So, if I were to write a book…this post would be the first three chapters. Not because of the content – but because it’s long enough to cover such. But if you have the time, and are willing to look at a few Greek words, and a commentary quote or two, you might get a special light to help guide you through your next dark place.
Chris and I have heard the following phrase a lot the last several weeks, usually accompanied by a well-meaning hug, or a pat on the back:
“God won’t give you more than you can handle. Remember that.”
In fact, we’ve heard it so much, it’s almost seemed to be the new my-friend-is-going-through-a-trial-and-I-should-say-something-Biblical catch phrase…you know, kinda like how “Don’t worry – just hang in there because God’s working everything out for good!” used to be.
Until we all went to those ladies’ retreats and counseling sessions where we were told not to use that phrase with someone who was hurting. Because, honestly, most people weren’t even thinking of what that real good was anyway. (If you’re curious – it’s in Romans 8:29 – the rest of the sentence immediately following this promise.)
Don’t get me wrong, we both appreciate every kind encouraging word spoken to us right now – honestly, it means more to us than most of these people will ever know. Before we were forced on this journey, neither one of us, honestly, would have ever said anything to someone in our situation. We would have had no idea what to say, Biblically or not. So to those who are silently praying and following our journey – please, feel no guilt or pressure to say something. We totally understand that hesitancy or uncomfortableness. We know its from a sincere desire to encourage us (and not break down in tears every time you look at us!) – and we appreciate that show of love right along with the others. In fact, I had a friend at church come up to me, covering his face with a sheet of paper – he was afraid if he looked at us while he told us of his prayers and concern that he’d begin crying – and we surely had enough tears surrounding our days for him to add more to our burden. Honestly, that short conversation with him meant so much to us. And he’s not alone. Honestly, when I hear of others in similar situations even now, I still don’t really know what to say to them.
This phrase though, from those who are willing to step out and attempt words of encouragement, – “Well, you know God won’t give you more than you can handle.” – has just been spoken to us on so many occasions, we had to start really thinking about it. My first inaccurate thought was, “Oh, well then, He was mistaken about us. Because we can’t handle this.” Then another carnal thought – during a particularly good day was, “Oh, well then, I must be something special to have Him dump this on us.” I saw this photo floating around facebook last week too…
Cute cat, but that’s about it. If this were true, that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, then why would we ever need him?
After awhile, I was forced to search the Scriptures. In English and Greek. And a few other languages I’m still unsure of – they just looked cool to me at the time. 🙂
I mean, really, what does that phrase mean? What does it mean to “handle” something?
That we don’t go into manic depression? Become hermits refusing to speak to anyone ever again? Perhaps, it means we won’t try to end our lives, and thus end the trial we are under?
At any rate, it seemed to give the impression – if I may write my own “amplified” version of this quote:
“Hang in there – you can do this. Because God won’t allow you to go through something you can’t be happy, joyful, rosy, thankful and/or submissive about. You got this. If you couldn’t do it, He wouldn’t have given it to you!”
First off, the verse most people are semi-quoting is from I Corinthians 10 – and it’s talking about temptations (although the Greek word used is, admittedly, the same as the one used for trials in James 1.) If you’d like to read a great exegesis article written on the differences between these two words, trials and temptations, and why this verse isn’t talking about the former – my husband put it into simple words on his blog here.
I could spend lots of time on the real meaning of this verse in reference to temptations…but seeing as we believe this situation has been given to us by God, and therefore cannot be a temptation, but rather a trial designed to purify us and make us more like Christ, I’ll save that for another time.
The key is that this verse does not apply to us. At least, not in this particular situation.
Of course, we could easily face temptations to sin during this trial – and we have. But the reality that we’re carrying a child who will be with us for an extremely short amount of time, if any at all, is, in our minds, a trial.
And James 1 talks about this:
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial,
for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life,
which God has promised to those who love him.”
OK – so remaining “steadfast” – or “underneath” the testing is required for God’s promise of reward. We see this several times in Scripture – another time being in Romans 5.
