On ‘handling it’

There is a platitude often uttered in some Christian circles. It goes like this:

God won’t give you more (hardship) than you can handle.


God knows how much you can take (and won’t let it go farther).

This is used to rationalize staying in all kinds of abusive, harmful, and toxic relationships and situations and exonerate God who supposedly has a higher purpose in the matter.

The problem is: not only is the saying not true, it’s completely absurd. Circumstances can always get worse. Relationships can always get more intolerable. Where is the line where something goes from “God knows I can handle this” to “God knows I can’t handle this”?

If a tree falls on your house, God apparently knew you could handle that (because he gave it to you). If a tree falls on your child and kills her, apparently God knows you can handle that (because he gave it to you). If a tree falls on you and kills you, apparently God knows you can handle that (because he gave it to you). If a tree falls on the head of someone manning the controls of a inter-continental nuclear missile, and his nose smashes down into the FIRE button, launching the missile toward Moscow, where it goes and annihilates the city and sparks off a global nuclear apocalypse, then apparently God knows we can all handle that.

But don’t worry! God won’t give us more than we can take!

Or let’s suppose that as a child you experience emotional neglect and psychological abuse. It’s okay because God knows what you can handle. What if you get pushed around, spanked a little too hard, and deprived of physical nourishment. It’s okay because God knows what you can handle. What if you get molested by a sibling, or assaulted by an uncle? Not to worry, God has chosen you for this suffering because you obviously are strong enough and worthy enough to bear it. What if your life is all out hell because of the people you are forced to live with? Stop complaining: it could get worse than this because God knows how much you can handle, and you’re still handling this.

And how do we define ‘cope with’, ‘deal with’, or ‘handle’ anyway? A child may experience trauma and live with PTSD for the rest of his life. Is this ‘handling it’? A woman may stay in a marriage with an abusive man for decades and have her vitality drained out of her. Is this ‘dealing with it’? All of us deal with a load of shit in this life. There is no one out there deciding what we can or cannot handle. Life on this planet may bite you, chew you up, and spit out your mangled body – or not. What happens apparently has nothing to do with our ability to cope with it. If it did, then trauma would never happen because trauma is by definition a wound one cannot handle.

As well-intentioned as it may be, this pernicious platitude needs to go away. Now.

If you’re in an abusive relationship and can get out, then get out. If you’re in a toxic environment and can get out, get out. If you’re undergoing repeated traumas and can get away, get away! If you’re under harmful levels of stress and can do something about it, do something about it!. The only one who knows what you can or cannot handle is YOU. Life will throw plenty of things at you that you can’t handle. Some things are unavoidable. Others are avoidable. Don’t wait for someone else to decide for you.

The good ole Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr seems apt as a closing:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.





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