Inner, Sustaining Strength: Try Not to Hate It Much


photo credit: Luke Alike via photopin (license)
photo credit: Luke Alike via photopin (license)

Sometimes, church people lie.

This isn’t to disparage church people. They rock at potlucks and stewardship, and I really dig the New Testament, especially the Gospels and Paul’s letters. Paul’s one of my writing heroes, right along with Hemingway, Chaucer and Jennie Davenport.

It’s not a horrible lie, but they say it: God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle.

Well, that’s shitty.

A family my family loves recently said goodbye to two brothers and a son, all taken too soon and in quick procession. All were fathers and honorable men. Does God consider that family so strong He can heap grief upon them like sandbags?

If so, there’s a reward for weakness, isn’t there?

photo credit: Luke Alike via photopin (license)
photo credit: Luke Alike via photopin (license)

Rather, I’d like to think of strength as something we all keep, for when we need it.

It’s a reserve tank, a reservoir that, if we’re lucky, we won’t ever tap into. It carries you through a miscarriage or job loss or death of a loved one. It evens your keel, if not noticeably then subtly, during divorce, famine, depression, bouts of disorientation, confusion, and general floating adrift.

You don’t know until you’re there, do you?

I hated the extra strength I had when my dad was sick. Every day, often more than once a day, I was certain I’d reached the end of it. Looking back, that extra strength allowed me to navigate through the darkest time of my life. And it isn’t until the end that you think about it …

… it’s like walking across hot coals, and not feeling a thing.

… it’s like stopping to help a stranger and putting your life in danger in the process.

… it’s like jumping up to block a shot from a player a foot taller than you.

Only, it’s more than that. It’s when you hear odds of 10% survival – and envision it.

It’s when you select the coffin with intricate woodwork because that’s the one your dad would have appreciated, too.

It’s holding your baby’s hand as her stretcher loads into the ambulance – and waiting to lose your shit until you’re in your own car on the way to the hospital.

photo credit: track via photopin (license)
photo credit: track via photopin (license)

It’s the fit of vitality to combat the languor that sets in as you reach the end of a gauntlet to which you thought you were forever destined – when the reward of an existence you deserve glimmers just out of reach.

It’s found in those moments you step back from your journey to consider the obstacles and odds and see them, lined up side by side, and count in your head how many they are and how many you are, but choose to ignore the numbers and take another step. Just one more step.

It’s the strength to believe in magic between fireworks. And to never lose faith in the red string. To know it tangles and pulls and stretches but never breaks.

Whatever gauntlet you find yourself trudging through, know that the courage you’ll need to keep you on your feet lies within you. Whether rationed by God or cultivated by spirit, it’ll surge to meet the tide of whatever hindrance lies ahead of you. You’ll tap it until it runs dry, then find it restored again.

It sucks, because the barrage of tenacity that fuels you means you’re up to fight another round. A sometimes brutal, exhausting round. But it’s your round to win.

You don’t know until you’re there, do you?

Jennifer Palmer’s post, Neither Did I, on Brain, Child Magazine, contributed to the inspiration of this post.

strength quote

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33 Replies to “Inner, Sustaining Strength: Try Not to Hate It Much”

  1. As serious this post is, I had to LOL about “church people rock at potlucks”!

    Well, what else are they supposed to tell you other than there must be SOME sort of extra strength you are given when times get tough?

    They can’t really say “you’ll feel as if everybody, God included, abandoned you, and the world is bad, unfair, too – but hey, if you’re lucky you may somehow make it through!”

    In school we learn how to write, read and do math.

    All the hard stuff like how to find love, raise your kids, navigate through hardships and let go of those who are taken from this world, is up to us, really. Some find support and comfort in faith, others in family and friends and – geez, I didn’t want to go there, I swear, but it’s kind of true… in food. Potlucks?

    1. Not all the words can be serious, Tamara! There are just some things you don’t want to hear, like, “God works in mysterious ways.” I know. But right now, i’m mad at God, the son, the holy spirit, and probably the Tabernacle Choir. That’s life sometimes.

      You’re so right – the rough stuff is up to us to learn. And there’s only one way to learn it. Food helps. Food always helps.

  2. The church does say that a lot, doesn’t it? It sucks more when they say it and then they’re the ones doling out the unhandleable stuff … Nice timing for this post, my friend.

    (That cliche also sucks because it is a misquotation of a verse by one of your favourite authors (Paul) who was actually saying God wouldn’t allow us to undergo a temptation that He wouldn’t also give us the tools and tenacity to resist. (Doesn’t mean we WON’T succumb to the temptations–just that we don’t have to if we avail ourselves of the tools, and the presence of God. 😉 )

    1. It’s easier to say stuff like that when you’re not the one going through it. i thought that part might resonate with you, Jenn.

      That clarification sounds every bit more Paul than the misquotation!

      1. It’s ALWAYS easier said than done, don’t you think? As for the clarification, here it is from the horse’s mouth, as it were:

        “12Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. 13No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10.12-13)

      2. Yes, and it’s easier to say it when you’re not the one trudging through it, Jenn. I knew you’d come through with clarification. The verse suffers from generations of the telephone game.

  3. I think that that statement could be true, if edited ever so slightly:

    “God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle without others and some divine help.”

    Yes, there are some craptastic situations out there (yes, they suck). They don’t suck as bad when you’re surrounded by those you love, though. And as you see the little miracles in life, it sucks even less.

