I will not lie to you; it’s been a rough few weeks. It’s one of those times where nothing seems to be going how I planned; and I’m a little bit on spiritual autopilot. Yesterday a friend asked what had me down and I rattled off a laundry list of all the things on my mind, and I wrapped it up with a succinct and practiced, “But God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” As if that somehow justified the pain I’m going through. But I didn’t feel peace in that thought.
This morning those words rattled around in my head. God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. Followed by another thought a friend shared a few weeks ago. Good parents challenge their children to help them become better versions of themselves. And it occurred to me:
Of course God gives us more than we can handle.
We cannot live our lives as if we’re bound and defined by the best we’ve ever been, brothers and sisters, because it keeps us from becoming the best we’ll ever be. Imagine for a second what you could “handle” when you were in kindergarten. Or high school. Or college. Or at your first job. Now think of yourself today. Can you handle more? Are you capable of doing even better things, generating more change, making more informed decisions, cultivating better results, and learning more fruitful lessons? Absolutely you are.
But that didn’t happen because someone coddled you. Somewhere along the line someone looked at you and said, “She can do more.” And challenged you to it.
When we start believing that we’ve got our lives under control, or that we’re past the difficult part, we’re in trouble. I love the story of Peter trying to walk on water. When his eyes are on Jesus, he’s fine; he’s literally defying the laws of nature and gravity and he’s walking on water. But then he loses focus. He forgets that it’s Jesus he’s after and realizes he is walking on water. The second it becomes about himself, he falls. And as he thrashes beneath the water, the hand of his savior rescues him.
We need to recognize our need for a savior.
Because life is hard. It’s designed that way on purpose. It’s not as if once we have a savior, life is much simpler and the sky is much bluer; it’s the opposite. We’re never going to find what we can “handle.” And we’re not supposed to. Pope Benedict XVI is famously quoted saying:
The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.
A life without constant challenge and struggle is just not what this existence is made for. We’re made for something much bigger, and every day we get closer. God is our Father, and he’s imploring us to grow. He gives us challenges not as punishment but as opportunity. To learn to lean on him (like Peter did), to share our stories, to live out our call.
My old friend and spiritual mentor Fr. Bill used to share his struggles joyfully. His journey in the priesthood came with many trials–he was expelled from the order for drunkenness and ended up on the streets for a time. He was eventually led back to the Church, to sobriety, to the priesthood, and eventually to the college campus where I met him. He shared those scary, heart-wrenching, and personal tales with everyone who would listen. At his funeral, hundreds of people came, and we all knew his story.
Fr. Bill wasn’t looking for kudos or awe; he always ended by encouraging us to share the stories of how the Lord has challenged us. Without struggle, he would say, you cannot truly understand mercy. For that reason, he wished hardship on us; he prayed for us the strangest prayer I’ve ever heard:
“I hope life breaks you.”
Because Fr. Bill knew the power of a God who could tend you back to health.
It’s not a matter of giving in to the pain or the struggle; or resolving that this is just “where you’re at in life.” Because that’s easy. I’ve thought that many times over the last few weeks–tempted to just resign myself to my bed until this stormy cloud passes overhead. But then I remember that this is a fight worth fighting. Because I’m not fighting it alone. In Exodus, we read:
The Lord himself will fight for you. You need only to be still. (Exodus 14:14)
And in first Corinthians, we’re reassured:
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. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
It’s not a call to give up; it’s a call to remember that when you’re drowning, there’s a hand there, plunging into the cold, treacherous waters, waiting to pull you up to the surface. So I pray that God keeps on giving me more than I can handle. And to you, reader, I pray life breaks you.