying to help, at worst attempting to distance ourselves from others’ inexplicable suffering by tossing scriptures at them. I used to be a tosser, but I would toss them mostly at myself, trying to make sense of the life I lived and the pain I had, and the injustice and sheer day-to-day exhaustion of it with no end in sight. I went through every grief reaction, all the grief steps, and never learned why “God” gave me these challenges. I used to think that would be my first question when I stood face-to-face with God. Why? The injured part of me still says, after long years as a believer, why God won’t you [fill in the blank] right now? Am I supposed to learn something through this? Fix This!

    We have established and agreed that people throw inappropriate scriptures at others. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. In scripture is still my hope and comfort, and that is what I am trying to share here. I am feeling defensive, thinking that someone will read my words and assumeI am just throwing fancier scriptures at their pain. That is not at all what I am trying to say. We can’t “fix” anyone, scripture or no scripture. We can only love them and weep with those who weep.

    I myself have been thinking about Job lately. I resonate with his pain, questions, anger, and challenges to God to let him go up to God’s throne and hear God’s explanation of Himself (Job 23). But during this latest bout with illness, I grabbed onto (“handle”, if you will) the verses in Job 19:25: “I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God, Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! ” Something happened in my heart when I remembered those words. They just helped me cope. These words gave me life somehow. Again, please don’t think I am trying to put a Jesus/Job Bandaid on anyone else’s suffering, or wanting to toss this scripture at someone whose pain I fear and can’t understand. I only know that for me, these words took the focus off of myself and on to Him, and I feel peace in the midst of suffering that still has not resolved. Do I like it? No. Would I like to be well? Yes. Does it matter so much? Not so much when I think of those words.

    Job never got an answer to his questions and accusations and railings against the Lord. It was only when he said in 42:5-6 “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore I am ashamed of my words, And repent in dust and ashes.” Somehow knowing that God is big, bigger — biggest, so big He doesn’t have to explain Himself to anyone, helps me. I don’t know why. But I have learned not to quote any scripture (or even worse: Christian Platitudes) to those who are suffering (my all-time favorite: “If you were a good Christian wife you’d stay home instead of working, that’s what’s causing all of this!” Right. Yeah, that must be it. I’ll just do that.). Is that love? No. But His words bring light, and life, and truth, and comfort. Let’s not forget that part.

    1. What a beautiful, insightful comment, Madelyn. I love the verse you quoted here and your incredible comment: “these words took the focus off of myself and on to Him, and I feel peace in the midst of suffering that still has not resolved. Do I like it? No. Would I like to be well? Yes. Does it matter so much? Not so much when I think of those words.”

      To me, this seems like an entirely different thing than “the Jesus Band-Aid” that I was describing above. I think what gets me about the platitudes and the automatic-go-to verses on suffering is the way that we use them as an excuse not to entire into the pain and mystery and complexity of another person’s suffering. They feel very end-of-discussion to me. After all, how can you be honest about your pain and struggle and doubt when someone has just said, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” It kills the honest discussion and it makes you feel less-than if you’re still struggling.

      What you’re talking about here to me feels like infusing the conversation with life instead of killing it dead. The words of Scripture offered with a listening, understanding , sensitive heart are exactly what we need from each other. Thanks for pointing that out here.

  34. I was relieved to read that the God doesn’t give you more cliche refers to temptation rather than pain. I couldn’t understand the pain reasoning.I still don’t know why seemingly bad things hit some more than once. I am sixty two have lost a 25yr old son, four years ago, and now have a 62yr old husband with Alzheimers. I would like some insight as to what I am supposed to do with this pain. How am I supposed to come out from under this heavy loss. Martha

    1. Martha, I’m so sorry to hear about all the hard things that have happened to you…and that are still happening. Those cliches are so defeating when you’re in the middle of the too-much-to-handle pain. I don’t know why some get SO MUCH pain while others seem to dodge the bullet; I don’t know any of it. Praying this morning for your hurting heart.

