*originally written January 8, 2014
When people find out you have some kind of visible “sad thing” in your life, they often search for something encouraging or comforting to say. They are well-meaning and sincere, but sometimes what they say isn’t helpful at all. For me, my “visible thing” is my daughter’s autism. Autism is a huge stressor on me and my family.
And one of the statements I’ve heard, that is meant to be comforting, but is actually the OPPOSITE is this:
“God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle.”
I want to scream when I hear this. But since I know it comes from a loving, perhaps even desperate, attempt to “do” or “say” something to make me feel better, I usually just accept the sentiment, but dismiss the words. Now, if you have ever said that, I forgive you. But let me put it out there for the world why that statement is so UNhelpful. I’m speaking now as a pastor and as an autism parent – but also as a person who has been through a number of things in her life, and as the mother of a teenage girl (this last descriptor is a joke, well, kind of).
1) When we say, “God DOESN’T give us” that also means that “God DOES give us.” So, God didn’t give my daughter autism, but what about the family across the street who has a child with Down’s Syndrome? Did God give them that? If we say that God doesn’t give us certain things, it means that God does give us other things. Does God only give good things? If God only gives us good things, then where do the bad things come from? Satan? So, using this logic, if a person has cancer, either God gave them cancer or the devil did. What a choice. It either assumes that I’ve been taken over by evil or that God thinks cancer is cool.
2) “anything we can’t handle.” This part of the statement assumes that God did indeed GIVE us the situation. God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle. This means that God gave it to us knowing that we’d be able to persevere. There are two things REALLY wrong with this:
a. God becomes an agent of pain and suffering, not grace. And that is not a God I can believe in. The God I know in Jesus promises to help us withstand pain and suffering, NOT cause it. God gave my daughter autism because God knew I could handle it? No thank you.
b. This statement also assumes we can “handle” it. This statement doesn’t give us any room to break down and need help. This statement does not encourage us when we feel like we’re floundering. Usually I find people say this when they see a person is already struggling – so saying “you can handle it” is probably the LEAST helpful thing to say.
Sometimes life just plain sucks. Things happen to people. Sickness, broken relationships, accidents, rape and other forms of violence, oppression and abuse. God does NOT give us those things – sometimes it’s the sin of those who perpetrate crime, sometimes it’s just plain LIFE.
Personally, when I’m treading water in the autism pool, or the depression pool, or any of the other pools I fall into, I’d much rather hear a person say, “I’m so sorry, that just sucks,” than, “God doesn’t give us…” OR, if you’re a person of faith and want to bring faith into it then say something like this, “You’re not alone. God is with you.” THAT statement is completely true. Jesus lived and suffered, died and rose, so that we don’t have to be alone, EVER, no matter what happens to us.
And then, if you really want to know what would be helpful to ME (or any other person you see struggling), ask for something concrete to DO for us, which quite honestly, might be something as simple as a hug.