If I hear those words ‘God won’t give you more than you can handle,’ one more time, I think I’m going to scream!” said Amy quite emphatically.
“Take it easy,” I said. “Tell me what is going on?”
Amy Johnson is a nurse working in our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. She explained she hears those words from a lot of people who try to comfort the parents of our critical patients.
“OK,” I said, “here’s what you tell them next time. Tell them, ‘The Bible never says that!’ ”
She gave me a squinted look.
I explained the quote is a poor paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which is more accurately paraphrased as “God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to escape.”
The verse actually is talking about the kind of temptation one feels to steal, lie or other things. Yet this folksy, misquoted paraphrase of the verse changes the meaning of “temptation” to “burden.”
The problem with this misquote is that it burdens people with a belief that God “gives” them their calamities.
Amy nodded and it put me in mind of a story.
I told Amy of how I’d once met a woman in the hospital who was losing her son to AIDS. The woman had heard the phrase so much, she was beginning to repeat it as truth.
Yet her repetition of the verse had given her no superhuman strength, and it seemed as if she were stumbling under its weight. She was hoping I had some answers, so she asked me to meet with her son.
The problem was the boy had more than AIDS. He had a cancer that was being treated with radioactive isotopes. The room was “hot,” so I entered the room in a suit that made me look like the Michelin Man, double-wrapped for freshness.
After I finished my visit, I found the mother talking to the hospital staff. She told us how she had once been the Sunday school director of her church and now, people rarely spoke to her.
Then she dragged out the misquote, saying something like, “People tell me that God won’t give me more than I can handle, but this will be my second son to die from AIDS, and it feels like more than I can bear.”
It was a startling revelation to everyone who heard it. This patient was not her only son — he was her only living son. She had been so heavily burdened with this misquote of scripture that she had the added burden of believing she was failing a test sent from God.
Her pain definitely seemed to be going way beyond the design specifications for the human soul, and it was a lot to handle alone.
The truth is there was no way to create a happy ending to our conversation, and there was no point pretending otherwise.
At that moment another verse crossed my mind. The verse that promises wherever two or more people gather, God is there.
It was time to “gather.”
So, with her permission, I simply took her hand and held it. I let her know for the next several days, we would sit through this together and perhaps in some way help her “handle” this enormous burden.