There is this common statement among those who choose a Christian religious base for their belief system. I hear it often. I hate it more every time it is said.
“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
I call bullshit.
I am dealing with more than I can handle. I’ve been dealing with more than I can handle since childhood. And every day I wait for the moment when pretending at control is overcome by the chaos of being overwhelmed.
So, here is the thing I need to say: either the Divine absolutely gives out more than one can handle, or the Divine isn’t a part of the equation at all.
Please do not misunderstand and read that as “God doesn’t exist”, because I won’t challenge anyone on that point. I believe in divine intervention and live a spiritual, but not religious, life. The existence of some Divine source is a part of my belief system. And it does not need to be yours. If you are not religious, I suppose you could ignore this post altogether. (But I hope you don’t.)
The statement that the Divine will not let you be overwhelmed, however, is bullshit. I’m overwhelmed right now. I was overwhelmed two days ago. I was overwhelmed last week. I am consistently given more than I can handle. And if the Divine exists, and I am overwhelmed, then god does give you more than you can handle. If the Divine does not exist, then the statement is just bullshit from the very first word.
I’ll try to elaborate without getting into a weird rant or too many details. When I was a child, I was sexually assaulted repeatedly. I couldn’t cope with that. It was too much. And while my actions were often a cry for help, they went unheard or were misunderstood, so I was marinating in more than I could handle. I was feeling so much pain and shame and confusion that my brain literally stopped knowing about the sexual molestation. I had a complete dissociation from the events. My brain shut those events and any and all memories of those events down. They were tucked away in a place I didn’t have full access to, and they didn’t become known to me in a conscious way until my first year of college. And when I became aware of those events once more, it was more than I could handle again. I became depressed, suicidal, and easily enraged. I was a mess. I dropped out of college, moved away, dropped out of another college, harbored a runaway, became a drug addict, and got married. All of these events were too much to handle.
My husband was violently physically and psychologically abusive. I got pregnant, got divorced, had my baby, went on a blind date, and started a relationship with a man who influenced my return to drug use and eventually became physically abusive, as my ex-husband had been.
And then, it would seem, I “got it together”. I worked hard, cared for my daughter, went back to college, got a master’s degree or two, and ended up working in Chicago. While these years seemed like the most excellent years of my life to the onlooking outsider, inside of me there was just as much struggle as there had been in years past. I smoked a lot. I ran often. I did everything asked of me, until I could not do it anymore. What most don’t know about those years is that my kitchen was a mass of dirty dishes half of the time, I was drinking too much, I was fired as a teacher’s assistant because I didn’t have enough time to read and grade papers. I failed a few classes. My daughter resented me for leaving her with others and not hearing her needs often or well. I was struggling to keep it together, and looked fabulous on the outside, while the inside was being ripped and torn into ugly, bloodied chunks of flesh.
I had become a master of pretending at a very early age. It took a lot for me to fall apart in front of people.
But behind closed doors, nightmares and weeping and screaming and praying and begging for the pain to end kept on happening. They didn’t stop as I grew up and developed and became a “responsible adult”. They just got pushed under layers and layers of façade.
Around 2010 was when things stop staying hidden. I couldn’t control it anymore. Tears would come at the most inopportune time. The lack of sleep from nightmares and insomnia was causing my body to suffer. I started experiencing chronic illness, and I started to look and sound like a person without hope—crazed with the desperate state of my psyche and the onset of more and more symptoms of illness. I was breaking down in front of people, instead of doing it behind closed doors. And people ran away rather than be sucked into my despair.
It’s hard for people who are not given more than they can handle to watch you crumble under the too much. They don’t understand it. And it is frightening. But what I think is the hardest thing for those people to come to terms with is that the platitude they have believed is not true. Some of us are given way more than we can handle.
Because some of us are given more than we can handle, we need help. Help, need, care, and the like are not things that most want to offer, so they cling to the lie and insist that god won’t give me more than I can handle. But I know that is just an excuse not to get involved in the pain of others.
Walking into the center of another person’s trauma is painful. Feeling what they feel is terrible, because it is completely and utterly too much. And nobody wants to feel what I feel.
