“What a Parent of a Child with Disabilities Can Really Handle”

This was the title of a blog post by my good friend and colleague at Answers in Genesis, Stacia. I’ve shared her insightful blog posts several times in the past on my blog. Stacia’s son Kieran has Williams Syndrome. I wanted to share this post because of a conversation I had with a woman at the Answers for Women conference a few weeks ago.

She shared with me the story of her two disabled children. Her little girl is four years old and will require a feeding tube soon. Although this woman had a lot to be heartbroken about, I could see that she had learned to depend on God’s grace and strength to carry her through these very difficult times. It would be easy for me to think of this woman and my friend Stacia as “super women” for being able to bear their burdens. But I have no doubt that both women would shun that title and freely admit it is not by their own strength or abilities that they are able to do what they do but God’s.

Stacia writes the following:

There’s a meme that floats around on social media every once in awhile that goes like this, “God won’t give you more than you can handle!” And then there’s the meme about this meme that says, “I know God won’t give me anything I can’t handle; I just wish He didn’t trust me so much!”

And everyone chuckles.

People also say this to those going through rough times (for example, to parents of children with disabilities), in an attempt to encourage them.

It sounds good, doesn’t it? It has “God” in it and that pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality that we Americans love and embrace.

But here’s the thing about that bootstraps phrase: it’s a lie.

Really. Get out your Bible and look for that ideology in it. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Didn’t find it? That’s because it isn’t there.

In fact, this phrase presents a view of God that is completely contrary to the God of the Bible. It portrays God as a distant, laissez-faire deity who gleefully dumps problems on humanity and then steps back to watch them groan under the weight of their burdens, twiddling His fingers and offering the occasional “Atta boy!” when we do something right.

But that isn’t the God that we learn about in the Bible. That God is sovereign and gives to everyone what He deems best, but in giving He also provides the strength and grace we need (Philippians 4:19). He is the stronghold we run to in affliction. And He doesn’t forsake His people.

But the Lord sits enthroned forever;
he has established his throne for justice,
and he judges the world with righteousness;
he judges the peoples with uprightness.

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.
(Psalm 9:7-10, ESV)

The Creator of the universe is close to the brokenhearted and He is the one who saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).

He is our refuge and strength and His are the arms that we lean on (Deuteronomy 33:27).

Not only does this phrase present a false view of God, it also gives a false view of humanity. It says that they’re all alone in this. That the trial they find unbearable really isn’t so bad–it’s just their imagination. That they have the ability and strength on their own to buckle down and make it work, no matter what.

Far from being encouraging, however, the “you can do it, just grit your teeth and barrel through!” mentality is like salt in a wound to those who know better — to those living out amazingly difficult lives.

When my friend lost her daughter several years ago in a car accident, she couldn’t handle it.

When a mother finds out her unborn baby has multiple disabilities, she has her baby killed because she can’t handle it.

When the father of a severely disabled child looks out at the unending days of caring for his child who can’t do anything by himself, he leaves his family because he can’t handle it.

When parents are told, “There’s something wrong with your child . . . ” they begin to lose their faith in God because they can’t handle it.

And on a more personal note . . .

When Kieran was a baby and not eating well and not gaining weight and not sleeping and crying for hours on end and in the hospital more times that I can count, I couldn’t handle it. Really. I remember telling Seth, “I don’t think I can do this much longer.”

When he was diagnosed with WS and we were forced to face a now-uncertain future filled with even more hospital visits, learning difficulties, potential bullies, and who-knew-what-else, I couldn’t handle it.

When I’m again encouraging him to eat or telling him to put on his shoes for the fifth time because he’s gotten caught up in five different things since the initial telling, I don’t have the patience. I can’t handle it.

And just when I think I can handle life, I’m gently (and sometimes not-so-gently) reminded that I simply can’t. That I’m weak and in desperate need of the wisdom of God, the peace of Jesus, and the filling of the Holy Spirit who works to produce His fruits in my life.

And I’m so thankful for passages that remind me that I don’t need to handle it alone:

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

And

But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isaiah 43:1
3)

And

This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him. It is good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.(Lamentations 3:21–26)

And

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3–4)

I appreciate the way Greg, the father of a severely disabled child, has said it:

My experience is that God will place a burden on you so heavy that you cannot possibly carry it alone. He will break your back and your will. He will buckle your legs until you fall flat beneath the crushing weight of your load. All the while He will walk beside you waiting for you to come to the point where you must depend on Him. “‘My power is made perfect in your weakness,’ He says, as we strain under our burden. Whatever the burden, it might indeed get worse, but I know this—God is faithful. And while we change and get old, he does not. When we get weaker, He remains strong. And in our weakness and humility, He offers us true, lasting transformation, and undeserved grace.”  Wrestling with an Angel, p. 14

And if we could handle life on our own, who would get the glory? And who deserves the glory?

The hope of a parent of a child with disabilities — or the hope of anyone — isn’t in themselves and what they can handle. It’s only found in Jesus, the lover of souls and Savior of mankind. The perfect Son of God who loved us enough to step into history, feel what it’s like to be human, minister to the disabled and needy, die a painful death, and then rise from the dead three days later. In His amazing love, He offers eternal life to all those who believe and seals us with His Holy Spirit who gives us strength and wisdom and peace and patience–the very things any parent with a special needs child craves. And works all things for His glory and our good.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

So the next time you’re tempted to share that meme on Facebook or offer that platitude to a friend going through a rough patch, can I ask that you please refrain? Instead, offer to sit with them while they cry. Offer to listen to the desperations of their heart. Offer to pray with them and for them. Share a meal with them. Offer to stay with their children while they go out to dinner. Offer to help with therapy visits. But don’t give them a false god and an empty hope. Instead, point them to Jesus who bears our burdens and is the close and personal lover of our souls.

As I read this I wondered how many times I’ve thought or said, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” But I know from my own experience that God does give us more than we can handle on our own! He gives us more than we can bear because He wants us to be totally dependent on Him and not on ourselves. I think many times God makes the situation so impossible, so unbearable that only through His grace, mercy, and power can we have victory.  Gideon found that out when God reduced his army to 300 men (Judges 7)! May we, in whatever our unbearable situation is, “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16), and may we do it to glorify God.

Keep fighting the good fight of the faith!