Suffering (Part 3 of 3): God Will Never Test You Beyond Your Strength

torn_copyPain is awful.
 

Suffering can be unbearable, and unthinkable. Especially when the source of our torment is the suffering of someone we love, like our children, the discomfort can be extraordinary.
 

There is within scripture and Christian tradition the idea the God will never give us more pain, or a greater trial than we can handle.
 

Recently I noticed a couple articles online which argued the opposite: that God will overwhelm us.
 

In order to believe this a person must hold a very narrow interpretation and understanding of the commonly cited quote from 1 Corinthians 10, “God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength.” Beyond that, if we take two known characteristics of God, that He is both all-powerful and all-loving, then this also supports the notion that God would never test us beyond our limit.
 

Within suffering, powerlessness rears its ugly head. Our limitations and finiteness become apparent. That can be a terrifying realisation, but one from which the greatest drop of truth is born. In our helplessness comes the knowledge of our need for help, for divine assistance.
 

Those who seek to fight the crashing waves of suffering on their own are inevitably crushed and thrown about. Though a person may survive the onslaught, they emerge with jadedness, with anger. Either that, or they emerge with a dwelling attachment to suffering and the battle that surrounds it.
 

When you suffer, beg the Lord of all mercies for help!
 

He will come to your aid.
 

Not in the way you might expect or want, but He will come.
 

Do not forget, reliance on God is not a one off, once and done kind of deal.
 

Relying on God in our suffering means repeated prayers, a constant personal reminding, a striving to turn again and again, back towards He who can give peace in the world’s worst turmoil.
 

God will never give you more than you can handle.
 

Our human strength is frail, it is inevitably empty.
 

If it is our own strength which we seek to rely upon, then yes, we will encounter trials which are too great.

 

God always offers the grace, but it is up to us, the receivers, to accept it.
 

Like a tool with no one to wield it, without acceptance grace is impotent.
 

The notion that God will give us more than we can handle is a flawed one which extols the “glory” or significance of our suffering above God’s grace and love. Even if, as most of these articles point out, being overwhelmed leads to the knowledge that we need God.
 

One man claimed that this promise is not in scripture and remarks that the line from 1 Corinthians 10:13 is about temptation and not suffering. It is actually about both:
 

God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it.”
 

In every form of suffering we have a choice: to rely on our own strength, or to trust in God’s.
 

To rely on our own is a temptation, and a serious one because it can lead to despair, the greatest separation from God’s mercy. It is pride that motivates us to shirk God’s help, and it is from this pride that God gives us ‘a way out’. The choices we make during our suffering is exactly what Paul is writing about. He asks us to trust God.
 

Trust placed in God is never in vain.
 

If we only trust Him so that the world may unfold in our image, it is folly.
 

Some struggle just to be able to accept that good may come from suffering. Those who can accept this reality often endure suffering only because they have their own notion of what they hope to accomplish through it. It is no wonder then, that the pain becomes too much, because they hope for something which has never been promised.
 

When we plan out for ourselves what good things we will receive from our suffering, we will be overcome. When we seek to embrace suffering only on a temporary basis; we will be overcome. When we attempt to utilize suffering for our own ends; we will be overcome.
 

Only when we embrace suffering with complete openness and abandonment to God’s mercy, plan, and love, will we have the grace–and as a result the strength–to endure anything.
 

‘God will give you more than you can handle is satan’s motto.
 

He spreads this notion because he wants people to lose absolute trust in God’s goodness.
 

For a God who delivers His followers into snares from which they cannot escape is either not loving or not powerful enough to deliver them.
 

The evil one glosses over this lie with notions of compassion and understanding. He whispers that if we don’t acknowledge the lie we are not compassionate towards those who suffer. When if fact, we steal from those suffering the very tool to find help immediately, not after defeat.
 

One author introduced the idea that Jesus had claimed that the passion was too much for Him, that in His agony in the garden he paraphrased this to God. Nothing could be further from the truth.
 

And He went al ittle beyong them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.”
 

Shortly after He continues, “My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.”
 

If it was too much, Jesus would have fled. He would not have given His will up to that of His Father.
 