Nobody wants constant physical and emotional suffering. Nobody wants to face fears and be struck down and struggle through depression and suicidal thinking and destroy relationships through mistrust and sob with such intensity that you need to sleep for three hours to recover the ability to stand. And, on one hand, I don’t blame you for not wanting to experience what I experience. On the other hand, leaving me to suffer alone and offering me platitudes that I know are lies makes me despise you for not standing in solidarity.
Because if you cannot handle what is coming at you every day, and if you are overwhelmed, you need others to help carry the weight. I have approximately six people who help carry the weight in a consistent and generous and loving way. One of them I pay, because she is my therapist.
I understand more than anyone how heavy and exhausting and painful carrying the load of my life is, but I don’t have the option to step out from under that weight. I have to cope, shift, manage, and try not to be crushed forever by that weight.
There is another saying—less religious and more true—that I sometimes use. “Many hands make light work.”
A heavy burden becomes light when there are twelve people lifting, and not just one. I would love for us to acknowledge our avoidance of the burdens in the lives of those around us. I would love for us to accept that the only way to make things better is to add our hands and help carry the burdens of others. I would love for us to admit that there is a lot that is overwhelming, and that it won’t go away because we pretend that god makes life easy enough for us (or hard enough for us, depending on your perspective) in relation to our ability to be weighed down.
You don’t keep placing items in a grocery bag until it breaks. You open and fill a second bag. You disperse the weight, balancing things out and making certain that there isn’t too much pressure in one spot.
(Yes, I just unintentionally made a grocery bag analogy to suffering. But I can’t really think of a better analogy right now, so it stands.)
So, we are given more than we can handle. Which is why we need others supporting us. All of us need others to carry a bit of the weight at times. That looks different at different times and in different spaces. But none of us is immune to being overwhelmed.
My life has had too much to handle for a really long time. I get better at handling it through coping strategies. But I still haven’t worked through all the burdens or had the weight lifted. I still make valiant attempts at handling it all. I still pretend I am well while I am carrying immense pain just under the surface. But I fail all the time. I hurt all of the time. I feel too much. I need too much. I falter too much.
And my only hope is that others might find their way toward helping, and that hands would be added, and that my burden may become light. Help me Obi Wan Community, you are my only hope!
I hope that empathy might become something that we embrace, despite the hurts, because it also brings shared joys. I hope that generosity rules the day. I hope that we start to dissect the lies that the platitudes reinforce, and come to understand that we need one another to survive. I hope that we find the strength to share, to respect, to dignify, and to accept. I hope we leave behind individualism, judgment, marginalizing, and rejecting.
I don’t know that this is an eloquent post. It is a needed expression. Mostly, I need to say it, because it is boring a hole through my mind. But I also hope that it is heard and accepted. Because I have always known that the Divine isn’t giving me any number of things to handle or not handle. The Divine gives me an assist when all the things are too much. The Divine doesn’t give anyone burdens for the fun of watching us struggle. And the Divine doesn’t give burdens to prepare us for assisting others in their burdens. The Divine is the opposite of burden. The Divine is love. And whatever is burdensome is what we need to fight against, not for.
When racism tears apart a community, we fight against that. When illness strikes a body, we fight against that. When fear creates divisions, we fight against that. When poverty leaves people in the streets, we fight against that. When little children are violated, we fight against that. When women are not given a voice, we fight against that. When gun violence steals lives every day, we fight against that.
And we fight together, in solidarity, and as one entity. Because there is more in each of those situations than we can handle, and ridding our society of these evils requires our many hands, working together, to unburden the most vulnerable.
I happen to be one of the most vulnerable, because life tossed all sorts of challenges at me, and so my plea for justice—the unburdening of the most vulnerable—ends up being a plea for my welfare also. I beg for hands to help on a regular basis through my fundraising site. But I want, today, to express that there are so many more burdens than mine. And there are so many who do not have hands helping at all, where I have a few. So, I’m not just advocating for myself. I’m advocating for all the poor, disabled, homeless, captive, imprisoned, endangered, devastated, depressed, and unsupported victims of all the ills within our society.
Lend them a hand. Live in solidarity. Challenge your assumptions and preconceptions. Dig deep into your heart and your mind, and figure out why you let burdens continue without intervention. Smash those excuses that keep you from moving toward empathy and solidarity and understanding and care. Do things that change lives. Do things that save lives.
And stop saying that god doesn’t give us more than we can handle. Stop spreading that lie. Start spreading love.