“…but we rejoice in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope.”
And if I can rephrase that using some literal Greek translations:
“We rejoice in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces value – a deepened character,
and value produces hope.”
A certain commentary I read put it this way:
Believers can enjoy the peace with God that has been achieved and the glorious future in God’s presence that awaits them. But how should they react to the experiences of life that are often adverse and difficult? They are to rejoice in their sufferings. James wrote along the same line: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2).
This is more than mere Stoic endurance of troubles, even though endurance or steadfastness is the first result in a chain-reaction outgrowth from distress. This is spiritual glorying in afflictions because of having come to know (from oida, “to know by intuition or perception”) that the end product of this chain reaction (that begins with distress) is hope.
Suffering brings about perseverance (the ability to remain under difficulties without giving in). Only a believer who has faced distress can develop steadfastness. That in turn develops character (dokimēn [“proof”] has here the idea of “proven character”), which in turn results in hope. As believers suffer, they develop steadfastness; that quality deepens their character; and a deepened, tested character results in hope (i.e., confidence) that God will see them through.
So perhaps the idea of “Hang in there – you can do this!” as a cheerleader from the sidelines is just a matter of encouragement from onlookers? Because that’s what we’re supposed to do?
Say, “I got this!” And muster up the energy, or hope, or courage to take on what comes next.
And sometimes I have been able to do that. I can reach deep within myself and find something that will drive me on. I have that innate desire to succeed, to survive.
But that was when I ran a half marathon. Or hiked to the top of my first (and only!) mountain peak in Wyoming back in 2002.
Not during this.
Friends, I’ll be honest. There
were are times when I’ve said out loud to whomever would listen –
“I can’t do this anymore.”
And to be honest, I can’t. I can’t handle it. At all. I could “do” Chloe in the NICU for several days – after the first 3 anyway. I could “do” her copperhead bite a few years ago. I could “do” college in 3 years while working 40 hours a week. I could “do” – and I did – a lot of things. And a lot of them I did in my own strength. Sadly.
But this, this is different. And I can’t do it. I can’t handle it. And I don’t want to. God did give me more than I could handle.
But perhaps, dear friend, He does that willingly? For a specific purpose?
Because He clearly tells us that staying under those trials will produce blessing.
But what if we can’t stay under it and survive. Or at least we feel that way? There must be an answer. There has to be an answer. I’m in a trial, but I can’t handle it. But yet I have to.
“Through Him we have obtained access by faith
into this grace in which we stand
and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
And not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings…
because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.“
We have hope. that God’s glory will be the end game. No matter how long we’re in a trial, or how hard it becomes. God will get the glory. Whether here or in Heaven, He will get it. And He promises that He exists and He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
And that’s what I ultimately want. So, I can rejoice. And I can stay under it. Because I can do all things through Christ who gives me the strength. The same God who gave me grace. The grace that is sufficient for my needs. As it was for Paul’s.
In fact, Paul asked God three times to take away his thorn in the flesh. I put that at begging level. And I’ve been there. This week. Yesterday.
But God hasn’t healed our baby. And he didn’t take away Paul’s thorn either. He just said to him,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power
is made perfect in weakness.”
And for one of the first times in my life, I can say, honestly, that it is.
His grace is enough for me. His strength has allowed me to “handle” all the things I’ve been given, despite the constant fear of the death of our child surrounding us like this South Carolina humidity. And I have been able to rejoice – not in the circumstance I’m in, but in the glory that God is getting. And I’ve felt God’s love in my heart – especially in the midst of my dark nights of doubts when He gently leads me back to where I can find His amazing peace that surpasses all comprehension. Because I also have hope. Hope that no matter what happens, if I stay under this trial, God will produce in me something that He wouldn’t have without it.
So maybe, before you give someone that quick catch all phrase, meant to be encouraging to a friend in a deep trial…perhaps a slight rewording might be in order – and might do even more good: