Thursday, January 9, 2014

More Than You Can Bear

I came across this blog post today where the author debunks the commonly expressed phrase "God will never give you more than you can bear."  It was a well-done article, but from a very Christian perspective.  The sentiment has always been a particular pet peeve of mine, so I thought I would take it on today as well.  I understand that almost always when someone says it, it is is meant as an uplifting thought -- "You can and will get through this" is the message.  But it is, in my opinion, just a poor way of expressing it.  Here's what's wrong.

First, it's got God all wrong.  As I've said before, I may not know if God exists or not, but I have some pretty firm ideas about what God is like if God does exist.  And sending you problems is not part of what God does.  See my article after the Sandy Hook shootings about that.  God is not choosing to send you pain or suffering or death or financial struggle.  That's not God.  That's life.  And life is random at times and unfair at times.  And sometimes we make poor choices, and sometimes there is no good choice.  Telling people that God chose this for them is unfair to God, and unfair to the person struggling.

Secondly, frankly, we do sometimes get more in life than we can handle.  That's why people have mental collapses.  That's why some people end up committing suicide.  That's why people end up homeless.  Something was more than they could handle. 

So, yes, sometimes in life we get more than we can bear.  The author in the article that was linked to above comes to the conclusion that what makes it bearable is the help of God.  God, essentially, will carry your burdens for you.  If your faith does that for you, fabulous.  Frankly, it's never done that for me.  My agnosticism comes from a lifetime of not seeing God's effect in my life or presence in the world whatsoever -- if I had that, I'd be a believer.  My answer to how people can get through the unbearable comes down to other people.  As a true humanist, that's all we really have, in my opinion.  So sometimes it means the strength of religious community, or other communities, helping you through it.  Sometimes it means just family or friends or loved ones who help you through.  Sometimes it means the social safety net.  Sometimes it's the medical establishment or other professionals in the area of your struggle.  Sometimes it's still not bearable, and there's nothing we can do, however much we try.

In my opinion, saying "God will never give you more than you can bear" lets the speaker off the hook.  When you see someone struggling so much that you feel compelled to say this, saying it isn't making their load easier, it's making your load easier.  You no longer have to do anything to help, because they can bear it, you see?  Instead, try the more complicated approach: "I can see you're really struggling with this.  How can I help support you?" Or even try a less committed approach, "This is a real struggle for you.  Do you have the support you need?  What support systems are out there that you can reach out to?"  Lastly, what we can do to make life more bearable is work to support the people who are most at risk for their burdens becoming unbearable -- increase the social safety net, increase access to healthcare, increase mental health services, increase access to food and shelter.  Maybe if we come together more as friends, as families, as communities, and as societies, there will be less unbearable moments.

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