"But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." Isaiah 43:1-3a
There is a lie floating around in our culture, surfacing its ugly head every now and then in various circumstances. Sometimes, it is proclaimed in the everyday things. Maybe it's the college student, overwhelmed with his full-time job, finals for six classes, and an upcoming graduation. In this stress-filled environment, you might hear this student say to himself, "I am so overwhelmed! But I know God wouldn't give me more than I can bear. I can do this!" Or maybe it's the young mother of four, swamped with dirty diapers, messy rooms, and sticky faces. At the end of the day and at the end of her ropes, she types a weary status on Facebook, to which a friend replies, "God has not given you more than you can bear. You can do this!"
Other times, though, this wretched lie emerges in the most horrible of circumstances. Grieving parents have just buried their young child, taken from them by a horrific accident. In the receiving line after the funeral, a well-intentioned but misled friend attempts encouragement, whispering, "You are amazing people, and God would never give you more than you can bear. I am praying for you, and I am so sorry for your loss." Or perhaps it is the husband and father of three children, nursing his wife who is dying of cancer. He also works tirelessly to maintain his full-time job, struggling to provide for the mounting medical bills, the many hungry mouths, and the looming mortgage. As he updates a colleague on his wife's declining condition, his friend says, "God must know you are a strong man to face all of this. He wouldn't give you more than you can bear. I am praying for you."
It has become a trivial platitude, really, one we say when we don't really know what to say at all. The venom from this lie, though, seeps deeply into our hearts and poisons us from the inside out. It erodes away at our faith, stripping us from the foundation of truth in Christ, and it leads us to cry out in anger, "How dare You let this happen to me!" Pride feeds at the root of this lie, and its driving force says, "I must bear it all on my own!"
In the beginning months of our pregnancy with Alisa, I loved to daydream. I would play Christmas music quite frequently (yes, in March...don't judge!), excitedly looking forward to the holiday season of 2015. After all, this year, we will have a newborn in our home during Thanksgiving and Christmas. I pictured a childbirth story similar to my experience with Kate. I envisioned nursing my second-born child, bonding with her in that most special way. I dreamed of watching her big sister blossom in her new role. I knew our family would be exhausted, but I knew we would be even more overjoyed. I couldn't wait.
When we learned of Alisa's diagnosis, the ground was taken out from beneath us. I retreated to that place of my deepest grief. As Trey and I delved into the world of learning about Down Syndrome, all of the unknowns took away my dreams. Honestly, I didn't know how to dream about her future anymore; I became afraid to dream about her future. With all the hope and joy that her little would bring, it also brought a world of unknowns that haunted me as a mom...
Would I get to hold her after she is born, or would she be whisked away to the NICU? Would I be able to nurse her? Would she face major surgery on her heart or intestines as a tiny newborn? Would she even survive in my womb?
Tragedy is all around us. Heartache is all around us. Even when we declare that life is going well, that our "normal" is just as we want it to be, the worries of life still threaten to choke out any joy and resolve we might muster. It is time we are honest with ourselves: in it all, we absolutely cannot bear this life on our own. There most assuredly will be obstacles we face that take us to our knees in weakness and brokenness. Recently, I have found myself in circumstances that are beyond me. I am at my weakest, and I cannot bear it on my own.
In 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul describes a "thorn in the flesh" that made him weak. We do not know the exact nature of this difficulty...was it poor health? A difficult person? Some other struggle? That is not made known. We do know that Paul wrestled in prayer with the Lord, crying "Take it away!" But even in Paul's desperate prayers, the Lord responded with this:
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." 2 Cor. 12:9
My soul takes comfort when I read those words. I am weak. Honestly, I cannot bear the thought of my baby having surgery in the first few months of life. I cannot imagine the struggles she might face with a syndrome that is often looked down upon by our society. My heart constricts in terror when I think of losing her at a young age to complications that might arise from her diagnosis. I cannot bear it. I cannot.
But Jesus...Jesus can handle it all. He is my Strength. Now, when I am at my weakest, I am able to see His power more clearly than ever. Truly, we cannot handle any of this life on our own, and truly, His power is always available to His followers. Unfortunately, we do not often depend upon Him. Too often, we live as if we can handle this life on our own. Yet when we face those trials that threaten to break us apart, that is when we often look up to Him in surrender.
Our weakness gives us the opportunity to see just how great and sufficient our God is.
Therefore, today, I want to declare to any who will hear it that I am weak. Trey and I are not special or perfect parents. Just like anyone else who might face a similar situation, we are weak, and we are broken. The only way we proceed in strength and hope is through the power of God. But for Jesus, this story might look totally different. He is what this story is all about.
I can dream again of life with my Alisa, not because I am a strong woman, but because the Lord Jesus has given me hope. The unknowns no longer haunt me, not because I have some personal inner strength, but because I have released the burden of our future to my Almighty God. I live in what He has given me, which is today, right now, and I depend on Him to lead me through it. I find that in Him, and only in Him, can I bear this season of life. I cannot bear it on my own.
God most assuredly does allow us to face things that are more than we can bear. But He never makes us face them alone. For any who are children of God, He is always there to be our Strength, our Hope, our Comfort, if only we would call out to Him...
To the one grieving over your dying marriage as your spouse insists it is finished, it is more than you can bear. But He can bear it for you.
To the woman or man wrecked by the sexual abuse of your childhood, your identity stripped from you repeatedly through the sins of another, it is more than you can bear. But He can bear it for you.
To the parents who have buried your child, it is more than you can bear. But He can bear it for you.
We can all fill in the blanks with our personal stories: death, disease, betrayal, abuse, abandonment, and the list goes on. Ultimately, life itself is more than we can bear on our own, yet as genuine followers of Christ, the story does not end there. Whatever storms we face in life, God's promise will always remain true: