The thought going with me through Lent this year is this: we should retire the phrase, “God never gives us more than we can handle.”
The image going with me this Lent is of Elijah in the desert, somewhere south of a town called Beersheba. He has wandered a day into empty space and sits underneath a thirsty tree with his morbid thoughts until he falls asleep.
An angel is sent to check on him. God has just proven himself to Elijah on Mount Carmel by reigning fire down from Heaven, but the angel finds Elijah in astonishingly rough shape: “Get up and eat,” the angel says, “for the journey is too much for you.” Elijah does. He walks for 40 days until despair overcomes him again. He climbs up into a cave. “What are you doing here?” God asks. Elijah shares his anxiety about being alone, about being without hope.
God responds. First there is an earthquake, then wind and fire. They fail to capture Elijah’s attention. Then God’s still small voice rattles Elijah to the point that he covers his head and stumbles to the front of the cave. The odd scene ends with God giving Elijah the very practical advice of finding his successor, Elisha. In the subsequent passage, Elijah anoints his replacement.
We like to say, “God never gives you more than you can handle.” But, it’s not true. That quote is perfect for monogramming and it sounds like 1 Corinthians 10:13. But, it isn’t quite 1 Corinthians 10:13. We rest a soft hand on the shoulder of a defeated friend and whisper, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” At times, it can be an encouraging thought. I’ve certainly girded up my loins after saying it to myself. You can handle this. God knows you can get through this. Work through it, you’ll be fine.
On Ash Wednesday, we stop saying that.
During Lent, we listen to the wisdom of the angels, who are too heavenly to mince words: “The journey is too much for you,” they tell us flatly.
The journey is too much for Elijah. God provides supernatural food, and then He gets Elijah some help, because Elijah has been given more than he can handle. He needs Elisha.
Moses is given more than he can handle by the same mysterious whisper. Go to Pharaoh and convince him to let my people go. Moses says the task is too great: “Send someone else!” We might chide Moses for his rattling knees and interpret them as a lack of faith. Exodus says that God was upset at Moses’ skepticism, but it is worth pointing out that God also says, “Aaron is already on his way.” Because honestly, Moses, you’re right. This is definitely going to be too much for you.
On Good Friday, Jesus falls under the weight of his cross. He cannot carry the beams up the hill to Golgotha. Simon of Cyrene bears it for him. Jesus cannot carry his own cross.
So yes, take up your cross and follow Him… but remember also that when you cannot carry it any further, when God has given you more than you can handle (which he often seems to do), when the journey is too much for you and you feel like dust, that’s okay. Be dust in the hand of the Almighty.