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On Not Handling It
If you have a child who has lived with a chronic disease or life-threatening illness, a high likelihood exists that some well-meaning individual or family member– perhaps even more than one—has tried to encourage you by saying, God does not give you anything you can’t handle. Well…I have a bone to pick with this particular piece of advice. Here are three thoughts about the oft-heard “God does not give you anything you cannot handle” that I think are worth considering.
The original verse from the Bible does not say this.
The paraphrased verse is drawn from 1 Corinthians 10:13 which says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (NIV).
Remember that the Apostle Paul spoke his original words in Greek, and words don’t always translate perfectly into English. Also, it’s important to look at the historical context in which the original verse was written. Although the word temptation can be interpreted as “test” or “trial,” this passage was taken from a sermon in which Paul was teaching about avoiding temptations related to idolatry, or worship of false gods, and temptations of the flesh (i.e., sexual immorality). The Corinthians had a rather big problem with temptations of the flesh and worship of false idols.
The verse does go on to say that God will provide a way out so we can endure our pain, and that entails the pain of trials from any variety of sources. Parents of children with rare diseases and life-life limiting illness do not live in a vacuum, and may likely be facing trials because of relationship issues, trouble at work, insurance battles, money problems, and general disappointment in the way life has unfolded. The great news is that God does promise us “a way out” regardless of the nature of the struggle and hope for our continued endurance. But of course, the way out Paul mentions entails our ongoing communication with God, and the way out is spiritual, not necessarily from a miraculous healing or the ending of our trial or temptation.
God does not “give” us the devastating illness or losses we may face with our children, and God does allow us to experience pain we cannot handle.
The phrase “God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle” implies that God has given our children a serious or life-threatening illness or chronic disease. God does not do that. While you may logically argue that God has the power to prevent the illness or disease or to cure it, that is not the same as God knowingly giving our innocent children a serious illness to teach us a lesson.
On the other hand, if we could simply “handle” the pain of our children’s illness or our loss quite easily on our own without ever stumbling, then why would we need God? In fact, God does allow us to experience pain we cannot handle. But as the Bible verse actually reads in its original form, God never abandons us and does provide a way out, or a spiritual means of finding peace even in the most grievous of circumstances.
It is a fact that sometimes we will not “handle” our pain.
What does it mean to handle our pain, our anger, or grief? How does that “handling” actually look?
As a mother of a now-adult child with a rare and complex genetic disease, I am here to tell you that I have not always handled my anger, frustration, disappointment, and grief, especially after the onset of my mother’s later stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Then I became a deluxe grief sandwich with both my amazing mother and my first-born and much beloved son both in a state of serious illness with an uncertain future. Over the last eighteen years, I have lost it and given into temptations many times. I have cried on the way to work, cried at work, blown my budget, yelled at a few healthcare providers and their office staff, binged on cookies, and neglected my housekeeping, and at times even failed at mothering. I have even given God the silent treatment, and not only on one occasion. While I’m somewhat embarrassed and not proud of my behaviors, I offer this self-disclosure to let you know that unless we are saints, we will indeed have moments when we do not “handle” our pain, our trials, our temptations. Allow my confession to help you know that as parents we will not handle all that comes our way with perfect grace and an angelic smile.
But that does not mean we are faithless or failures. We may drop the ball, but we can pick it up again. God does not abandon us in our moments of weakness, and God knows our hearts. As for our patenting failures, I will share the best piece of advice I received from a chaplain, and that is, love covers a multitude of sins. Our enduring love for our children will mitigate any perceived failures and our legitimate mistakes.
A final note. . .
So, should you hear this piece of well-intended but badly paraphrased verse about God never giving you something you cannot handle, see yourself pasting a new thought right over the top of the misguided advice, just as if you were placing a big bumper sticker over the words. Here is one truth that has always been a great comfort to me:
God will help you find meaning in the pain.
If you want to find peace, God will help you make meaning out of your pain. You will find a channel through which the pain of grief will be transformed into something new that is more bearable, and even beautiful. I believe this may be the way out promised in the original Bible verse.
Many parents who have traveled the painful journey of parenting or losing a seriously ill child have channeled their hard-earned wisdom and their emotional pain into creative, spiritual, charitable, or intellectual pursuits that have given great meaning to their lives. For me, part of my quest to find meaning in our suffering and regain some peace was achieved through writing a book with my son fifteen years after his diagnosis to help other children survive the challenges of growing up with a rare genetic disease. But I know we didn’t accomplish it alone, and finding meaning and reconciling our pain is a process, not an instant achievement.
Essentially, God will put the needed guidance, people, and circumstances in place when you desire to find meaning in what you and your child have endured. Just remember, it may take time, years even. But if you want it, God will be there to help make it happen. God will help you handle it.