Is it true God doesn't give us more than we can handle? Is God even responsible for our adversity?

Does God Give More Than We Can Handle?

Cliche: A phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought.

Cliche of the Day: God never gives you more than you can handle.

Is that true? And is God even responsible for our adversity?

A Thoughtful Response

Let’s start with the assumption that God bears full responsibility for everything that happens to us on the earth plane. He (she/it?) is the great oppressor in the sky. A convenient scapegoat for all that goes wrong.

I personally can’t subscribe to the concept that God micromanages all the minute details of my life, tightening the screws as much as possible, but not too much, just to the breaking point where he figures I can just about handle it. Who is this divine being who doles out suffering in doable doses? What kind of sadistic creep does that? If God is love, this is not that.

Many portray God as if he’s a CEO of the huge corporation called Earth where he sits in his office in the sky, some place called heaven, somewhere above the last floor of the Earth skyscraper where the elevator doesn’t go so you can never actually see him or get an appointment. Sometimes he speaks through middle management or sends messages directly to your inbox, but his executive plans and thought processes remain a mystery. Whether you adhere to the office manual or choose to wing it, no one can agree on what exactly corporate policy is. They can’t even agree on which manual is in effect. Some enjoy the abundance of the corporate setting while others slave like low-level employees in a basement sweat shop for little return. Co-workers and management smile and say, “Don’t worry. Just stay positive. The CEO would never give us more than we can handle,” as the sweat drips off their collective foreheads.

It’s human nature to blameshift. It’s not to say we brought all things upon ourselves but the whys don’t really matter so much as what we do from here. It’s the “now whats” that matter. If we put God on the hook for our problems, we can wait passively for answers. We acquiesce. Surely it’s all for good, right?

Or we get angry, shaking our fist toward the heavens as we stew in our bad fortune. This scenario is as old as the Book of Job. And poor old Job. Even his wife withdrew her support. She pretty much told him to eat shit and die.

During chemo, I was part of an online support group for women starting chemo roughly the same time. At the beginning, we would buoy ourselves by saying, “We can do this. It’s doable!” By the end of chemo, we were so worn out from doing it that we hoped to never do it again.

Adversity is sometimes ladled to overflowing on many people’s plates and it’s far more than they can handle. Proof is in the suicide rate, the nervous breakdowns, the number of people on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, drug and alcohol abuse, even theft and violence. People implode and explode. They over-work, over-eat, over-shop, and any number of things people do overly and compulsively to mask pain.

When I went through divorce and cancer, my mother would say, “Eileen, when you’re flat on your back, be glad because there’s only one way to go from there and that’s up.” Mom’s words encouraged me until I realized one day it wasn’t necessarily true. Things can always get worse or just not better. For instance, when you’re lying flat on your back, someone could push you over and now you’re face down in the dirt. Then a dog lifts its leg on you. Then a drunk trips over you and vomits in your space, then files a lawsuit against you for personal injuries. Or none of this happens, but you’ve broken your leg and need help to get up, but help isn’t offered — just a bunch of noise that sounds like “Just be positive!” or “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” And all the time you’re thinking: Are we looking up yet? But don’t worry. If it never gets better, someday you’ll die and in that way, you’ll ultimately get your “comeuppance.”

Many people who go through cancer have a strong support network. They deal with cancer, which is plenty in and of itself. Others who rely mostly upon themselves have the entire foundation of their lives crumble when their support — their own selves — becomes weakened. The collateral effects can last for some time, even years.

I love this quote from Evan Handler’s book, which I quoted before when I reviewed his autobiography, Time on Fire:

I’ve heard it said that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I’ve also heard it said that whatever doesn’t kill you fucks you up for a really long time, and it’s a miracle if you ever get it back together again.

My life since cancer has been one of scrapping for survival of one kind or another. I could be the poster child of proof that negativity and stress don’t kill you. Seriously, I don’t even know why I’m still alive. I’ve had a lot of change and a lot of challenge while my body was healing, and it’s not over yet. I often feel as though I’ve been selected to be a tribute in the Hunger Games. Metaphorically of course. I just wish the game was over, that I’d win, and could enjoy those things I used to take for granted.

At the same time, I’ve developed a newfound respect for myself. I’m hardly a formidable presence, but my resilience astounds me. Maybe it’s true I haven’t been given more than I can handle, even if it sometimes feels that way. Perhaps I’ve narrowed down the problem right there — I handle it. Trust me, if I thought it would work, I’d climb in bed, stare vacantly at the wall and let my drool spill freely from the corner of my lips. I’d remain like that for days. If God would let me know how long I had to stay in that position before I was officially deemed not handling it, maybe we could strike a deal. I’ll call his personal assistant for an appointment. With a little luck, they’ll squeeze me in.


  1. The collateral effects are life changing and they set you on a different trajectory. Another great article–will share on social media. Thank you!!

  2. I think we would never signed up if we knew what life has in store for us, sometimes.

  3. Thanks for putting into words what I often feel.. People often say things that they think are encouraging but they do not really think about what it means for the person they say it to..

