So you’re going through something crazy hard, and to make things even worse, the people around you are… well… bless their hearts. (I learned this one from my Southern friends, and at first it weirded me out and now I love it. It’s like charming, Southern, socially acceptable sarcasm. It means, “What a bleeping idiot.”) They mean well. But sometimes the things they say. And sometimes the things I’ve accidentally said. Sometimes people, including us, are just morons.
So let’s manhandle all kinds of Christian go-to phrases for the suffering soul, like our favorites, “God never gives you more than you can handle,” and “Let go, and let God,” and “God’s timing is perfect.” C’mon, it’ll be fun.
The basic conclusion: Just don’t go there. Just shhh. Don’t be a moron.
“God never gives you more than you can handle.”
This little nugget of poo has been plopped onto our plates for consumption, and I’d like to flush it down the toilet where it belongs.
He does give us more than we can handle. He absolutely does. Actually, in this misappropriated verse (1 Corinthians 10:13), Paul was talking about temptation, not suffering. When people tell you that, meaning that you must be able to handle a lot or to make you feel better, like God believes that you can handle it, it’s completely acceptable to have flames shoot directly out your eyeballs and incinerate them on the spot, like Cyclops in X-Men when he takes off his glasses. Oh, yeah, you are so darn strong and can clearly handle the blubbery blue whale on your shoulders right now. Because you’re strong! And can handle it! And you can obviously handle it more than the person next to you, who seems to have nary a wrinkle in her life. Yay for handling it!
Even God gave Jesus more than He could humanly handle, and even Jesus moaned,
My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. — Matthew 26:39
But did God rescue Him from mocking and whipping and searing pain? No, He did not.
So we end up with more than we can handle. Way more sometimes. And if God is God and could’ve done it differently but didn’t, what do we do with that? On top of the pain from the utter lack of fairness and the total life fail, you also have to admit that you’re a little mad at God, which leaves you feeling uncomfortable. It was easier when you liked Him and trusted Him completely. What do you do with a God you aren’t sure you trust anymore? (Isn’t it fun having this internal theological brain-melt in the middle of talking to someone? This is why God invented Toblerone.)
“Let go, and let God.”
No, she didn’t. No, she did not just say that to you. Because that’s why you still haven’t met The One or had The Baby or found peace about The Thing. It’s because you haven’t let go. You should’ve let go, dummy, and then all your problems would be solved. God’s standing right there waiting for you to let go, but He can’t do anything. He’s stuck on the sidelines, completely powerless to fix things, while you white-knuckle your life. But of course, as soon as you let go, everything will be perfect. Whew, thank goodness your sweet friend here was there with that sage advice. (Even if you come to the conclusion that you need to let something go, you probably don’t want random people telling you this. And if they sing it like Elsa, they are dead to you. So dead.)
“God’s timing is perfect.”
I can’t even. I am can’t-evening so hard over here. Surrriously. Some people need a mute button. God’s timing is perfect, but you know what isn’t? Someone saying this to you. Ever. H to the no. Unless you’re enjoying a congratulatory toast to something awesome happening, in which case, clink the glasses and celebrate the glorious timing. But when you are hurting, when you are waiting, you do not want to hear that this agony is anything close to perfection. It’s not perfect. It’s perfectly horrible. Your friend’s humanity should tell him, “Hmm, maybe that’s not the best thing to say right now or maybe ever.”
“Do you have any unconfessed sin that’s causing this?”
Who are these people talking to you? Oh, my word. C’mere, you need a hug. These are the same friends who talked to Job in the Old Testament and to the blind man in the New Testament. Jesus answered them when He said it was neither this man’s sin nor his parents’ but so that God’s glory could be displayed (John 9:2-3). And that’s the truth. Sometimes bad things happen not because we’ve sinned but because it’s life in a fallen world. (Sometimes consequences happen because we’ve sinned, obviously, but this is not that.) (Just to be clear, friends, say nothing about God’s glory being on display while your friend is in the fetal position on the floor with weeping and gnashing of teeth. You know this. You would never.)
Handling the Well-Meanies
So besides face punching, which is tempting, how do we handle the people who mean well, the well-meanies?
First, there are going to be times when you just need to avoid them. And that’s okay. I had to miss church for a few months during the height of my struggle with infertility. I loved church, and no one was awful, but I needed a break from everyone and the questions and the pregnant bellies. It wasn’t forever, but it was a season. And I had to say no to a couple of baby showers.
Sometimes you need to stay home and heal. Choose your inner circle wisely. Give yourself the power to be your own boss and set your own limits. You don’t owe anyone answers or smiles.
Second, I like a little gentle sarcasm. I don’t mean being harsh, because most of these people are friends and loved ones. I mean if you’re confronted by a friend who makes an inappropriate comment, you can choose to make light of it while gently showing them that maybe that’s not the best thing to say. Remember to smile and chuckle and avoid overly intense eye contact.
