Yes, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23).
Yes, “I have the strength for everything through him [God] who empowers me” (Phil 4:13).
But maybe no — quite possibly no — “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” It’s a popular quote, but not Scriptural.
It’s religiously cultural and, most times, meant to be helpful. Comforting. Encouraging. Empowering.
Meant to be.
On the other hand, perhaps God does give you more than you can handle, and, like Jesus on his way to Calvary, you need some help. Perhaps sometimes you need your own Simon of Cyrene. And perhaps sometimes the strength God is giving you is the wisdom and courage to ask for help from others.
That problematic saying
It could be the root of the problem, the misunderstanding, is first person/second person. Singular and plural. Pesky grammar.
God never gives me more than I can handle? Well, he certainly seems to.
God never gives you more than you can handle. Both singular “you”? Same problem.
God never gives me more than we can handle. Now that has possibilities.
God never gives you (singular) more than you (plural, that is, you and others working together) can handle. Sounds good!
That could be it. But first let’s have a little (catechetical, religious ed, CCD) review of how troubles on earth weren’t part of God’s original plan.
Sin does the harming
That was the Garden of Eden. And what happened? Original sin. Those darned, but not damned, Adam and Eve. Not on the express train to hell but tossed from the garden.
But it’s not only their fault. All down through history, all of our sins at best muddy the waters of what God invites us to do now, including accepting his offers of grace to do it. At worst, they cause ripples of pain that can stretch out farther than we can see or imagine.
But let’s be clear. That isn’t to say those who face hard times and heartaches do so because they sinned — “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (Jn 9:2).
Yes, they sinned, but I sin, you sin, he or she sins. We sin, you sin, they sin.
So, yes, it can be said God never gives you more than you can handle because he gives the rest of us — sinners all — the opportunity, the privilege and the obligation to help you.
While we’re still in the shadow of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, it’s good to remember: “Sometimes I’m the guy beaten up, robbed and left on the road; and sometimes I’m the Samaritan.” Or I’m supposed to be — we’re supposed to be — the Samaritan.
It’s imperfect and sinful life on earth, not God, that leaves us battered and broken in so many ways. Again and again. But being the Samaritan? There we have a choice. A lot of choices. A lot of opportunities. A lot of ways to help. Or not. A lot of excuses to put our heads down and scurry by.
We are in need of help
Coupled with this, making it even easier to zip along on our merry way — as if we needed to make it easier for ourselves — is another far-less-than-helpful catchphrase: “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
Never mind that it’s unclear where that little chestnut originated or how one is supposed to pull oneself up by bootstraps, those leather loops on the backs or sides of some boots.
Instead, consider this: Did you ties your shoes today? (Now, now, no smart-alecky remarks about how you’re wearing slip-ons. What are you, a middle schooler?)
Yes, you tied your shoes. And how did you learn to do that? Someone taught you. Patiently, probably. That someone didn’t look down on you (literally as well as figuratively) and say: “God never gives you more than you can handle. Have a nice day!”
Serving God in all things
Whether we are at a point in the journey where we are helping someone else to bear a burden or at a point where we ourselves require assistance, here are four points to consider:
“Simon” Point 1: It seems safe to speculate that the Samaritan didn’t save everyone, worldwide, who had been beaten and robbed that day. He did what he could, where he could. You can’t save the world, but you can have a positive impact globally, nationally and locally. Especially locally. All three spheres are important, but to quote Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz”: “There no place like home.” That is, the people in your family, your parish, your workplace, your neighborhood.
“Simon” Point 2: Sometimes the way you can help best is by doing what you’re best at or have been professionally trained to do — by using your God-given talents. What’s easy for you may be overwhelming for someone who needs help in that particular area.
“Cross-bearer” Point 1: No one gets a free ride through life. Others can and may help you carry your cross, but no one is going to do all the heavy lifting and dragging for you. No one did for Jesus or for Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows.
“Cross-bearer” Point 2: Even when you are shouldering that horrible cross, there’s something you can do to help others tote theirs. Something that can actually make it easier to keep on keeping on with your own. You can offer up that hardship as a prayer for others. That’s an incredibly powerful prayer. The Lord hears the cry of the poor — and of those who are shuffling along as best they can.
In this together
I and we.
You (singular) and you (plural).
“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. ... All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need” (Acts 2:42, 44-45).
What do we still have in common? Being kicked to the curb by life. Being called to the role of Samaritan. Needing help. Giving help.
And in doing that we catch at least a glimmer of the Garden of Eden in a world that can seem so dark and cold and heartless. A brief, encouraging glimpse at what God had, and has, planned.
Bill Dodds writes from Washington.
|Cross-Bearing: From the Inside Looking Out and the Outside Looking In
From the inside looking out:
You can’t handle everything that comes your way. No one can. From the cross, Jesus placed Mary under the care of John.
So why do you think you can? Because that’s what you’ve been told many times, because you don’t want to appear weak or lacking in faith. (Although we’re all weak in countless ways, and none of us has perfect faith).
And because of pride. First on the chart of seven deadly sins. It can be hard to admit you can’t do something or can’t continue to do something alone. It can be harder still to ask for help even when you so desperately need it. Even when you need it to help not yourself primarily, but a loved one.
For example: Your child with special needs. Your spouse for whom you’re caregiving. Your aging parent who, more and more, is relying on you.
For example: When you’re in real financial trouble and a friend or family member has offered to lend a hand (and maybe loan some dough) to help you get back on your feet.
For example: When your dependence on drugs or alcohol is steadily increasing. When you’re trying to battle depression or grief or the fallout from a divorce all by yourself without professional assistance.
And from the outside looking in:
You see a loved one who’s struggling but you don’t want to invade their privacy. You don’t want to be rude. Or you flat-out don’t know how to help. How do you bring up that delicate and painful subject without embarrassing your loved one, without seeming to imply he or she is somehow weak and lacks trust in God?
It well could be assisting them, by yourself, is too much for you to handle alone. But you don’t have to. To use another common expression, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
You can get help learning how to help another person who’s a caregiver, who’s an alcoholic, who’s grieving and so on. You can get help from professionals who want nothing more than to help you help your family member or friend.
Inside or outside, the crosses we or others have to bear are meant to be shared. The God of love doesn’t want any of us to have to go it alone.