    1. I like your version better, Kim. It’s great to have support, but ultimately, you have to bring up within yourself the power to stand strong. Loved ones and cognizance of life’s little miracles can help, but what drives it all is what’s within you.

  4. Life sucks sometimes, actually it sucks a lot. I think it’s all about how we come out of the vacuum at the other end, and how it defines us. I gave up any belief in a god as a young boy. I was brutalised and raped by the one person who should have loved and protected me, my father. No amount of praying stopped it, my mother, a religious woman at the time condoned it and allowed it to continue for years. I saw the world for what it was, a hell of a place to live in, with enough glimpses of beauty and love to torment you.

    1. Mate, it’s incredible to consider the strength within you when I assess what a good man and valued friend you are, after such a horrible experience as a child.

  5. Life can’t always be a bed of roses….sometimes you find the thorns instead. But what you do with those thorns can be positive or negative. If you let the bad things get to you you’ll become negative and bitter, but if you find the strength to muddle through and learn (whatever you’re supposed to learn) from them they can turn out to be SO positive and freeing.

    Or at least that’s what happened in my life.

    1. You’re right, Kathy. It’s as much, or more, what you do with the hand you’re dealt than the hand itself.

      A lot of what we do is purely reactionary, but mustering up the fight within helps you not only in the moment, but the next time adversity strikes, too.

  6. OH Eli… I just soaked in every passionate word you shared here… It stilled and stirred me. It captured the essence of this life and the undeniable human strength that comes from within… and you described the bitter taste of pain and suffering and loss so powerfully. I wonder when we will have all the answers. I wonder when the battle between good and evil will end, so we can finally understand ALL of it. The why’s especially.

    And I like Kim’s version better too. ❤

    PS: Our church has AWESOME potlucks.

    1. So glad you liked this, CC. I’ve decided after that A to Z Challenge to not run my posts through editing apps, because they sometimes strip some of the emotion I started out with.

      Anyway, this isn’t about apps. I’m not sure the battle between good and evil will ever end, and we’ll always have a fight on our hands of some sort.

      Kim did all right, didn’t she?

      PS: Invite me. I’ll bring a plate. And the girls.

  7. I appreciated Laurie’s comment because while I won’t outright say I don’t believe in God, I’m certainly not sure I do. I believe in a lot of other things, though – earth magic and maybe beyond earth magic and inner strength, most of all. I used to joke when people thanked God for something, “Give yourself some credit too (or all of the credit).” It wasn’t a popular sentiment with all. I keep it inside mostly but I think it a lot.
    Oh, and my childhood temple rocked potlucks too!

    1. It’s been an interesting discussion, and I know the tribe here represents an array of views. Those things you believe in, I do too. I think God would share the credit, don’t you think?

      I wonder when athletes thank God for a home run or winning touchdown if they’d blame God if they struck out or fumbled instead.

      I think your thinking shouldn’t often be kept inside.

      I didn’t even think of what temples could do with a potluck. I wonder if mosques do the same thing.

  8. I so love this entire post, Eli. I cannot stand when people say “God only gives you what you can handle” because I find it dismissive and overall crappy – as if my son has developmental delays when other peoples’ don’t – like God chose me. While in part, I do believe that I am parenting the perfect boy and cannot imagine him as anybody but himself, I don’t actually think that God says “oh this family will be able to handle it.” Like you said in this post, we never truly know what we can handle it until we’re in it. And then, it’s just life. I also can’t stand when people say “I don’t know how you do it” because whatever we do looks more like everybody else than different and it’s just our own version of normal, ya know? So many things this can apply to – but whatever applies to US and to our lives, is us living them. Beautiful words and thank you for this awesome read tonight. ❤

    1. Thanks Kristi. I know those words are meant to comfort, but they do anything but. I can’t imagine a God who would say, “hey, you’re strong. Let’s heap some adversity on that cart of yours.”

      It is just life, and we handle it because we must. The struggle isn’t always bad, either – and I use struggle loosely here. It’s the navigation with a challenge or something additional than the next person, but often there are great things associated with it, too.

      So glad you liked it, KC, and it’s always good to see you here.

  9. I think one of the biggest untruths held by Christians, is that they will not have any trouble in this world. Like God is somehow a lucky charm they can wear to ward off tragedy. and it’s simply not true, and in fact the Bible actually says to expect trouble in this world. That time and chance visits us all. I think that particular verse has been taken out of context to mean that you will be able to just “get over” the bad stuff; when I personally just see it as a reminder of “hey, you don’t walk alone.”

    1. I really believe it gives us comfort when it’s our own faith; when someone comes along and tries to dismiss our grief with being part of “God’s plan,” it’s just not what you want to hear right then.

      “Hey, you don’t walk alone” is something I’d much rather hear then.

  10. You are so right. It isn’t true, and the Bible doesn’t say that. it says that he won’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear. Tempted and going through hard times, that’s not the same thing. I have definitely gone through more than I can handle at times. But when I see a family like the one you mention go through that, I am always at a loss for words with these sort of circumstances. Heartbreaking.

    1. People say certain things when bad things happen … I remember just letting it roll off, and feeling bad that they felt it would somehow comfort me. I think the universe is full of mysteries we’ll never solve. Why things happen to certain people might be one of the biggest.

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