So, when someone is going through a really hard time you’ve been known to say, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” from time to time.
You mean well, I get it. You’re trying to encourage and comfort, and certainly your intent is good. Back in the day I said that as well.
When people are going through a difficult and painful life chapter, it can make those on the peripheral of a painful story deeply uncomfortable. It’s hard to watch others who are hurting, and it’s even harder knowing that we might not have any real solutions that would lessen their pain or improve their plight.
So, we “appeal to the mysterious” when all things tangible come up empty.
“God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” somehow flows from the lips of the one who wants to comfort, but who subconsciously knows nothing will.
But here’s the problem: Those words aren’t actually comforting to us the way you hope or intend them to be. So here’s a few reasons why many of us who are experiencing painful life chapters would *really* like you to plllleeeeaaase stop saying this to us:
First up, this quote is a twisting of Scripture. The actual verse in reference (1 Corinthians 10:13) is actually referencing temptation to sin, and says that God will not place us in a situation where a temptation to do wrong is irresistible, but will always give us a “way of escape.” Essentially, it’s a verse that puts the responsibility for our own sinful choices on ourselves, and reminds us that none of us are locked into making a sinful decision. Instead, it’s a verse that reminds us we’re capable of not doing the things we shouldn’t do.
None of this has anything to do with the heaping, painful burdens and sadness of life.
Not even close.
Second, when you use this phrase in hard moments, it makes it sound as if all the horrible things in our life came from God. Can you pause for a moment and imagine how that might feel to us?
When you use the words “God” and “gives” in the sentence that way, what we hear is:
God gave the cancer.
God caused the car accident.
God took the child.
God sparked the fire or blew in the hurricane.
God gave you this horrible pain.
Please consider that what you’re telling us– and in the midst of our despair no less– is that the very things that make us question if we’ll wake up breathing tomorrow, are all things that God somehow did to us. Instead of being the one safe place we can turn for comfort and solace, you turn God into the ultimate source of all of our pain and sorrow.
When you say that God did this, even subtly or unintentionally, you take away the one thing so many of us desperately need– the comfort of God, and to be comforted knowing that this wasn’t God’s doing.
Think about it: if someone gave you a black eye and a busted lip, would that person be the one you’d want to seek for comfort? Um, no.
We need to know God sees our hurt, that God feels it, that God empathizes with it, and that God grieves with us. We’d like to know you do too– but we can’t experience those things in the same moment that some well-meaning person is telling us that God “gave us” this unbearable pain.
Besides conveying the subtle but destructive belief that God gave us these wounds, what I’d really like you to know is that saying, “God won’t give us more than we can handle” usually happens in a moment when it feels like what we’re facing actually is more than we can handle. This is *incredibly* invalidating in a moment when what we actually need most is to feel seen and to have our pain recognized.
For the one who has had to say a final goodbye to their own child, that painful chapter of life feels like it’s more than we can handle. For some parents, and certainly some marriages, it actually is more than what can be handled.
For the one who lost their home and every last belonging, for the one who just got the diagnosis they never imagined they’d receive, for the one who is in the darkest of nights even when the sun is beating down with a fierce heat… having the burden of those life-sucking moments dismissed by being told God isn’t giving us “more than we can handle” is pretty much dead last on the list of things we need to hear.
But like I said at the beginning, I know you mean well and your heart is in the right place. So let me offer an alternative:
Just “be” with us.
Sit. Listen. Pass a tissue.
Offer a hug. Be okay with uncomfortable silence.
And yes, you can offer encouraging words, too. Just not those words, please.
If your intention is to remind us that we’re strong, then by all means– remind us we’re strong. Remind us of the times in our life when you’ve witnessed our strength, remind us of the qualities that are good and right about us. Remind us of the things that are true about us.
Remind us that you care, and that you’re here for us– that you’re here to just “be” with us, through it all.
Remind us that we’re not alone in this dark place.
But please, just please– don’t tell us that God won’t give us more than we can handle, because those words don’t do for us what intend them to do.
Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com.