Have you ever walked through a season in your life you thought might break you? I’m not talking about the everyday stuff. We’re each going to wrestle with our share of broken air conditioners in July, cranky bosses, and family feuds. I’m talking about soul crushing, heart wrenching times when getting through the days takes a herculean effort. When you can’t lift yourself out of the pit despite all of your coping resources – faith, friends, family, chocolate ice cream. And wine, in the name of truth telling.
That’s when a well-intentioned friend, who truly wants to offer encouragement and comfort, will say something like this, “Don’t worry. God won’t ever give you more than you can handle.” To which you might want to reply, “Seriously? God really gave me a bigger helping of troubles because I’m stronger than the next guy? Is that really fair? Does God really work like that?” It’s especially dispiriting if you get this advice when you haven’t really had a chance to get to know God, or haven’t been properly introduced. Or, if you’re just not ready to invite Him in just yet. Sometimes we Christians, in our effort to win over newbies, or to show love to someone in extreme pain, say things that just don’t add up.
Anyway, a few weeks ago, Colin Noonan — you know him from the Spiritual Side column — said something in church that really caught my attention (not that I ever get distracted in church or anything). Colin said that the whole notion that God won’t ever give you more than you can handle is, well, bunk. Otherwise, he surmised, why would we need Him? No, Colin argued, God is going to allow way more than you can ever hope to handle. Because His hope is that at some point, you’ll drop the Ben & Jerry’s and find comfort in Him instead. Plus, adversity has a way of refining us. When you’ve reached the other side of it, of course.
I have to share with you that I’ve heard this sentiment in spades in recent times, and I know it was said with love. For two years now, I’ve been coping with, well, way more than I can handle. In 2012, I lost my mother to cancer after a hard-fought battle I waged alongside her from long-distance; then, just nine months later, my husband was simultaneously diagnosed with cancer, and offered a new job in Seattle. In a few months’ time we’ve coped with his surgery, recovery and radiation therapy while I managed my mother’s estate and the sale of her home, while oh yeah, I juggled three kids, my own business, and an imminent move. Chocolate hasn’t done me much good in the face of all that.
But I can tell you that I have never, ever been closer to God. I have never relied on His mercy so much; I’ve never been in such continuous conversation with Him. I’ve never been so spiritually surrendered, nestled in the sweetest knowledge that while I’d been given too much, He would also walk alongside me, hold me, mold me, and expand my capacity for fortitude. Scripture tells us over and again that life will be hard, that we will endure sorrows. I don’t think God assigns some of us more than others; but He captures those opportunities to increase His presence in our lives.
I also believe we all learn the most powerful lessons through adversity. Think of all the good works born out of tragedy. A parent loses a child to cancer and launches a charity to fund research. An addict breaks free of the grip of drugs and goes on to help prevent others from the same fate. A woman holds her mother’s hand as she takes her last breath, and helps a friend cope with her husband’s terminal diagnosis. So many positive outcomes are born out of suffering, and if we’re willing, hardship can make us so much better, as long as we’re not bitter.
So if you’re experiencing heartbreak, loss, despair, grief, addiction, tragedy, financial setback, divorce or ill health, send me an email at email@example.com. I’m right here with you. Share your story with me. I won’t tell you that God won’t give you more than you can handle. Life will; and God will allow it. But I’ll also reveal how every tragic event in my life pushed me one step closer to a more resilient, empathetic, faithful version of myself.
But we can still split some Ben & Jerry’s!
• Freelance journalist, copywriter and editor Diane Meehl is a longtime contributor to the AFN. She and her brood live in Ahwatukee Foothills, for a bit longer anyway. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.