When my mum was dying from cancer, people treated me like I was some sort of superhuman. They would say things to me like, “I just don’t know how you do it.”
There’s no secret sauce to enduring a tragedy. I’d fall asleep at night, wake up the next day, and keep on living because that was what my physical body did.
I wasn’t miraculous. I wasn’t superhuman. I was just a human experiencing a very sad human situation: the slow death of my mother.
That period changed my soul. Watching someone you love in pain just does something to you. You are never the same.
When I was little and people within our Christian community would go through hardships, others would try to shore them up with the saying, “Remember, God will never give you more than you can handle.”
I respectfully disagree.
And the phrase itself is flawed. It implies that God is the one that is giving tragedies. It grates against the Chrsitian notion that God is love. It’s hard to imagine an all-loving God giving suffering.
A Christian would likely counter that God uses our suffering to draw us closer to him. While this could be true, an all-powerful God could also figure out ways to draw us closer to him that don’t involve suffering, or at least lessen the degree of suffering (who wants a God that needs rape, torture, and murder to bring us closer to him?)
The phrase “God will never give you more than you can bear” is also incorrect. People literally die from having too much stress heaved on them (for example, experiencing a heart attack after receiving bad news).
In addition, just because someone is still living in the face of tragedy, doesn’t mean it isn’t more than their soul can bear. People experience deep depression, anxiety, dissociation, and more because life IS too much to bear sometimes.
After my mum died, I fell into a deep depression. I barely remember the year after she died. It was too much for me. And while therapy helped me to heal that and not be haunted by the things I witnessed as she was dying, I never want to experience anything like it again.
Which leads us to the final point about the phrase “God will never give you more than you can handle.” It mutes the pain and experience of the person. It’s a form of toxic positivity - it tells a suffering person to just focus on the good (God).
It takes the focus away from the real, lived experience of suffering. When others don’t hear or honor our feelings, it cuts off connection. We feel more alone and isolated, which heightens the pain.
It can also lead us to turn that invalidation to shame, such as, “Oh, I shouldn’t feel so bad, what’s wrong with me?” We then try to ignore our feelings or force ourselves into a happier state.
When we cut ourselves off from our feelings, we also sever the connection with ourselves. While suffering does not feel good, it is there for a reason: we are experiencing something that is difficult. We are having a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. We need to feel and process feelings, not just force them to the side.
The phrase “God never gives you more than you can handle” is so common now that most people don’t step back to think about the implicit harmful messages it carries. Christians typically use the phrase with good intentions. However, their intention and ignorance does not not negate the unintended consequences of disconnection to others and self.
Thank you for reading. If you’d like to read more, sign up for my FUNletter.