  35. So… commence stalking all of your posts.

    As I said about “come weary”, this is amazing writing. I’m aspiring to this kind of talent.

    Also, I love that of course I wanted to find some answers from you by the end of the post. But I love that what’s reflected in this post is the fact that… sometimes.. there isn’t an answer. Maybe most of the time. I think we think answers would ease the pain but I think we were meant to “bear with one another”. To come alongside each other… to be in relationship with each other in such away that we get entangle with each others mess, bearing it together, carrying it together, carrying each other. I love that you don’t claim to know any of it. I struggle so much with powerlessness. I hate it. And I wanna throw a tantrum about it and rant and vent about how it sucks.. But I read stuff like this.. about moments like this.. and I’m reminded… there’s just Gospel beauty in it.. in the middle of the crap and the pain.. when we step into it all together.

    1. Thanks so much Vicky. So glad that you’re resonating. I love that phrase “there’s just Gospel beauty in it…when we step into it all together.” Yes. Thank you.

  36. My son is 29. August 5, 2012 he became engaged to a wonderful young lady. August 29 he was diagnosed with colon rectal cancer. 6 weeks of chemo and radiation with emergency colostomy surgery twice during that. Then a total colectomy. Now they staged it 3b. 7 to 12 months to live if the next round of chemo is not effective. 70% survival rate, that is 5 years without dying. So that would make him 34. No more than we can handle. I can’t handle this. Thank God though He will “never leave nor forsake me.” It may be more than I can handle but not more than He can. What I can’t handle, God takes up the slack. Why? Why my son? I don’t know. “Though He slay me, Yet will I praise Him.”

    1. So, so sorry to hear what you and your family are going through Steve. I read this days ago and got weepy and couldn’t figure out an appropriate response. Yes, so much more than you can handle. More than you should have to. Praying peace and grace over your family in this hard time.

      1. Just an update. My son finally had the surgery. Total colectomy. They staged it at 3b, an advanced cancer, and started him back on chemo for 6 months. Two more surgeries scheduled to finally close off the illeostomy and then remove the chemo port. Headquarters of his job want to drop him to part time which would cancel his insurance but thank God his immediate bosses are fighting that like mad. His strength, his cheerfulness if facing all this is inspiring as is his trust in his God to see him through. The fiance is still in there fighting with him. In one of his down phases (and they do happen) he asked her how much more she could take and that he wouldn’t blame her if she walked. Her response? She slapped him on the back of the head (lightly) and asked “So if I get sick, you’re going to leave? I’m here for the whole run.”

  37. Came here by way of “31 days of healing.”

    The post and comments are excellent and I will be passing this along.
    A few random comments.

    Oswald Chambers said you can tell who has been “through it,” because they are the ones who have time for you.

    Nigel Mumford sums up his healing ministry as “we listen, love, and pray.”

    One of the hardest things to do, especially for those of us inclined to “ministry” or just helping people, is: “Don’t just do(or say!) something, stand there.”

    I have long made it one of my personal missions to dispel the notion that God won’t….

    Corrie Ten Boom said that there is no pit, but what the love of God isn’t deeper still. I highly encourage folks to find and read some of her books. Very few lived through what she endured.

    Blessings to all. In Haiti, they greet each other with, “God is good,” The response is, “All the time.”

  38. More than I can handle. HAH! That means I’d weigh at least ten pounds less, I wouldn’t have fallen so deeply in love with a flawed, sinful man who loves my flawed sinful self back, there would be no friends for me to fight and make up with… Girl, every part of life is more than we can handle -the good, the bad, and the in between. So who in the hell made God a bandaid to slap on discomfort?

    I mean, really, Jesus was handed more than he could handle more times than not. It isn’t that God stops it from happening or doles it out Himself… Instead, He provides what we need in those moments: be it a dinner with a dear friend, a quiet moment of peace, or a voice with which to yell. And, what’s more important than knowing, even in the ugly, He’s there.

    Your words are beautiful Addie.

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