Them: God never gives you more than you can handle.
You: Then clearly I’m the strongest and best person here. I am absolutely amazing. He obviously thinks I’m incredible. I hope I win an award for how incredible I am.
Them: Let go, and let God.
You: Well, I did let go, but I ended up with two broken legs at the bottom of a cliff.
Them: God’s timing is perfect.
You: That’s so true, because this feels perfect. Really perfect. I can’t think of a better schedule than what we have right here.
Them: Do you have any unconfessed sin that’s causing this?
You: Wait, you mean, like, because I’ve held a guy hostage in the trunk of my car for the last week or maybe on account of my raging meth addiction?
However, if you’re paralyzed with an inability to confront, revert to Strategy #1: Avoidance. Pretend like you didn’t hear them. Pretend like you didn’t see them. Pretend like you’re seeing psychedelic rabbits.
So, avoidance, sarcasm, and then the third option is a solid smoldering stare. When you can’t avoid them and the words escape you, the smoldering stare is your best friend. Maintain eye contact, and if you have the muscular control, raise an eyebrow.
“You Just Have to Have Faith” and Other Stupid Mouth Sounds
“You just have to have faith.”
“Fast more selflessly.”
“Wait on God more patiently.”
I had big gold stars by all the Christian categories of waiting, and my uterus was still a barren wasteland. I was the man by the pool waiting for a miracle, and day after day, my miracle didn’t come. What do you do when faith “fails”?
If you’ve ever gone through a difficult time, you’ve probably encountered those helpful people who feel obligated to give you a pep talk. Like coaches in a locker room during halftime, they come up to you at church or sideswipe you in the grocery store, tilt their heads to the side, and ask, “How’s it going?” If you haven’t gotten pregnant, beaten cancer, “gotten over” the ginormous hole in your heart, or whatever it is you’re supposed to be working on and checking off the list, they give you the Pity Face and proceed to Matt Foley you, with a van down by the river. Their motivational speeches vary depending on your circumstances, but I’ve encountered a couple of different versions.
In Version One, the person with Pity Face checks to make sure you’re doing the steps. Are you using the right essential oils, cutting out gluten, going to the chiropractor, and keeping a journal of your feelings? And it’s still not better? Then they prescribe new coping strategies. Try this doctor that did wonders for her sister, electroshock therapy, leeches.
In Version Two, Pity Face person sees you as a flight risk to the faith. Your faith is failing. That’s the problem! You just need to have more faith. More faith will fix everything. Because if you’re still sad about something and having emotions toward God about it, then you must be lacking in the faith department. Pity Face begins a rousing motivational speech about faith, reminds you of why God is real, and probably cites Hebrews 11.
This happened to me a lot. I expressed negative emotion about being infertile, and well-intentioned people would mistake that for not believing in God. Look, I believed in God, I never stopped believing that He was real. I even believed He had a plan. I just didn’t like His plan. And I thought that was okay to communicate. I still do.
We see throughout the Bible plenty of people not liking God’s plan. As I already pointed out, even Jesus said, “Lord, if you are
willing, take this cup from Me,” followed by,
Yet not My will, but Yours be done. — Luke 22:42
There’s the tricky part. Not my will but yours. Ugh. That’s hard, especially when it feels like the total opposite of what you want.
I felt like I’d done everything right. My entire life, if I worked hard and tried my best, I usually achieved what I wanted. Good grades. A college I loved. A job that… wasn’t completely horrendous. And then infertility hit, and there was nothing I could do to get what I wanted. I couldn’t meet with a teacher, I couldn’t do an interview, and I couldn’t study hard for an embryo. I prayed, I fasted, I read the Bible, I dug into my faith and did all the steps I’d been taught, but I could not find the magic combination of faith and works that would unlock my uterus. After a lifetime of overachieving and checking boxes in Christianity, it felt like faith failed. My faith in God didn’t really fail, but it felt like my faith failed me. Which was disconcerting. Why wasn’t God listening?
Have you ever felt like that?
Watch the It’s Not Fair Video
Excerpted with permission from It’s Not Fair: Learning To Love The Life You Didn’t Choose by Melanie Dale, copyright Melanie Dale.
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There are things you need to hear. And things you definitely don’t need to hear. Things you should say. And things you definitely shouldn’t say. If you’re in a crisis and you’ve got friends like Job… as Melanie said, c’mere, honey, you need a hug. I love how she puts a such funny spin on this truly hard relationship challenges — when people make pain more painful! One of my friends cracked me up when faced with a clutzy comment. She responded with a playful smile on her face, “Would you write that down for me, my friend? I’d love to read it when I’m not actually bleeding to death emotionally.” It was such a clever, kind way to take the sting out of the conversation! How have you learned to respond in a healthy, lighthearted way when people say all the wrong things? We’d love to hear from you! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full