Today I am feeling grateful. I am grateful for the sleeping dog lying next to me, barking and wiggling his nose. I am grateful that I live in a world where dogs get to have dreams.
And, as the above photo states, I am grateful that I live in a world with Octobers. I love fall. October is my favorite month of the year, and now even more so since our wedding anniversary is in October.
And this year I’ve been looking forward to fall even more than usual. As many of you have read, this summer was the most difficult season of our lives. A change of seasons is refreshing. Fall is particularly refreshing for me– cooler weather, waking up to cold air through open windows, apple orchards and pumpkin farms, and a much needed reminder that some things are more beautiful in their season of death than even in life. It is a precious hope I cling to, that, though we still ache and long for our sweet baby, she is truly in the arms of Jesus, beautiful and pain free, in constant and perfect relationship with her Creator.
And I’m grateful for this blog post that showed up on my facebook news feed today (though the article is from March) and put words to something I’ve been wanting to address, especially over the last several weeks. I have had many well-meaning people (both Christian and not) respond to the difficulty of this season with old sayings and Christian platitudes that are meant to offer some comfort, the most frustrating of which has been”God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” Though there are many sayings that we throw around (both as Christians and not) to “comfort” those suffering and in pain, many of which do the opposite, but would you please allow me to address this particular one?
First, can I just say (though I know the people that have said this mean to be helpful) it’s not a super kind thing to say to someone who is in pain. I understand that the intended message is “you’ll get through this” but, at least for me, it makes me feel like even more of a failure. God thought I could handle this, but I certainly don’t feel like I can. Am I not as strong as He thinks? Am I not depending on Him? I think maybe the most painful part of this saying is that it’s often used as a response to someone who has questions that are too big to answer. It serves as a way to quiet the questions that we’ve worked up the courage to ask God during these difficult seasons, the questions we know we will probably never get the answers to, but we ask anyways because we are struggling to reconcile what we know about who God is with the crap we are wading through. “It will get better.” “But what if it doesn’t?” This, and other questions like it, are not the questions of the weak and tired, but the questions of the courageous, those who know that life may always feel hard and choose to seek God in the midst of the crap. These are the questions of the weary, who feel beat down, but haven’t given up. These are the questions of those faithful enough to believe that God is listening, even when He seems to be silent.
I had a dear friend and discipleship group leader in college who had just suffered her 4th late term miscarriage in just over a year when I met her (though I had heard her speak several times). I had just had my 4th surgery to have tumors removed in about the same amount of time. Although now, having lost a child I wouldn’t say the pain is comparable, at the time we were both going through some of the most difficult things we had experienced. We both felt alone in the desert. And at our most honest, we were both so hurt by God that we weren’t even sure that we wanted Him to draw us near. He didn’t feel safe. We were hurt and angry. But I will never forget that, when I was asking God big questions for the first time, really, she encouraged me, reminding me that God wants a relationship with us, not blind followers. And if any other person in our lives hurt us, or could have stopped pain in our lives and chose not to, we would question them. There is something beautiful about the relationship between someone who is suffering and the God that the desperately want to see act, who isn’t acting in a way that makes sense to us. It isn’t difficult to see God from the mountaintop, but to continue to seek Him when you’re in the valley and know (or fear) that may be where you spend the rest of your days is brave. Please don’t be afraid to question God, friends. Even Jesus, who was God in a human body, asked, in His final moments “Father, why have You forsaken me?” If He can question God’s presence and plan in the painful moments, surely we are free to do the same. And please don’t diminish the validity of other’s questions by trying to quiet them with platitudes because the questions are too big to answer and scary to address. As Nate beautifully states “Limp, anemic sentiments will not stand in the face of a world that is not as it should be.”
Secondly, and much more importantly, it isn’t true. The verse that is referenced by this saying is 1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you except that which is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” Not only does it not say anything about trials (but specifically about temptation), it also does not say God gives it. I think these are both critical points to understand. From what I understand about this verse, the implication is that God will not allow you to be tempted beyond what your faith can handle. This does not mean you won’t be tempted, or that you won’t succumb to temptation, or that you won’t feel like the temptation is overwhelming and more than you can handle, but rather that the Lord will provide a way out of temptation, should we choose to take it. We live in a fallen world (though I think, if we’re honest, none of us need to be told that. We can feel it deep within ourselves constantly). We will be tempted. We will fail to beat temptation. But God will not allow Satan to tempt us beyond what we can handle to maintain our faith. Not what we can handle to feel great, to feel untested, for life to be easy, but just for our faith to remain. God will allow us to be tempted. God will not allow us to be tempted to the point that our faith is unable to be recovered.
The other thing that is painfully wrong about “God not giving us more than we can handle” is that it implies that God gives us trials. God, who is love and goodness and sent Jesus so that we could have life abundant, does not give us trials to make us stronger or more compassionate or to grow us, nor does He tempt us. (James 1:13 “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone.”) However, we live in a fallen world and we do experience the pain of separation from God. But God, who loves us and desires good for us, does not cause pain in our lives. He, instead, uses the trials we endure to draw us to Himself, to make us more compassionate, to remind us of what and who we were created to be and who we were created for. In His compassion, even when our trials are a direct result of our own sin, He allows us to grow as people as well as in relationship with Him, if we choose.
So friends, when you encounter someone in the middle of a great trial, please choose the words you say carefully. Please make sure that they are Truth and even more importantly that they are full of grace and abundant in love. Please make sure that they encourage true relationship with Jesus and don’t discourage someone from asking the brave, hard questions of God. That dear friend who is walking through the valley or the desert, they could turn away from God because they can’t see or feel Him, but instead they’ve chosen to turn to Him, to seek His heart in the midst of pain, and that is a beautiful, courageous, and honorable venture.
I am grateful for a God who knows and understands my hard questions, who seeks me even in the valley, and who encourages my spirit with just enough when human words fail and the day feels too long and hard to get through.