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Things I wish Christians would stop saying: “God won’t give you more than you can handle”

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It’s meant to encourage someone going through a hard time – and I certainly support building up someone who has troubles. But saying, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” can actually hurt and alienate people. Also, it’s utterly not true.

AtlasFirst, God doesn’t give us hard times. Hard times come because we live in a broken, messed-up world. The actions of others, our own actions, and even random chance can plunge us into deep trouble, pain, or grief.

Second, there are absolutely hard times we can’t handle. Ask someone whose child was murdered, or someone mired in deep depression, or someone living with crippling pain, or someone stuck in addiction. These are deep holes out of which people often can’t climb alone.

Imagine being utterly crushed by troubles like these, where you’re barely hanging on, and then hearing someone say this to you. Can you see how this could hurt? “Really? God gave me this awful thing because he knew I could handle it? Gee, thanks God. Thanks a lot!”

I think people who say this mean well. And they certainly find some basis for this saying in the Bible. Check out 1 Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. 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 stand up under it.

The word translated as “temptation” is the Greek peirasmos, which is also translated as “trial” elsewhere in the New Testament, notably in James 1:2-4 where we are told to count it as all joy when we face trials of various kinds. The context in which 1 Cor 10:13 lives speaks of both temptations and trials.

But notice how this passage tells us that God will provide the way out. In other words, God will help us handle it. We just have to follow his lead.

Now, we can often endure hard times – that is, get up every morning and live with them one more day. As Winston Churchill famously said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

But enduring isn’t handling. To handle something means to have power or control over the thing, or an ability to manage the thing successfully.

Ask any recovered addict who used to get up every day and use a substance long past the point where it stopped being enjoyable, because they had to. The very basis of 12-step programs is that the addiction is bigger than the addict can handle, and that turning it over to God is the path to sobriety and sanity. The 12 steps are a fine prototype for giving big problems to God. He will carry some of the problem himself, and he will bring change and growth in you so you can handle the rest of it.

That’s not to say God will fix everything. Murdered children stay murdered. Terminal disease still kills. But in such cases God can help you accept your reality and find meaning in it.

Hard times inevitably fall on all of us. God hopes we will turn to him when they happen, because it is in a crucible of suffering that God can show you personally how much he loves you and help you grow to become the person he made you to be.

And so I wish that Christians would instead say: Turn to God, because he wants to help you handle this. That’s the encouragement we all need.

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15 thoughts on “Things I wish Christians would stop saying: “God won’t give you more than you can handle”

  1. Kurt

    Excellent post Jim. I think often times folks are too quick to utter these words, rather than maybe being inconvenienced by helping/listening.

  2. christopher.

    Preach, sir. Good, kind words. I heard phrases like this so often when my mother passed away. These times when people feel they need to say something, but there’s nothing to say, so they lean on platitudes. I understood it then, and I understand it now. But even when I understood it, it didn’t make it any less infuriating, moreso because I felt it put their burden on me–their burden to need to say something, or that they felt expected to say anything–when I was already carrying so many burdens. But as a griever, I was also expected to want these platitudes, right? And so I had to play my role, and nod and smile for them, and say thank you for their kindness, for coming to the wake. We all play so many roles, and expect so much of ourselves. I think the hardest part was feeling like, if they really knew me, they would’ve known I would much rather have had them quote that Winston Churchill quote to me. I think that’s what those empty platitudes most often made me feel like–that no one really knew what I was going through then, or even knew me at all. One friend, my friend Dustin, turned to me at the wake, and just said, “You look like the desperation.” And he bear hugged me. And that. That was a perfect thing to do.

    I don’t really know where that was going. Just some rambling that your post made me think about.

    1. Jim Grey Post author

      I’m sure you suffered a platitude onslaught when your mother passed. I loved how you describe the tension between your infuriation and your feeling of obligation to play the role you were assigned. You are welcome to ramble in the comments at any time, my good man.