Instead, Jesus handed Himself over to his own crucifixion. He who could have called legions of angels to his assistance. Instead He humbled Himself to embrace torture, beatings, slander, and eventually death. It was not too much, because Christ allowed it to happen, he willingly participated in his own execution.
 

The immensity of Christ’s suffering should never be confused with a bowing of His will before the pain.
 

In imitating Christ, we must all willingly lay down our lives in our sufferings. Our emotional reaction to suffering does not have to become our actions. We must acknowledge that without God our trials are too much, but with Him, in God’s love, we can do everything. God never gives us more than we can handle, because he also supplies the grace.
 

While staying at a community in Ontario I was suffering under immense pain and confusion. To find help I asked a question to three of the communities leaders: “What do you do if you’re overwhelmed?”
 

They responded, “Stop relying on yourself.
 

It is time to draw ourselves up, out of self-pity, and into God’s love!
 

Suffering is the precursor to glory if we remain in His grace!
 

Do not lose heart, but bear your afflictions with joy. For He who has created the universe, He who has risen from the dead, will also carry you through your current hardships and into a life so resplendent and glorious that this current moment of suffering will seem like a distant, faded memory.file8781234480355

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Suffering (Part 2 of 3): If God is so Good, Why do People Suffer?

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If your a sucker for repetition, look into a video or online story about a great tragedy in which either the author, or a commenter, thanks God for the salvation of the people involved.
 

If the article is broadly popular soon after you will see comments like, “If God is so good for saving this one person, why did he let the others die?” Or, “If God is loving and all powerful why did he let this tragedy happen in the first place?”
 

Rather than being genuine curiosities, these comments are sucker punches directed at the weak stomach of a suffering soul.
 

This ridicule is lacking in a proper understanding of human life. Those who wield them fail to fully include all elements of their own argument.
 

If God exists and is all loving and all powerful, as we Christians claim, then the reality of the soul is a fact. If the soul does exist then eternal life is a question of real importance. Thus, if God truly loves us, which we believe, then His chief concern is our eternal life, above all else.
 

That means that freedom from suffering and death are part, but not all of, the life of the soul, which is eternal by nature.
 

This very reality was exemplified by the God we believe in.
 

Not only does he treat us as a parent lovingly treats a child, but He went one step further and lived out suffering as we must.
 

Christ is the living example of pure goodness, pure love. What did He receive for being the unblemished lamb? Death, brutal death, at the hands of the Sanhedrin and the Romans. Where was our supposedly good God then?
 

For Christians the crucifixion is not the end of the story, but the beginning:
 

This saga calls us to a greater intimacy, a greater understanding of this mysterious and often ridiculed God.
 

To heal only our physical sufferings but to pay no attention to our spiritual maladies is akin to curing the symptoms of serious disease but ignoring the disease itself. It may feel better for a time, but in the end the patient is far worse off.
 

Thus, forgiveness trumps relief from suffering every time.
 

Forgiveness brings intimacy and relationship. It brings the possibility of reunion which, since God is who we claim He is, is the most important aspect of every human being’s life.
 

Christ endured more suffering then can be imagined.
 

He was the only person who actually had no guilt, who actually deserved no punishment, let alone capital punishment.
 

He endured this suffering because there is something greater then relief from pain.
 

He endured this suffering so we might know freedom from the deepest pains of the human heart, those which are indescribable, and far worse than any external tragedy could bring.
 

Most parents, whether they are religious or not, understand the importance of attending to the greatest good. Parents will deny their children what they want, causing suffering to their children temporarily, knowing that a spoiled child will suffer tremendously in the future, something far worse then this mild discomfort that is occurring in this moment.
 

We all know that a parent who caves in too often will spoil the child, and this is not love. It is a form of selfishness because the parent caters to their own anxiety and not to the needs of the child.
 

If God merely relieved us from every physical discomfort, it would actually spoil us into decadence while our spiritual life careened out of control. It would cast into jeopardy the most valuable treasure any human has: relationship with Him. Because God exists, death is not nearly as final as it would seem. It means that death is a transition and not an ending, which means that our human understanding of what death is, is incomplete.
 

