God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.
We’ve all heard that platitude many times. And I used to believe the sentiment.
When I had my first mental breakdown, I got myself through with the idea that I would be strong enough to handle what had happened to me.
When I had my second mental breakdown, I got myself through with the same idea: Because of my trauma, I was resilient.
But by my third depressive episode, I started to doubt that God won’t give you anything you can’t handle. Why? Because I’d never been so weak in my entire life. I could not handle what was happening to me.
Since that last breakdown, I’ve had several smaller episodes. And after each one, I feel a little bit more worn down, a little weaker, a little more tired.
Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t I have grown stronger and stronger? Shouldn’t I be the epitome of strength now? If God hasn’t given me anything I couldn’t handle, why has the struggle so often been too hard for me to get through?
Now, I feel less resilient. Just because I’ve been through it before, it doesn’t make it any less difficult the next time it happens. I know for a fact that God has given me things I can’t handle.
I think people with chronic illnesses can relate to my experience. Chronic illness is different than something that happens just one time—it happens again and again and again. Maybe you can handle it one time. And the next. But what about an illness that will last the rest of your life?
I think our culture puts a lot of emphasis on “staying strong.” Weakness is somehow a moral failing. We’re afraid to admit that trauma or heartache or mental illness or chronic illness makes us weak. We value that we can “handle” a situation on our own. After all, God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle, right?
I came across something during my time with God the other day. I love Romans 8 in general, but something stood out to me this time:
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.”
There is a lot to unpack in that small selection and I am no theologian. (I’m probably as far removed from a theologian as you can get.) But even I think there’s something interesting in those few verses, whether you consider yourself a Christian or not.
God doesn’t promise that things will be easy—I think we all know that. I’ve heard that my entire life and I’m sure you have too.
But I also don’t think that God promises that we will have the strength to handle everything that life throws at us, or even that “what doesn’t kill us will make us stronger.”
I think, instead, that God promises to help us in the midst of weakness, in the midst of our incapability of handling pain. Maybe he gives us things he knows we can’t handle, not in some weird vindictive angry god way, but so that he can come alongside us and help us through it.
I’ve recently been dealing with some difficult depression. It’s the kind that makes it hard to get out of bed, to interact with friends, to even want to write. I’m really adept at disguising it—I’m a pro at faking a smile—but I don’t know how much longer I can do it. I feel just as weak as I did in my past episode, if not more so.
If I believe that God won’t give me any depression I can’t handle:
- I’m a lot less likely to accept the work he is doing in my life
- I’ll have a difficult time letting the spirit work in the midst of my weakness.
- I’m a lot more likely to recite prayers I don’t really mean than let the spirit groan on my behalf.
- I’ll just get angry at God when I can no longer handle my depression.
So. This is where I’m at: I can’t handle my depression. I just can’t. God has given me something I just can’t bear. I think it’s the right thing to admit that.
But it will be okay because God has promised to help me in spite of it. His strength is made perfect in the midst of my weakness.