I won’t believe you if you say you’ve never been told in a time of difficulty “well, don’t worry. God never gives you more than you can handle.” If you haven’t had this said to you directly, you have heard it said to someone else. But is it really true?
The way I see it there are three main camps here. The first dismisses the question of the truth of the matter because the saying is treated as an idiom or a proverb – something we are meant to take the spirit of rather than the letter of. “Strength comes to you.”
The next two viewpoints take the phrase a little more literally.
The second viewpoint accepts the truth of the statement and claims that God would not put us in a situation which we are not equipped to handle. This means that if we find ourselves in a situation which we think is too much for us, we are wrong. Buck up. Stand tall. Be strong. You have it in you. And we do constantly surprise ourselves with our resilience, do we not? So perhaps there is truth…
The final standpoint rejects the premise. I find that those who adopt this view are those who purport to be realists, or people who have endured a lot of difficulty and still find themselves far from the end of the tunnel. They say “come on, look around you. There are plenty of people in situations they aren’t equipped to deal with. There are people starving in 3rd world countries around the globe…” and then they go on at quite some length. And we do not even have to look at 3rd world countries to see that this is true – we have to look no further than the fringes of our own society.
So what do you think? Does God not give us more than we can handle? Is this statement a gross generalization that holds no water when applied to the less fortunate? In my head I’ve bounced back and forth relentlessly. And truth be told I cannot remember how I came to understand this – if someone finally explained it differently, or if finally it simply made sense to me.
Because there is in fact truth to this statement, although it does not lie in the common interpretation of the saying.
When we are told that God does not give us what we cannot handle, it is selfish to think that this is a reflection of us in any way. This is not saying that we will never find ourselves in a situation which is beyond us. This does not mean that we will never be in over our heads. It does not mean that we already have the strength to overcome anything that comes our way.
God does not give us anything we cannot handle – this is a reflection on God – because what we should be saying is “God does not give us anything which he will not equip us to handle.” This part, at least, I have learned from experience. I have walked blindly into more situations that I can even recall and I have been unprepared, I have been ill equipped, I have been utterly lost. And yet here I am – whole, healthy, relatively happy. Am I stronger than anyone else? I think not! I have just been helped, sometimes against my will, but I have been helped to each little finish line.
To me, this is about God. But if you’re not “into that” it still holds water.
At the beginning of any big experience which you have never dealt with (marriage, your first child, the death of a loved one, etc), how can you claim to be prepared for it? We can study and practice and simulate all we want to, but before we have a real life experience we cannot claim to know that we can come out of a situation as well as when we walked in. Every experience teaches, if we allow it. And in that way this saying holds true.
After each trial or tribulation that life presents us with, we are somehow better equipped than we were before. And another important part? This still doesn’t mean that we have the answer. And it doesn’t mean we did it alone. Sometimes being equipped for a situation means only that it didn’t kill us, not necessarily that we made it through with grace.
Your parent or child dies unexpectedly. Is there a way to be prepared for this? Not really. But “God doesn’t give us situations we cannot handle” – where does that leave us? It leaves us gasping for breath as we try to handle the shock of the situation. In a time like this “being equipped for the situation” doesn’t mean the death of a loved on does not hurt us. It means that we are given that breath when it feels like we might black out. It means that we somehow endure the passage of time in a (somewhat) patient way, even if its because we have no choice but to wait for time to dull the pain. It means that situations in your life which knock you lower than you thought you could ever go, still do not kill you.
That’s all it means. No answers are guaranteed. No one expects that you’ve made it through on your own. All that we can see on the outside is that you have made it – you have handled it. Somehow.
So whatever the situation – if you made it through to the other side, to the next day or the next minute – this is because God doesn’t give you something he isn’t going to help you through …if you let him. But. You have to let him.