Though it can be unbearable as we remember those we’ve lost, those who die are not lost to us. If God would allow any human person to die in a world where death is final, He would be a lie.
 

But if death is only the gate through which we enter into His presence, then who’s to say death is ultimately bad?
 

Any person who attempts to undermine the belief of another with the argument “If God is… , then why does this happen,” would be wise to consider fully just what life with God means. There comes a time in every believers life when this very question arises, and it is an important question to flesh out. When it is born through a genuine hunger for understanding, amazing beauty comes from this query.
 

When it is wielded as an assault on the beliefs of others, or as an idle thought in an otherwise unconcerned mind, it serves no purpose.
 

As a good parent hates to see their child suffer, but may allow it for the good of that very child, so we may rest assured that God only ever allows suffering if it is for the greatest good of our own our hearts and souls.

Suffering (Part 1 of 3): The Man on the Bench

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Our response to suffering speaks volumes about our interior state.
 

It reveals how we see others, ourselves; the needs of others, compared to our own desires.
 

Here I wish to reference a difficult experience I had after a shift at work which lasted into the night.
 

Tired, I walked over to a bus shelter and noticed a man sitting in an awkward position on a bench across the street. After watching for a little while it was easy to see that he was unconscious.
 

What happened next shook me deeply: it both showed how callous we can be towards our brothers and sisters, but also revealed my own coldness towards their suffering.
 

First, I noticed how a group of people standing nearby totally ignored his presence.
 

Second, a couple walked up and sat beside him; the woman proceeded to rifle through his pockets and remove their contents.
 

Afterward, they left.
 

Third. When I asked if the group nearby knew him, two women came over. One said, “Hey that looks like Rick, is that Rick?” By this point the man had fallen from the bench onto the ground. She kicked him over so his face was upwards; it wasn’t Rick.
 

They left laughing.
 

Fourth. A woman stopped by when she saw me stooped by his side and asked, “Is he ok?” I replied I didn’t know, I didn’t think so.” So she said, “I think he’s just resting!” with a hint of positivity. I just shook my head, disgruntled, “I think it’s worse than that.”
 

Fifth. A man with a bicycle stopped now and asked if he could help. He proceeded to hit the man with his bike tire repeatedly in attempts to awake him. He then force fed him some liquids and placed the limp man in a terrible position on the bench. When he heard police sirens nearby, he suddenly fled.
 

Sixth, seemingly the only beautiful witness was a teenager who stopped by and asked with a look of concern if everything was Ok. When I told him I’d already called an ambulance he smiled apologetically and left.
 

Seventh. The woman who robbed the unconscious man returned. She sat around asking me for a smoke, or if I had a light while I was trying to talk with the paramedics on the phone.
 

The ambulance arrived in good time and they told my help was no longer needed, so I left.
 

Upon reflecting on this incident later I realised that each person who stopped by represented a different internal state, most of which I have held myself at one time or another in my life.
 

The first people who just ignored him represented those with hearts which have never been lit aflame with sacrificial love. They saw no personal gain, and only annoyance in going to help the man. He was simply not worth their time.
 

Admittedly, this was my first reaction.
 

Love which cannot sacrifice, is not love at all.
 

The woman who robbed him represents all the times that we take advantage of those we love when they are vulnerable.
 

Whether we use subtle social pressure to get our own way, or by taking from the other intimacy that was never given. We have all, at one time or another, used the predicament of another person for our own selfish gain.
 

The fourth woman who stopped to offer the suggestion that, “Maybe he’s just sleeping!” represents our tendency to gloss over real suffering with happy-go-lucky slogans and meaningless cheer.
 

Every time we shrug off the very real suffering of another with pseudo-positivity, we offer them a cold shoulder as relief from their pain.
 

Pop psychologists love this kind of advice. They tell us that to improve our lives and eradicate our struggles we need only think happy thoughts or eat more green things!
 

The kind of love that lifts the burden of the other involves lifting a heavy, cumbersome, and precious cross.
 

It involves most importantly, entering into the pain of the other.
 

The man on the bicycle represents a curious middle ground. He was totally willing to help, but having no expertise about how exactly to help, did what was eventually totally unhelpful. His intention was there, but his lack of expertise and knowledge only served to worsen the situation. It is safe to say that spending time discerning whether our interventions are really helping a given situation would be fruitful time to spend indeed!
 

