Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me” (Genesis 4:11-14).
In my work with ESL students, I often explain the meaning of idioms to them. It is amazing how many we use. For instance:
I’m at the end of my rope.
I can’t take it anymore.
I’ve got nowhere to go.
I can’t see any way out.
There’s no light at the end of the tunnel.
I’m caught between a rock and a hard place.
I’m up the creek without a paddle.
I’m caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.
(Or for you highbrow types) I’m caught between Scylla and Charybdis.
I could go on, but Wade Stanley tells me to put a lid on it.
All the idioms I’ve listed have to do with feeling overloaded by busyness, stress, anxiety, fear, unrealistic expectations, and feelings of depression. There seems to be no way out.
We’ve all felt like this, but we soldier on through thick and thin with even more idioms to encourage us: Grin and bear it. Put on your big boy pants and deal with it. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Keep on keeping on. Nil desperandum. Fall seven times and stand up eight. It’s always darkest before the dawn. Every cloud has a silver lining.
We all know these, but they may not be the best thing to say to comfort a depressed friend. Fortunately, none of Job’s friends led off with these when they came to sit with him in his great distress.
Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was (Job 2:13).
But there is another saying that we sometimes use to comfort someone. We tell them, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” Sound familiar? It’s meant to be comforting, but I think that it can backfire and make a person feel even worse by adding guilt to the mix of overwhelming stress. They might think, “I’m drowning here, I’ve forgotten how to swim, and yet I’m supposed to be able to extricate myself.”
And now, sounding like the serpent in the Garden, I might ask, “Did God really say that He will never give you more than you can handle?”
Certainly, there is a verse very much LIKE that in 1 Corinthians:
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. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it (10:13).
This verse is talking about temptations and our ability to resist them, NOT the overloads that life presents us with. Terrible things that are beyond our control do happen and we might indeed legitimately say, “This is more than I can bear.” But temptations are under our control; we always have a choice in the matter. And there always is a godly choice provided.
We remember that Moses felt agonizingly overwhelmed and was tempted to the point of asking God to take his life. He said:
“I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin” (Numbers 11:14-15).
Did God reply to Moses, “I never give you more than you can handle. Go sort it out?” Did He tell Moses, “Hey, when I give you lemons, make lemonade?” What DID God do? He offered a reasonable and workable plan to offload Moses. God provided a way out.
The Lord said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone (Numbers 11:16-17).
This is a Biblical example that, indeed, God may OFTEN give us more than we can handle. Why would He do that? So that WE will learn to DEPEND on HIM rather than ourselves.
If we could handle everything ourselves, would we need God?
Maybe it is time to quit mindlessly accepting every load that comes our way and allow Him to guide our decisions about what we add to our schedule, what bricks we add to our workload, and what tasks we take on as commitments.
After all, we’re only human.