    2. Am

      Chris,
      I am sorry about your mother’s passing. I remember when my parents passed away. I was only 8 years old and had to look after my 2 year old brother. I had to play the role of an adult. It was touch. When people would say kind words, I felt like they had no idea what I was feeling. Sometimes their kind words seemed like noise to be honest. It wasn’t until I read 1 Corinthians 15:22 that I got some hope. I learned that God is fair and I can see my parents again. Anyways, let me know what you think about this verse. I think that it will give you some hope for the future.

  3. Michelle Styles

    I wrote about this to in a few posts.

    http://aghostdancer.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/inside-me-deeply-part-5-inside-my-rape/

    People who want to see inside how horrible things can lead to addiction and more should read the inside me deeply posts. All seven of them. From my need for control (cutting, stripping, to choices not to abort, to watching my son grow, to my rape and who I am today.) Want to know about how to come to a victim read Pastor Dan’s posts Walking in the valley of the shadow and A tale of three women.

    http://danledwith.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/a-tale-of-three-women/

    http://danledwith.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/walking-in-the-valley-of-the-shadow-part-1/

    “Free will and the evil it’s capable of and nothing more caused this event. Gods love can turn it from disaster to divine. I do believe whatever our trials my great god is capable of molding even the worst of evil into something that will help others. He is capable of healing the most broken. His gift of free will can’t be free at all if he or destiny control it. if that were true we are mere slaves or puppets to his will and lack the gift of true “free will”

    My gods hand caused no harm and played no part in the evil of this day. His only part was in saving my life that day. But his heart and spirit can make me whole again. This is my firm belief and I couldn’t love a god capable of planning such evil for he couldn’t also be the pure good I know him to be. His part since has been taking the evil and transforming it to something beautiful and good.”

    Wrote more about it in working with my pastor friend Dan Ledwith.

    http://aghostdancer.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/supportive-response-to-pastor-dan/

    “What did Jesus do when he found the woman being stoned? The bible commanded her to be stoned but he was a good brother and he protected his sister. He provided her a place of safety and hope. He did it with kindness and action and the words he used were in support of the actions shown. This is what the victims need from us. Safety by action, free of judgment. Did Jesus judge this woman? No. He said he without sin may cast stones. No stones were thrown after that.

    Note how Jesus handled this victim. Jesus first stopped her pain, he then provided her safety and last when she was in a place to hear it delivered the message of love and hope.

    Any victim can overcome; any addict can beat the addiction. IF they have a safe place where love and acceptance are present. Your loving, caring, gracious example will lead the victim toward healing and ultimately back to faith. The example set will lead them to healing.”

    We’ve been working on how Christians and churches can best “help” a victim.

    Great article.

    1. Jim Grey Post author

      I think that the Christian’s and the church’s main jobs in helping someone who is suffering are first to try to help materially/physically as best they can, but next and primarily to help them come close to God, who can do so much more for them. God can take the most awful circumstances and help a person living them find peace and meaning.

      1. Michelle Styles

        Indeed. He took my brutal past and has turned it to helping others. Writing about how to help victims mentally, emotionally come back to god. The only source of real healing is god. The path to peace lays squarely in his hands. What people expecially people of god do during the victims crisis will either bring them to god and glorify him or will push them away as it did me.

        But it’s crucial to not strike others with platitudes. These are actually defense mechanisms to keep us from the pain. When in reality to help a victim we lean into their pain.

        Like the guy who lost his mom. He needed a hug and when people spoke it should have been I’m here for you what can I do to help. He knows you are sorry for his lose because you’re a friend. He needs to know you are here, you hurt with him and honestly you are going anywhere and you want to help.

        He needed that not platitudes. He needed real validation and a safe place to hurt where he won’t be judged for crying or hurting.

        So physical, monitary is part of it perhaps but what about the spirit that’s been shattered. As people of faith we need to rebuild that then and there. Stop the dam leaking and help them stand when they can’t. So mentally and emotionally are of equal importance. Still love this post a lot!

  4. irenadawn

    Jim- there is so much more to you than meets the eye or you can’t judge a Blog by its first post or Appearances are often deceiving and I could go on and on with quotes and cliches!!! Wow!!! I am enjoying reading your blog and I am learning from you too! I could say more but I am going to savor the words on faith and read them for a few days!!!

    Thank you!
    Irena Dawn

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