    • So true. I’m sure you’ve also noticed that the people who say such things have never been in similar circumstances. People often mean well, but I wish they didn’t feel the need to fix our lives.

  4. Thank you Eileen for your honesty in writing this. I have seen you grow and change over the past few years through your writing. You have never sugar-coated things, but neither have you wallowed in self-pity or stayed defeated. I am so inspired by your resilience, your humanity and your compassion and count myself lucky to know you. May the coming year be filled with all the richness of life you deserve x

  5. I really enjoyed reading this piece. Evan’s quote is great. It is a topic I have thought about often. I never thought of God as someone/something who punishes people or does things on purpose. I am aware there are many people who believe this idea but it sounds very sick to me, especially when they try to apply this concept to my life.I don’t appreciate it and I’ve gotten myself into trouble for speaking my mind. It’s all part of control. In Catholic school, they made us believe all these horrifying things. They taught us about fears. I wasn’t inspired to go to school because many times I felt I was inside a haunted house. And yes, I have faith, but when I think of God, I think of love.

    Thank you for writing about a controversial and complicated topic.

    • Rebecca, love the haunted house comparison. 🙂 You are thinker and a questioner. You follow your own truth and that’s a good place to be, even if it’s gotten you in trouble.

  6. nancyspoint says

    Hi Eileen,
    I love this post. And I love that quote. I don’t feel like cancer made me stronger… but I do indeed still feel pretty fucked up, to put it bluntly. Like you mentioned, I also feel resilient at the same time. I mentioned feeling resilient in my book too. Like minds, right? Regardless, that cliche about God not giving you more than you can handle… it’s one more of those potentially hurtful, even harmful platitudes IMO. Thanks for the post. Another gem! xx

  7. Another brilliant post! xoxoxo P.S. Another possibility is god is a prick and a bully and we survive in spite of him.

  8. Sometimes I wonder if the people who told me that ‘God won’t put more on my plate than I can handle’, say it because they really hope they’re off the hook for offering help. Your corporate world analogy was so on point. I’m a Believer, but part of that is accepting all those things that are mysteries and simply cannot be explained.

    I also think about the people who attribute their good fortune to being “blessed.” The flipside is being “cursed.” So, would I consider myself “cursed” because I had cancer?

    • Kim, I do think many people say the niceties to get themselves off the hook. Often they feel discomfort and need to tidy up the topic so they can move on. It always feel discounting, even when they mean well.

      As for the flipside of blessed being cursed, I’ve had the same thought. If we say “God has blessed me” for the good stuff, are we cursed otherwise? I think the wisest answer is what you said: accepting those things that cannot be explained.

  9. I agree! I would never say “God gave me cancer.” Sometimes there is more in life than we can handle and we need help like counseling, pharmaceuticals and, for me, too, God’s loving presence.

  10. The Accidental Amazon says

    I have a theory that we are uncomfortable, we humans, with admitting that life is, in fact, unfair, inequitable, inhumane, and heartbreaking sometimes, for no reason at all. It’s hard to admit that, to admit to those things over which we have no control — like hurricanes and cancer. Many times since treatment, my best effort has been to crawl into bed and sleep. The fatigue is very much better, but there was little I could do to avoid getting run over by that freight train — except maybe not have treatment, and that wouldn’t have done, would it? Have a good 2016, Eileen, despite collateral damage. 🙂 xxoo, Kathi

    • Kathi, you’re absolutely right. People like to think they have control over all aspects of their lives. If we didn’t know it before, we sure know it now! btw: I too have been plagued by awful fatigue since treatment. Like you, it’s gotten better but not like I was pre-cancer. It really cuts into quality of life, but as you said, what were we supposed to do? Refuse treatment? I’m glad I’m here. I’m glad you’re here too. xo

  11. Elizabeth J. says

    There is a big difference between God caused something and God allowed it. Part of letting us have free will is that we live in a world where bad things can and do happen, where life is just plain unfair. (See the book of Job in the Bible.) There is much we just cannot understand about why both good and bad things happen.
    But, I also believe that God is with us through it all, that He can take the bad things and work them into good. That He can strengthen us to go through anything. But, we are not meant to go through adversity alone. We need God and other people.
    My faith has been an area of struggle since the cancer diagnosis, yet I believe it has grown during this time, but the growth has not been easy or painless.
    I have learned that two people can say the exact same thing, and from one it is a comfort, something she has learned, struggled through, and is now very real, and from another person the exact same words are merely a platitude they are repeating. I, too, get frustrated with the platitudes. Sometimes the best thing is to simply let someone know you care and then be there for them, however they need you to be, whether it is a hug, holding their hand, a meal, a ride, or washing the dishes. Words are not always needed.

  12. Eileen, I love this post. I’ve heard that crappy cliche about God not giving us more than we can handle, and frankly, the phrase is bullshit. God didn’t give me cancer as some sort of test, and yes, it was more than I could handle. Cancer resulted in PTSD. Yes, I made it through, but cancer socked it to me good and gave me more than I could handle.

    Excellent post!


  1. […] Eileen has written a wonderfully honest blog post about the realities of life – reading it inspired and moved me in equal parts. […]

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