“God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.”
– an old adage not actually found anywhere in the Bible
“Just remember! God won’t give you anything more than you can handle!” Haven’t all of us have heard these words offered as encouragement? People mean well. They’re trying to help a hurting soul tap into some kind of inner enlightenment or deep rooted strength reserve in a moment of intense pain. After all, if God didn’t see extra wisdom or power somewhere deep inside of us, then He never would have allowed the current trial into our lives. The logic of this phrase is that if God sees we can “handle” a particular trying circumstance, He allows it. What isn’t said but is the logical flip side of that coin, however, is that if God sees too much weakness within us for handling a particular trial, then it will pass us by. If that is actually the way painful versus pleasurable experiences are meted out in life, perhaps all of our unrelenting prayers should be: “Dear God, please take note of my extreme weakness!!!”
But, we all know that’s not the way life actually goes. Sometimes, the weakest, most injured amongst us are buried with trials so difficult they choose to give up on life altogether. Sometimes, poor people with no means to access solutions that could quickly ease their suffering continue in pain, while clueless billionaires remain unscathed. And, when it comes to being handed the task of parenting a child with special needs, I’ve commonly heard friends cry out, “I can’t handle this! I am not prepared for this! I don’t know what to do! This is way beyond my ability to cope!” They are not being overly dramatic. They’re saying what is true. I can’t think of a single instance yet where someone has told me they know God sent them the special trial of watching their child suffer because, as a parent, they felt well-equipped to endure their child’s agony.
There are a lot of days I don’t feel equipped for this life I’ve been handed: mother to a loved child battling epilepsy. This is a life where everything I dreamed about who I would be and what I’d be doing at this stage in life has been exchanged for daily scenarios and tasks for which I’ve felt largely untrained and inept. I’m not a nurse or doctor. I’m not a counselor or a therapist. I’m not a minister, first responder, medical biller, or insurance rep. I’m not a teacher. I’m not a nutritionist or dietician.
And, yet, I now am.
If you’d asked me five years ago whether I’d offer respite care to anyone which involved giving shots, drawing glucose levels, administering rectal and oral rescue medications, timing convulsions, being prepared for CPR, watching someone lose consciousness and stop breathing, organizing cabinets of medications and supplements, timing dosings, procuring and assessing stool samples, dealing with hallucinations, potentially deadly rashes and hives, managing behavioral side effects I couldn’t even envision at the time, amongst thousands of other tasks, I’d have confidently declined, feeling I’d probably just saved a life by sparing a sick individual my unskilled and uneducated care.
But, you see, very few special needs parents actually choose or train for their role. Very few of us take medicinal side effects courses in college for future diseases we can’t imagine our children having. We don’t take theology courses on ministry to hurting children. We don’t memorize fat, carb and protein ratios in our spare time in our twenties. We don’t intern in ambulances, ERs, PICU’s, and psych wards to prepare ourselves for what’s coming down the pike. We don’t memorize the specific liver detoxification pathways for particular pharmaceuticals and compare that with the pathways used for alternative medicines. Even when we have a skill set that’s usable in special needs parenting, it’s not comprehensive.
When a runner trains for a marathon, they devote hours, days, weeks, and months to the task of getting prepared for the race. They might study techniques, buy special shoes, hire trainers, and put in hours of dedicated practice to honing their skill. When their big challenge day finally arrives, they may have friends and loved ones calling out from the sideline during the runner’s moments of fatigue and pain, to remember their training, dig deep, pull through, and recall that they’ve conquered before.
But for most of us special needs parents, when our big challenge day makes it’s appearance on our life’s landscape, it’s as an all-out, Gettysburg-style assault on our thriving farmland. We haven’t spent hours, days or months training for war. We’ve been herding sheep, milking cows and planting gardens. One day life is clicking along with idyllic sunsets, and the next night’s sky is lit by terrifying bombs exploding in our backyard. Without warning, without training, we’re thrust into a battlefield where we frantically try to use our “farm knowledge” to staunch the blood bath.
“Remember God won’t allow more than you can handle!”
And yet, He has.
Because, here’s the deal folks. God never actually promised to not give us more than we could handle. And, this is a real shock to some: He also never promised we’d necessarily physically survive the trial. What He promised was a way to escape temptation in the midst of a trial (I Corinthians 10:13), a way to bear the trial (Phillipians 4:13), and a promised reason for the trial involving His glory and eternal good for people (Romans 8:28). These are the promises He’s made to His children.
If you’re honest with yourself then probably, like me, there is a long list of potential life tragedies that you don’t really want to have to handle. That you know you’re not equipped to handle. As a non-omnipotent, non-omniscient, non-eternal human sinner living on a sin-marred planet that list is preeettttty long:√War √Pestilence √Tsunamis √Murder √Fire √Death √Illness √Financial Ruin √Etc ad-infinitum. But in contrast to the inaccurate adage above, as a Christian, my insufficiency to manage any life tragedy doesn’t auto-eject it from my life’s play reel, in God’s economy. Because, as it turns out, God was never looking deep inside me for my innate ability to handle it. Instead, He was always confident in His incredible strength to carry me through it.
So, while God clearly sees my inadequacy, my lack of knowledge, my lack of patience and grace, my ignorance and my heart’s faulty affections, He also sees His own wisdom that reaches higher than the heavens (Isaiah 55: 9f), His own love diving deeper than the ocean, His own forgiveness stretching wider than the east is from the west (Ps 103:12), His understanding being beyond what I can imagine (Is 40:28), His own power being limitless, and these fleeting life moments of mine as the tiniest tip of the topmost blade of grass on the mountain of eternity (I Peter 1:24).
God never allowed a trial based on my ability to handle things.
HE JUST ALWAYS KNEW HE COULD.
This is why, whenever someone says to me, “I could never do what you do”, I understand and remember all the days I knew I couldn’t do it either. I know, today, that although my medical knowledge and experience base has grown, there are still many ways I can’t handle this. I’m not relying on God’s ability to see strength inside of me for this task. I’m trusting in His promise to BE my strength for this task. I’m trusting Him to provide ways for me to escape temptations to doubt or despair. I’m trusting Him to forgive, correct and comfort me when I don’t take a provided escape. I’m trusting Him to understand my pain, count my tears, and reveal to me, one day, the eternal cause that outweighs them all. I’m trusting Him to love my family, not just while we’re here fighting, but forever (Ps 136). I’m trusting He’s doing things I can’t see, that matter on a spiritual level, because of our trial. I’m trusting Him to lead us and guide us through the medical maze we’re trapped in right now. I’m trusting Him to give me strength for seeing the things I don’t want to see, doing the things I don’t want to have to do, and handling the things I don’t want to handle.
I’m trusting that God won’t give me anything that He can’t handle.
And I’m believing that – just like I do with my own children – when I really can’t handle any more, He’ll hold me, listen to my sorrow, lift me in His strong arms, and carry me on.
Note: I published this blog in July 2017. In August 2017, The Gospel Coalition posted a link to an article on the same topic, on their Facebook page: one that an author had written, unbeknownst to me, in 2015. For a more theologically fleshed-out article and additional Scripture references combatting this same hackneyed but unbiblical phrase, check out this article written by Mr. Chase here.