Broken bones and bruising on a child who can barely pull himself up is more than I can handle. A one-month-old baby with a history of sexual abuse is more than I can handle. Foster care is more than I can handle.
A few weeks ago I was sharing about the trials of our foster care journey with an acquaintance. It was obvious as I described the in and outs of the system that they were becoming increasingly overwhelmed by my story. At the end of the conversation, seemingly unsure of what to say, they offered me an age-old platitude, “I know this is hard, but just remember: God promised that he won’t give you more than you can handle!”
Our latest placement came into our care with an all too familiar story: father in prison, mother on the street, being passed from place to place without any semblance of home, surrounded by drug use and prostitution, a broken bone, profuse bruising, and a number of incoherent stories to explain why.
Their first night in the home is always unpredictable. You inventory clothes, check for lice, and do your best to get to know a little, traumatized stranger. On this night our newest placement had trouble going to bed, but we finally got him to fall asleep on my chest as I sat on the couch.
With everyone else asleep, and our new little guy in my arms, my wife and I stayed up reading through his Child Protective Services report and crying. Why would God allow this brokenness to exist at all and how does he expect us to handle it?
I’ve come to realize that he never expected us to. God never said, “I won’t give you more than you can handle.”
That religious platitude comes from a popular misreading of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.”
Somehow we have transformed a verse about temptation into a placating cliché we throw out when someone is going through a hard time.
It was never meant to be God’s promise to keep our lives manageable. In fact, Paul, the author of 1st and 2nd Corinthians, spent most of his Christian life in situations he couldn’t handle. He says just that in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9:
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death…”
He wanted the church in Corinth to know that he and his team were in situations “far beyond our ability to endure.” It got so bad that they even considered death a better alternative than their current life.
Why would God allow this to happen? Why does God give us more than we can handle? Look at the second half of verse 9 from Paul:
But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.
God continues giving us more than we can handle so that we stop trying to do everything ourselves and start relying on him. Like Peter, he calls us out of the boat, onto the water, and into places where our only choice is faith.
I love how Eric J. Bargerhuff puts it in his book The Most Misused Verses in the Bible:
“He will give us more than we can handle, and this for the express purpose of bringing us to the end of ourselves so that we realize our very life, breath, and sustaining power comes only from God all the time.”
I have come to believe that if we can handle every part of our lives without God, then we aren’t really listening to the fullness of what he’s calling us to. We don’t come to the end of ourselves once or twice, but every moment of each day.
I can’t handle our newest foster placement. The truth is, I couldn’t handle our first one and I won’t be able to handle our next one either. But God can. He is the father of the orphan, the healer of the broken, and the sustainer of all who place their trust in him.
It’s not the same as God never giving me more than I can handle—it’s much, much better.