Knowing when we have the capacity to make a difference, and when our inexperience will lead the situation into an even greater problem than the first, is true wisdom.
 

I left that night on my bus, significantly later and more tired then I had expected, and thought about what had just happened. I was one step away from simply ignoring the situation and leaving without a second thought. When I witnessed my own reluctance to help the helpless, it shocked me most of all.
 

It motivated a serious reflection:
 

Where is my compassion?: I who claim to be a Catholic, devoted to Love itself.
Why was I so eager to leave this man to his lot in life? To be the unconcerned passerby in the story of the Good Samaritan?
 

As a Catholic I also identify with the fact that the risen Christ is present in every human being: to abandon any man or woman is to abandon Christ himself.
 

If I claim to care about humanity, while ignoring the very real suffering of those I know, see, and encounter, I am a liar, a hypocrite.
 

There should be no suffering in this world so foreign to me that I will be unwilling to at least acknowledge the struggle and the pain, to offer my presence and self-less gift.
 

May God kindle and fan the flames within our hearts to burn with compassion for all our brothers and sisters.

Walking With Tolkien: A Journey From Desolation to Life, Part 2 of 3

 

So Adam, Joe, and Megan journeyed together. A pilgrimage of many now.
 

Admittedly, I clung to anyone who showed me authentic support. Long before this time I came to realize how my condition alienated me from people; understandably, they never knew how to react. To be confronted with someones utter vulnerability is not an easy thing to do. The one major exception being the kind ladies at my parish who took me into their hearts! It was just like Frodo and the Ring. The Ring had a strange effect on the people around him, it seemed to polarize people. Either they began to turn on him, for lust of the ring, or they rallied behind him. More on Frodo later! 
 

I became obsessed with counting.
 

It gives me chills to look back at the calendars of meticulous records I kept. I could tell you how every day went: I counted how many stairs I did in a day and even detailed how many constituted right legs and how many left legs, how many seconds I listened to an audio book, how many minutes I’d spend sitting, how many times I swung my arms around, how many times I shook my protein shake in the morning and with which arm, the number of dishes I removed from the dishwasher, etc. Anything I did, I counted. Through these records I could control to the smallest degree how much I increased over time. Also, I had factual numbers to argue against my over-active imagination and anxiety, and this was a critical weapon in my arsenal.
 

I crept and nibbled at my boundaries.
 

From walking I went to stairs, from darkness I went to tiny amounts of light, from silence to small snippets of audio books. Every increase ran a heavy risk of increasing my pain for varying lengths of time, varying from hours to days. If I remained steady without panicking, usually the pain would settle back to what it was at before the new increase. Once I was steady for a time, I could try upping the amount again. I’d go from doing twenty four stairs a day to twenty six and try that out for a week. It was grueling and exhausting work, but I kept chipping away, one step at a time.
 

Another unforeseen difficulty arose after my initial successes.
 

Sometimes I’d be so encouraged by my new abilities that I’d develop “Superman Syndrome”. Essentially, I’d feel like I was in control again and make some large new advancements. This usually didn’t cause pain immediately, but after it was too late I’d receive heaps of pain signals which would last for days. Imagine having all the chocolate chip cookies in the world, a completely empty stomach, and being told by a cranky old miser that you could only have one. Wouldn’t you try to sneak another? It wasn’t totally unlike Gollum’s insatiable hunger for the ring. It took great strength to resist these temptations, and to continue on at a healthy pace.
 

Every time I took more than was good for me, Joe was there to help.
 

He took my calls, told me a thousands times that the setbacks where just as important as the victories. He calmed me, told me I wasn’t doomed for failure. He confirmed my trust in God’s plan and carried me when I had no strength left. Notably, Joe never called me, and this was the way it had to be. I learned to ask for help and to express what I needed or didn’t need. This distinction was crucial because it taught me to exercise my own will again, to fight with my own action against the obstacles set before me.
 

