I'm sitting in Monkey Joe's, Fayetteville's overly airconditioned but well equipped bouncy house (huge bouncers for the kids, cushioned rockers, cable TV and computer access for the parents). This will be our last visit here before Nate's deployment at the end of the month.
There's a lot I have to learn about being a military spouse, but one thing comes up frequently: be strong. "You must be a strong woman" several people told me. "I could never do what you are doing." "Army Strong." "Be strong and don't complain too much," I've told myself. "People won't understand your situation, and you don't need to hand them reasons to doubt your decisions in life." (Painful to admit, but true). Undergirding all this is a hazy assumption that God won't give me more than I can handle. That's Biblical, isn't it?
Well, not really. Something didn't sit quite right with that assumption, but I didn't put a finger on it until I read a book called "God Strong" (recommended by the only other Army wife I know: thanks again Kristy!) I wish I could give you the direct quote, but I didn't pack the book in my bag when we left the house. However, her basic point is that in tough situations we often tell ourselves that God will not give us more than we can bear. The assumption is that if we just grit our teeth hard enough, pull our bootstraps hard enough, work hard enough, we can get through things in our own strength. Wrong.
Where does this idea come from? Probably from the Bible verse that says "But God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but will provide a way for you to bear up/escape from it" (My paraphrase). The author (Sara Horn) rightly points out that this verse is about temptation, not necessarily every tough life issue. When I am tempted to anger, to laziness, to gossip, to gluttony, that's when God always provides a way out of it.
At other times, however, God allows things in our lives that are much more than we can "handle." If that hasn't happened to you or someone you love yet, don't worry, it will. You or someone you love will be diagnosed with cancer. A marriage will end in anger and tears. Chronic illness will stretch out its weary lifetime. Children will rebel. Friendships will break. Unemployment, money worries, family fights, mental illness, 9 month deployments, stress ... these will break our backs.
Why does this happen? Isn't Christianity supposed to be my ticket to peace, joy, and abundant life? Yes, but it begins/continues with this truth: We need God for everything. There are stages in life when it's easy to push this aside. When life is going comparatively well, it's tempting to think that my own efforts and good character are what carry me through. It's only when the rug gets pulled out from under me that I realize how weak I am.
This is an invitation for me to let go of my human pride, and "goodness" and "strength" and to use God's unending strength instead. "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." We can do the hard things in our lives, but only because God gives us His strength.
Paradoxically, it's often easier to realize this in the big crises of life. I knew cancer was more than I could handle, and so did everybody else, and it was much easier for me to rely on God and help from others. It humbles me to admit that the day to day parenting issues, car stuff, and house maintenance are sometimes more than I can handle also, but there it is. The challenge is to turn to God instead of my own resources.
"When you have exhausted your store of endurance,
When your strength has failed ere the day is half done;
When you come to the end of your hoarded resources,
Your Father's full giving has only begun!"