These past few weeks or so, several of my friends have been hit with really hard news and family situations. Reading their status updates on Facebook is heartbreaking and at best, I can post an encouraging prayer or comment. (Not that my friends are actually looking to us to write the perfect comment that would solve all their pain and suffering. If only it could be so easy.)
Of course, being the nosy person that I am, I also read other people’s comments and encouragements. Inevitably, person after person wrote for my friends to “Be Strong” or “You’re Strong” or some variant of “God doesn’t give you things you can’t handle.” The first few just piqued my annoyance. But comment after comment in the same vein started to piss me off.
Why? Because they’re lies. Insidious, invidious lies.
Obviously, people aren’t writing these types of comments to be assholes or unhelpful. They mean them to be encouraging – and perhaps the comments are even taken as encouragement. This is not a diss on the kind and well-meaning people. This is a tirade against the lie.
My friends, if you are suffering, you don’t have to be strong. You don’t have to be a rock or have everything handled or under control. You don’t have to be anything you are not currently.
If you are overwhelmed, be overwhelmed. If you are weak, be weak. If you are spent, be spent. If you are grieving, grieve. If you are furious, be furious. If you are afraid, be afraid.
You have complete freedom to be whatever you are at this very moment. And if in fifteen minutes, how you feel changes – then you have complete freedom to be that as well.
Forgive me if that seems obvious. This is a particular area in which I get riled up about.
You see, it makes me incredibly angry when people who are suffering are told that they can handle things because God wouldn’t give them anything they couldn’t take. (A side note: This post is not to argue the existence or absence of God or address the topic of theodicy. You don’t have to agree with my worldview in order to understand my logical framework within my worldview.)
The idea that God only gives us things we can handle is complete and utter horseshit.
God promises us many things in the Bible; not once does He promise that He only gives us things we can handle.
Things happen to us (whether or not God allows it to happen or actively makes it happen to us is actually beside the point) and many times, we are completely unprepared and ill-equipped. When these things happen to us, they can either push us closer to or further away from God. And when well-meaning Christians tell us that we are strong or we can handle it, they are actually pushing us further and further away from God.
Why? Because if we are feeling weak but then are told that we’re supposed to be able to handle the pain it only adds to our burden. We feel pressure then to act as if everything is okay or be immediately healed when the truth is far from it. We put up a façade and hide from even God because we must be dropping the ball or are spiritually inert if we can’t get our act together.
It’s simply not true.
I get it. After all, 99.9% of the time, the only way out is through. And often, the way to do that is through gritted teeth, digging deep, and putting one foot in front of the other.
But persevering and being needy are not mutually exclusive.
You see, I believe in a good, merciful, and redemptive God. A God who repeatedly offers comfort for the weak. And when people tell us to “be strong,” we miss out on that comfort because we are too busy pretending to not need it. And before we can run to God, we first have to admit we are in need.
Now, I realize that this post is woefully simplistic and barely scratches the surface on the problem of pain and sound reasoning. That’s okay. I’m not really interested in that. Besides, there are far more in depth essays, books, etc. out there by far more talented people. I just want to be a reminder.
God can handle anything we throw at Him. He is neither surprised or flummoxed. God is more than enough for us in our pain. His grace is sufficient.
Not a religious guy at all, but having been through a very difficult year recently, I can’t tell you how crappy it was having people tell us to just be strong. It was as if our experience was invalidated. I wish someone would have instead just told us it was ok to be scared, afraid, weak, or grieving and that regardless of what it was, they were there for us.
I am so sorry, Kevin. It was and still is totally ok to be scared, afraid, weak, or whatever it is you are. HUGS.
No need to be sorry, I just agreed with your post. Like you said, I know people are just trying to mean well, but in general I don’t think they understand how it comes across. Great post and good insight!