Friday, October 4, 2013

God doesn't give you more than you can handle: helpful or unhelpful?

In the face of a crisis, many people are challenged to find constructive and meaningful ways to engage in conversation and so often they fall back on platitudes. Simple, hopeful, semi-philosophical phrases we have heard in many other situations may sound important to the speaker, but the receiver finds them meaningless and tone deaf. I'm sure you have heard many of these uttered to patients by well-meaning family friends, and even health care professionals:

"This too shall pass."
"Stay strong."
"Think positively."
"I'm sure it will be OK."
"It is what it is."
"God won't give you more than you can handle." 
Many in that list are generic, perhaps based off of some quasi-scientific research that a good attitude means you can beat your colon cancer.  But the last one is particularly interesting because it calls upon spiritual beliefs, which can be a strong source of support for the critically ill. I have heard a few chaplains who understand the origin and context of this phrase, criticize the crude application in times of sickness.  I also have worked with chaplains who utilize this phrase to explore and discuss a patient's own religious values. When I hear it in a clinical context, I'm not sure I have explored the deeper meaning, so I was very interested to read this frank rebuttal of "God won't give you more than you can handle" by Pastor Nate Pyle.
"Limp, anemic sentiments will not stand in the face of a world that is not as it should be."
Pyle explains that this phrase is often sourced to the Bible but the original statement is about temptation not suffering.  I think this is a great post to bring to team and discuss how we as professionals who see the intersection of suffering and spirituality everyday deal with statements like this. I posted the article earlier this week to the Pallimed Facebook page, and it garnered a lot of responses.  Here is one that I think many in palliative care will agree with:
Call it what you will, but someone people hang on to this for their hope and sanity. Even though I agree with this blog, even his blatant use of calling it what it is, sometimes to "correct" those (in the moment) who are holding on to this falsity as their hope and sanity, it is equivalent to pulling the chair out from under them.
When you hear, "God doesn't give you more than you can handle," how do you respond?

H/T to Rick Bauer (@nvrflycoach) for posting the original blog to Twitter
Photo Credit: Not attributable after using Tin Eye Reverse Image Search