I had Joe for aid, but Christ was the greatest support in my journey. Every few months after receiving the Holy Eucharist I would go to the chapel and let it all out. There, I would allow all the pressure and sorrow to release in an effusive outpouring. It was a small gift I could make to the most compassionate love in my life.
 

How could God allow such a horrible event in my life?
 

It was irrelevant. I knew He was guiding me, and on more than one occasion He showed me the depth of his love and care. When truly in love and knowing that we are beloved, we become more willing to exercise trust. I learned to exercise this trust, and it became a solace in the desert of my afflictions. There’s something a person may experience in the depths of their heart that is as undeniable as their own existence. A whisper, a soft word, or rather – The Word. Christ was the primary person who brought total trust to my otherwise dismal and hopeless condition.
 

At the two year point I hit the halfway mark.
 

I was spending just as much time walking around as I was lying down. Though I was limited by where or how I could walk, it was a remarkable achievement. In order to train myself to walk on uneven surfaces, I began making trips outdoors during my “up” periods. Imagine your neighbour making seven trips to the mailbox and back each day! Not only that, but he’d swing his arms around like a madman (Megan made me in order to increase my arm flexibility) and wave at you when you just wanted to drive quietly into the cul de sac unnoticed. What fond memories! My neighbours really rooted for my recovery.
 

As you can see, up until this point I’d seen some pretty harrowing and overwhelming obstacles. Tolkien shows great insight into human suffering and grief. The Lord of The Rings is a beautiful revelation of the deeper realities contained within our own lives. His epic tale is a poetic parallel to my own great adventure.
 

Once I decided to introduce sound back into my repertoire, my father picked up an audio book from our local library. The first story I would hear in many silent months would be The Fellowship of The Ring, the first book in Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of The Rings. Those few seconds I got to enjoy the spoken tale were unbearably delightful. As Gollum waited for his chance to snatch back the ring, so I waited in agony a whole day just to get three more minutes of the story. This was my only entertainment at the time, so it was a long wait. It also meant that when I did get some audio book time I listened carefully and enjoyed all aspects of the story I could pick up on. My tolerance for audio increased and likewise the amount of time I could listen. After a few weeks, I could get fifteen minutes a day comprised of smaller chunks. I progressed through book one and then on to book two: The Two Towers. My investment into the characters was enormous. Tolkien captured beautifully the essence of a long tedious journey done on foot; I could easily apply the story to my own experiences.
 

Frodo and Sam became extensions of my own capacity for adventure and the fellowship something akin to supporters.
 

I took the death of Gandalf with great sorrow. The pain of the characters was vivid and personal. It was irrelevant that I already knew of Gandalf’s eventual “resurrection”; I too needed a respite in the forests of Lothlorien to recuperate my desire for more adventure. On the flip side, I remember literally thrusting my arms in the air and cheering when Gimlee, emerging from the shadows screaming a war cry, saves Éomer during the siege of Helms Deep. My victory thrust was followed by half an hour of elation, and occasionally skipping, as I reconstructed the scene in my mind over and over again.
 

Inevitably and fortuitously, the company split up.
 

Sam’s burst into the icy waters of his own doom made me cry for appreciation of the beauty of such an action. His utter devotion to the end was stupefying. For me, Sam’s act of devotion was totally believable, thanks to Joe. I had seen my own friends depart and so it would be with the fellowship. The full support cast is whittled down to a skeleton crew. The extras peel off and the real fight comes down to the most unlikely characters, our friends the Hobbits.
 

My recovery didn’t carry the same heroic goal of “saving all good things”, but it was heavily weighted with consequence.
 

I had no days off. The thought of taking even an hour off left me in cold sweats. I couldn’t stop, to go back was unthinkable. To admit defeat would be to give up the last chance I ever had to succeed. The pressure was horrible; I had nothing which I could use to say, “Ok, lets stop for a moment and do something else.” I could do nothing else. The soft prison, my couch, was there waiting for me endlessly. Months and eventually years of darkness and little mobility crushed my spirit. The immensity of Frodo’s undertaking weighed heavily upon his shoulders as well. How could one small Hobbit carry the enormous burden of the ring? I also wondered just how much pressure I could endure, before I could take no more.
 

I hope you have enjoyed Part Two. Soon, I will post Part Three.