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. 1 Corinthians 10:13(NIV)
I recently heard about this book, “More Than You Can Handle: When Life’s Overwhelming Pain Meets God’s Overwhelming Grace” by Nate Pyle. The author – a pastor – and his wife struggled with infertility, an ectopic pregnancy that had to be ended, a plunge into mental anguish/anxiety, job loss, a messed-up adoption process…and he has counseled numerous parishioners through their own hells. As I scrolled through the Amazon listing and good reviews, I thought, “Well. That’s a lot of reality. And, I am detecting zero rainbow-hued platitudes, no scriptural syrup! That means: I have to buy it!” Poor Steve. We use his Amazon Prime account for all our ordering, so he gets emails every time I buy something and every time its shipped. Between shoes, books, shoes getting returned, cat-pee treatments, more books, bird seed, cat calming treats, cat pheromone diffusers…and my inability to place orders for MULTIPLE things, vs. one thing each time it occurs to me (!) …I’m amazed he gets any work done.
Nate’s book, his true story, offered a lot of hope to me, and perhaps it will to you, too. If something below is in quotations, the words are his.
Here’s the big fat fact: God, often, gives us or allows us to experience much more than we can “handle,” and so: then what? That tired old saying, tossed about and proclaimed as ‘scripture’ – “God never gives you more than you can handle!” (i.e., shut up and deal with it!) – is not; rather it a twisting of 1 Corinthians 10:13 (see above), which refers to temptation – that we humans will not be tempted beyond what we can bear; God always provides a way out (my editorial comment: if we are willing to look for it. Sometimes temptation is way too much fun. Until it’s not).
Nate, in sharing his story and struggles, reminded me of what I am slowly learning.
First, I’ve learned how I/we think of God is pivotal. This is a question for now (especially if you haven’t had “more than you can handle” yet). Why are we here? Is there more than this life? Who is God? Is He off in another galaxy, far far away, uninvolved and aloof? Or is God a “continuously displeased accountant…[where] God [becomes] the opposition,” withholding love and goodness until we are perfect, which is never. Whatever you believe right now: does that kind of thinking sustain you? And that uninvolved/aloof stuff – that is not who God is. But it’s actually kind of easy to make that interpretation, when everything is terrible. Nate delves into God’s nature, into the boundless, matchless love He proclaims over and over for us all.
Second: that to be fully honest before God – no matter what that means! – each and every day, is actually the goal, not a weakness or failure of faith. It is in my brutal honesty when I am howling out my pain and rage; it is in our utter nakedness, in our anger and tears, in our questions…that our connection to God deepens, and a new relationship is slowly forged.
Nate says he has always been a bit of a doubter (like me), but also recognized, as the bottom dropped out over and over: “Like Jacob wrestling with the angel, [I] had to pin down my faith and demand something of it.” The thing is, most of us (especially churchy people), when we reach that point of having a crisis of faith, “aren’t willing to live in the anxiety, to live with…uncertainty, as we allow [God] to reshape our understanding. Instead, we grit our teeth and wrestle the doubts into submission,” pounding our square pegs into round holes, whereas “recognizing that faith built on trust allows the questions to exist. It opens us up to a deeper conversation with God…”.
He digs in, saying that faith without doubt isn’t, actually, faith – it’s certainty. In faith “there’s mystery and not knowing and contradictions,” all mixed with a deep hope in something we cannot see. Certainty, by comparison, can become a trap; certainty can become something we treasure far too much (in church-speak, an “idol”), something we will do anything to protect…and we, propelled by anxiety/fear when our certainty is questioned, then often “malign the faith of another” if their interpretations don’t agree with ours. Or, we play at being the Voice of God, pronouncing the ‘reasons’ for another person’s struggles, failures and misfortunes (a woman in his church actually wrote him a note, suggesting their ectopic pregnancy and struggles with infertility were due to them “dabbling in the occult,” “perhaps without knowing it.” How kind of her to throw that last bit in…). Faith is, ultimately, not about certainty, but about relationship with God…about trust.
So: how does God move? How does a “loving God” sustain us, comfort us, accompany us when life is really more than we can handle, when we look around and find this world is a complete DISASTER of pain? Nate – he’s a Christian pastor, after all! – points out that Jesus arrived and waded into the mess of the real world over 2000 years ago (in the midst of Roman occupation; life was not good for the Jews, or people in general, in those times), and Jesus is still in the middle of our personal, gritty realities right now. OK, that’s what I hear all the time in church – “God is with you!” – AND I ask the question again: How? Spiritually, Nate says, God does the same thing as when He walked the earth in Jesus’ body: stands with us, sits with us, cries with us, speaks truth in love, feeds us, somehow transforms our suffering, heals us in ways we may not have expected, in time — this happens mysteriously, and it happens soul-to-soul, God made visible in the people brave enough to join us (friends, family, counselors), in the people brave enough to share their own stories of darkness and light, as we face the flames of life, and when we are completely frying in them. And our staying there (not running away, or denying, or stuffing down, but facing our personal suffering and pain head-on) is very, very important.
He ends his story, for now, sharing that – ultimately, after years of waiting and false alarms – they ended up being given a baby girl to adopt, a great gift (yet not without overtones of future struggle: she is black, they are white, and she will experience hardships they have not, just due to the color of her skin). I do like one of his final sentences as he reflects on his life: …”we’ve experienced the grace of Jesus that overcomes our chaos and creates something new.”
Yes, me too. Bit by bit.