8 I think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and completely overwhelmed, and we thought we would never live through it. 9 In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we learned not to rely on ourselves, but on God who can raise the dead.
We’ve all heard the expression “God won’t give us more than we can handle.” Usually we are told this in the midst of some adversity by someone who believes they are trying to comfort us. I must be defective in some way, because I would not appreciate hearing things like this if I were in the middle of devastating circumstances. In fact, I think most people are thoughtful enough not to lay such platitudes on someone when they are experiencing heartbreaking trials. In the middle of tragedy, I do not believe it is appropriate to tell people that they can handle it or that there is a reason for this dreadful circumstance. While that all may be true, during the actual incident is not the time to share our vast wisdom of the ages. The best that we can do in tragic times like this is to weep together; show empathy and compassion.
Is it even a true statement? It certainly is not found in the Bible. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” I think this sentiment is often misquoted by well-meaning hearts. This statement refers to temptation, not actual reality or suffering.
The words that are meant for encouragement can often serve to only create discouragement. Worse yet, this phrase can tempt us to ignore our suffering and pretend it’s not there. It can lead us to believe the lie that we can do it ourselves; that we can handle it. Which raises the question, “If we can handle anything that comes our way, then why do we need God at all?”
People experience a broad spectrum of life shattering moments: the loss of a loved one or abuse. Millions of people are suffering from depression and anxiety and live in a constant state of despair. Some have learned that they have a terminal illness, and what of their children? What of the prisoners of war and those who survived Auschwitz? What of the people who have lost their jobs, are behind on their bills and can see no way out?
The list of possible harrowing, calamitous, and overwhelming circumstances is long and affects all of us at some point in our lives. I don’t know about you, but there are many things that I could experience that I don’t think I could handle -- at least not as a human being. I am far too weak of mind and body.
And therein lays the fallacy in that statement. I think a more accurate idea is, “God won’t give us anything that we and God can’t handle together.”
Now, I can believe that; I can get behind that statement. Life is hard; it is meant to be that way so that we can learn to trust God, rely on God, and become stronger and clearer not only in our own thinking and behaving, but in how we work with Spirit to see our way clearly.
I absolutely believe that we can experience things in life that we cannot handle, not that we will personally. So I believe that God supplies us with clues and the means to deal with life; skills that can be developed so when used in conjunction with Spirit’s help, we can maneuver more easily through life’s hardships.
Let me say at this point that there is a wide spectrum of skills we could develop -- some are more toward the side of the spectrum that I consider absolutely necessary to lead a productive life. Then there are others that are nice, but not necessary. Being able to play the piano and guitar, for instance; it’s not a requirement for getting through life easily, but it is nice.
Then there are those skills that are totally useless, at least to my way of thinking. Being able to stick a watermelon seed up my nose with my tongue, may be entertaining, but it is a pretty useless skill for getting through life.
Then there are skills developed as laborers, workers who have helped society and this nation. We celebrate Labor Day to honor the individuals who have given of their time, talents, skills, energy, sweat, hands and backs to contribute to the strength, prosperity, laws and well-being of our country.
Many of us have been part of that labor force; helping to make the country roll along smoothly. Yet, there is another type of labor we must also embrace in order to make our individual lives progress smoothly. These are Life skills: actions, perspectives, attitudes, and principles that I believe can help us with life’s challenges. These skills require our attention, repetition, and implementation if we wish to live the fullest life that God offers us.
First off, there are the two general principles that Christ points out: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and body. Love your neighbor as yourself. These two are indispensable to leading a productive and effective life. If we don’t spend time in developing those two traits, all else is meaningless.
Then there are other Biblical teachings such as the Ten Commandments. Also: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.” Then there is “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean upon your own understanding.” I have probably left out your favorite, but these are biggies, and cover a lot of ground because they are pretty general to our spiritual development.
Then there are other skills more focused on our earthly lives that we can consider. The following list is not comprehensive, but just things that came to mind. I encourage you to make your own list.
1. Improving our listening skills.
2. Developing our people skills.
3. Showing appreciation, approval, and acceptance to all.
4. Increasing our capacity to forgive.
These skills can help us interact with people better. They can help us confront our difficulties with people, instead of avoiding our challenges.
5. Overcome our fears.
6. See problems as opportunities; increase our problem-solving skills. Using logical, informed decision making; being able to respond quickly and effectively with the information we have in our head.
7. Become more resilient, so that we gather God’s strength to overcome adversity. Non-resistance. Not giving away our personal energy.
8. Develop more persistence so that we can see the challenge through to its conclusion. As Winston Churchill said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.”
9. Develop our adaptability to handle change better. Be positive. We often struggle because of the way we act, which is a result of how we think. People who think optimistically see the world as a place packed with endless opportunities, even in trying times. Positive people see the World as an ally. Smile, and make it count. Affirm today is going to be great, and it will be.
10. Find Balance in our life. This can include making time for play, recreation, work, lightheartedness, and rest. This includes time management and the skill of focusing our energy and action effectively; we direct attention and action where it is needed most. Balance applies to the ego – accepting that we are a separate being and simultaneously one with all other life. Balance can apply to our fears: our fears and pain are pointers to areas within us that need spiritual and physical attention. Feelings are not meant to stop or impair us; they are intended as guides, educators, and protectors… but they need balancing.
Balance is also the skill of discerning the important from the unimportant, the important from the urgent. Eisenhower said, “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” The important things lead to our goals and personal development; urgent activities are usually more nagging and noisy, and demand immediate attention, but are often things that are associated with someone else’s goals and development.
11. Allow our innate creativity and talents to express.
This can be where some of those unnecessary, but nice skills, can shine forth and benefit others.
12. And the last one is to keep our ego in check and realize that we can’t do this on our own. We alone cannot handle all that life dumps on us. Leaning on our own understanding does not evaporate questions and challenges. It is through the complete and willing connection with our Source that the strength comes to prevail, the guidance to direct us accurately, and the love to flourish regardless of the circumstances.
God offers us overt and subtle life skills for handling the difficulties we face, and we need to become aware of them, put them into play, and practice them. Divine Love is always available when we open our hearts to it; Divine Strength and Guidance are always ready to fill us and help us move forward.
In a way, I guess there is good news and bad news in my talk this morning. The bad news is that we cannot handle everything that Life has to offer, all the myriad of woes that can fall upon our heads.
The good news is that we don’t have to – we are not alone in this life. We don’t have to navigate the seas of uncertainty and despair by ourselves. John Wayne gave us a wise observation: Life is hard; it's harder if you're stupid.
My prayer is that we will release our tendency to do everything ourselves, leaning on our own understanding and trying to control it all. I pray that we will pursue the Divine Labor that will aid us in being all that we can be so that we can enjoy all of God’s intended good. God has given us a portal through which love, wisdom, peace and strength flow; it is called prayer and Divine Silence. It is through our spiritual natures that we will rise above our earthly challenges. So, we have to be smart by turning our awareness to our loving Source, the One Presence in our lives that is always with us, always acting on our part, always listening, always protecting and guiding us. God loves us and never forsakes us even when we think Life is hard. Philippians 4:13 reminds us: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Thank You, God!