When God Gives You More than You Can Handle
As a kid, summers usually meant long road trips through the center of California for fishing trips with my dad. Along the way, there were several dirt roads that seemed to lead off into unknown places. My imagination would run wild with questions like, ‘Where does this lead?’ ‘Who paved these roads?’ ‘How do you know which one is the right one to take if there are no signs?’And in a world before Google Maps, the thought of veering down one of these nameless routes felt dangerous and scary.
When you’re on a journey that doesn’t come with a road map or even a paved road, you might find yourself spinning in circles in the street looking for someone - anyone - who might know the right way to go. Every fork in the road feels like a guessing game, followed by the realization that you may have to start all over again if you choose the wrong route.
I think that’s why you’ll find people who have walked through similar struggles gathering together, creating communities, supporting one another - they’re making maps, they’re paving new roads, they’re standing on the side of the road cheering each other on and empowering their new-found friends to take just one more step, to try yet another route, to take it one day at a time.
So, when Lisa met Christy in a Family Grace Group, a Christian small group that discusses mental health and faith, the two linked together in this new - albeit, unplanned - community. A community filled with other family members who are trying to navigate down the treacherous, unmarked path of caring for a loved one who is experiencing challenges with his or her mental health.
But what they saw as unplanned, God saw as providential.
When their family members went through seasons of crisis and seemingly hopeless suffering, they walked off the familiar, well-marked highways. And through their travels, they learned one very important lesson that may sound contrary to a well-meaning phrase that gets passed around Christian circles…
God DOES give you more than you can handle.
The daily struggles were more than they could handle. The roller coaster emotions were more than they could handle. The confusion and unknowns were more than they could handle. And in the end, even the answers were more than they could handle.
That’s because part of the “answers” to Lisa and Christy’s stories were invitations. They were invitations into a plan that would most certainly continue to be more than they could handle. But when God gives us more than we can handle, He is inviting us into our greatest life purpose: to be “God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9). Lisa and Christy were being invited into God’s expedition into the unknown and to partner with Him as guides, mapmakers and cheerleaders for others they would encounter along the way.
What resulted was so much more than they could ever ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20)…
It resulted in that small Family Grace Group blossoming into 12 groups in the San Diego and South Orange County area.
It resulted in the opening of A Graceful Independent Living, a home in Escondido, CA started by Lisa that relieves suffering, reveals Christ and restores the lives of the residents, who are experiencing difficulties with their mental health.
It resulted in two of those residents empowered to facilitate their own Living Grace Group, a Christian mental health small group for those experiencing mental health difficulties…in a county-funded, secular mental health clubhouse. And now, a second group in a second clubhouse has been started!
“It is so inspiring and genuine and sometimes hard for me not to get emotional! It is seriously Ephesians 3:20, 21!”
— Christy, describing what it's like to watch the residents facilitate Living Grace in the clubhouse
And in April 2019, it will result in the first Hope for Mental Wellness gathering in Escondido, CA. Hosted by Emmanuel Faith Community Church, this free event is open to families, individuals, faith leaders and mental health professionals with the purpose of allowing them to connect with others, develop practical tools, discover helpful resources and be encouraged. And you’re invited too!
And while we can rejoice now at all that God has and continues to do through the journeys of these two women and their families, there was a time when they both thought, ‘God, this is more than I can handle.’
So, after looking back from where God has brought them and forward to where God is leading them still, Christy and Lisa shared their answers to one question:
How do you keep going when you know God is giving you more than you can handle?
Here are three lessons about moving forward in faith they have learned along the way:
1. Sometimes, you’ll need someone to carry you up the hill.
As a mother of four children, one of whom was struggling through difficulties with his mental health, “What’s the Drama D’Jour?” became a light-hearted coping phrase Christy’s family used often. That’s because, as some of you can relate, the extreme events that took place in their home became commonplace. But when things began escalating, they knew they would need help navigating the treacherous, uphill stretches that lay ahead. In fact, they knew they needed it so badly that they would drive 30+ miles to the closest Living Grace Group every week…the group that Lisa was facilitating.
Lisa talks about how “living the I-don’t-know’s - ‘I don't know what to do, what to think, how to respond…’ - in community allowed [them] to be transformed by each other’s pain and triumphs. Laughing at how [they], as loved ones, are part of an elite group, who gets to get to the end of ourselves and fully rely on God.”
For Christy, walking into a group of others who ‘got it’ was the first time they felt like they weren’t alone. Having a place to receive both practical tools as well as prayerful support was one of the things that kept them going. Christy experienced first-hand the incredible blessing to both receive and give support - to be carried and to carry others: “There ARE others out there who have similar experiences who want to encourage you and could really use your support as well. We all learn from each other!”
2. There are no dead-ends on a journey with God.
When you have a loved one who is walking through serious mental health difficulties, there are countless timesyou’re going to be tempted to think you’ve hit a dead-end. Someone will tell you there are no other paths to try, that you’ve reached the end, that you might as well give up. You might be there right now - feeling hopeless, wondering what to do, how to help, where to go next, especially when it feels as if there is nothing tangible left to do. But both Christy and Lisa would tell you that there are SO many different ways to help! And oftentimes, knowing practical (and even small) ways we can advocate for and love our family member helps empower and refresh us when we do feel helpless (the Family Grace Group and the people you find in these groups and others like them will help you with this!). Ultimately, we rest in knowing there are no dead-ends in God’s plans because the hope He gives is sure and He has gone before us to make a way for us.
Whether it was several failed attempts at purchasing a home for A Graceful Independent Living or failed attempts at treatments for their loved ones, Christy and Lisa understand the frustration of “dead-ends.” As Lisa even walks through her own struggles with anxiety, she often finds herself asking God, ‘Why would you ask me to do something like this?’“He answers, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).’ Perfected, not just expressed, but perfected.”
“I [Christy] heard Dr. Matthew Stanford, Co-Founder of the Grace Alliance, say it this way once: ‘Hope is more than a feeling, it is a person, that person is Jesus Christ and the hope of Christ transcends our circumstances.’ Hebrews 10:23 says, ‘Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.’The Hope of Christ does transcend all circumstances, and I pray all of you will know that same hope.”
3. Your path will provide a way for others traveling behind you.
If you’ve ever set out on a hike through the mountains, you may have asked yourself, ‘I wonder who blazed this trail?’Regardless of who may have been there first, there’s one thing we do know: they were willing to venture into unchartered territories so that those behind them could find their way, could have some direction of which turn to take, which route to avoid, where there might be danger and where they might find beauty.
Looking back on all the trails they have blazed, Christy tells me: “We didn’t volunteer our family for these experiences, we were drafted, but God has taught us and continues to teach us and show Himself to us throughout it all. We are starting to see our experiences as a gift. At the very least, we don’t want our suffering to be wasted.” Christy and her family have developed a compassion and reliance on God’s strength that she relates to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4: “…the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
When we face situations that feel like they are more than we can handle, it could very well be because they are! Like a muscle that has to be stretched and tested in order to grow stronger, God knows that these situations that are beyond our control and our strength will provide a way to not only grow us and build new strength in us but also for Him to be able to show His power, strength and goodness.
As Lisa says, “Being outside my self-sufficiency and dependent on God’s sufficiency is both a scary and good place to be!”
WHAT PATH HAVE YOU FOUND YOURSELF THAT FEELS LIKE IT IS MORE THAN YOU CAN HANDLE? WHAT ARE SOME WAYS GOD HAS REASSURED YOU THAT THERE IS NO SITUATION THAT IS MORE THAN HE CAN HANDLE?