We’ve all heard the cliché, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” But sometimes He does. It seems unfair and unreasonable to us when life’s burdens become so cumbersome that we literally feel that we are on the verge of breaking or collapsing. I have been at this point a few times in my life, one being more recent.
God Is Faithful and Will Not Let You Be Tried Beyond Your Strength
The verse many Christians use to justify that every cross is meant to be carried without complaint and will full compliance (even holy resignation) is from 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.” The main problem with this verse is that the trial is compared to temptation in some translations.
It’s true that God permits suffering, though He does not create it. Sometimes, in our lives, it feels punitive and cruel to continue feeling as if we are crushed under the weight of our own crosses with little to no reprieve or respite. Many of you know that our daughter, Sarah, has a rare genetic condition called Apert syndrome. The first three years of her life were riddled with surgeries, especially corrective orthopedic ones to separate her fingers and toes, as well as craniofacial reconstructions to open up her cranial plates that had been fused before birth.
This was the moment when my cross became unbearable, then lightened on occasion but never truly disappeared. I came to understand and accept that this cross was part of my sanctification, but there have been many years when every facet of my life lingered on the edge of burnout that I wondered if this was really what God wanted.
True Accompaniment in Suffering
Recently, I hit a breaking point. We now have four children, two who are in toddlerhood and infancy. Sarah’s diagnosis keeps getting more and more complicated. She now has several secondary diagnoses, including ADHD, anxiety, autism, developmental delays, fine motor delays, emotional disability, cognitive impairment, and obstructive sleep apnea. The label of autism was the straw for me that broke me down. I could take no more.
It was when I realized that yes, in fact, God had given me more than I could handle. And maybe that was precisely the point — it was beyond what I could carry alone. I needed more than just prayers, more than spiritual thoughts of goodwill and happy wishes. I needed a Simon of Cyrene. I needed true accompaniment.
The Church does a fantastic job of talking about suffering and its merits. As Catholics, we are well aware that suffering is not meant to be squandered or bypassed. We are called to courageously face it each new day, even when we feel we can take no more. But there are seasons in life when we truly need more than just doctrine and theology. We need someone to rise up and be the face and heart of Jesus and His mercy. We need to know He loves us.
Pain Is Our Greatest Teacher
Our culture does not recognize the gift of allowing dark feelings to flow freely. Anything other than sunny spirituality is not welcome, even within many Catholic circles. We are not generally comfortable when people weep, scream or rage, or quiver in terror. But these emotions are meant to teach us something about ourselves and our lives.
I recently read a quote from Dr. Miriam Greenspan’s book Healing Through the Dark Emotions, in which she wrote, “The greatest suffering leads to the greatest healing.” It’s impossible for any of us to unveil the tranquility and wholeness for which we long without first living through the pain and allowing ourselves to move through fear, despair, grief, and anger.
Begin by telling yourself that the burden you are carrying is too much for you to bear. It is more than what you can handle. Don’t feel guilty or ashamed of this, as if you have somehow lost the possibility of sanctity in your very human experience. Acknowledge your hurt. Are you angry? If so, anger is almost always a blanket emotion for something deeper and harder to feel, such as sorrow, grief, or despair.
Don’t fear the honest conversations with God, in which you tell Him you are angry with Him and that what He is allowing you to go through feels cruel and unfair. Just keep the conversation open and allow Him to move through your suffering with His grace. There will be moments of breakthrough, when you find that healing may be waiting for you on the other side of this darkness.
Finally, realize that Jesus walks with you in this. My friend who is a priest told me that he heard in seminary, “Jesus knew what it felt like to be an atheist.” Ponder that and know that everything you feel, no matter how dark and uncomfortable, He felt it in the Garden and during His Passion, too. Immerse yourself in His Sacred Heart and be patient for the healing that will come in time.