There’s no easy way to attach the word cancer to your world and not make all who love you cry. I kept thinking about that statement everyone loves to throw out in times like these: “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” But that’s not actually in the Bible.
God does say He won’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear and that He always provides a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13). But that’s not the same as God not giving us more than we can handle.
He sometimes will allow more and more and more. I knew this. And now I was sitting in a pink chair living it. And, as I type these words, I know I’m not the only one who feels they’ve been given more than they can handle. I see the wide-eyed expressions on people all the time. Grief upon grief. Hurt upon hurt. Heartbreak upon heartbreak. Addiction upon addiction. Diagnosis upon diagnosis. Disappointment upon disappointment.
The world is filled with people who are dealt more than they can handle. And, surprisingly, the Bible is also filled with people who were given more than they could handle.
The apostle Paul wrote:
For we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. — 2 Corinthians 1:8-9
God doesn’t expect us to handle this. He wants us to hand this over to Him.
He doesn’t want us to rally more of our own strength. He wants us to rely solely on His strength. If we keep walking around, thinking that God won’t give us more than we can handle, we set ourselves up to be suspicious of God. We know we are facing things that are too much for us. We are bombarded with burdens. We are weighed down with wondering. And we are all trying to make sense of things that don’t make sense. Before we can move forward in a healthy way, we must first acknowledge the truth about our insufficiency.
Cancer is more than I can handle… on my own. I closed my eyes and silently asked God to come and sit in the empty pink chair near me, Art, and the doctor. I needed God to show me His perspective so I could set my perspective. But it didn’t come right away. And that frustrated me. I was filled with fear and questions like, Why this? Why now? Why me?
I could feel my emotions starting to unravel and my resolve to trust God slipping. It was too much. I didn’t want to keep trying so hard to trust God. I was tired of trying to make sense of this life that isn’t supposed to be this way.
I went to bed that night seriously contemplating running away to Montana to hide from my life. I could be a waitress in a breakfast diner. I had been a waitress when I was in my early twenties and loved it. Life was simpler then. Serving up plates of bacon and eggs and toast sounded so appealing. But cancer would follow me. The hurt would follow me. And even my wrestling with whether or not I could trust God would certainly follow me whether I moved to Montana or just crawled in a hole somewhere.
The story I started telling myself was that life would never get any better. My mind became fixated on all that pointed to this season of suffering being my new normal.
I woke up with panicked feelings. I walked around with panicked feelings. I went to bed with panicked feelings.
I knew my thinking had to change.
I couldn’t escape my realities. I had to face them. I had to walk through them. But maybe if I changed my thinking I could trust God in the midst of them.
Thinking about everything I didn’t know wasn’t getting me anywhere. So, I started listing things I did know.
And the main thing I know? I know God is good. I didn’t know the details of God’s good plan, but I could make His goodness the starting place to renew my perspective.
So now let me tell the story of all these recent events using God’s goodness as the central theme. Had things not blown up between Art and me last summer, I never would have hit the pause button on life to go get a mammogram. I would have waited. But because I had a mammogram at that exact time, the doctors caught a cancer that needed to be caught. And because they caught a cancer that needed to be caught, I had every fighting chance to beat this cancer.
You see, we’re all living out a story, but then there’s the story we tell ourselves. We just need to make sure what we’re telling ourselves is the right story. And the right story is, yes, God will give us more than we can handle. But He always has eventual good in mind.
We see more and more unnecessary heartbreak. But God sees the exact pieces and parts that must be added right now to protect us, provide for us, and prepare us with more and more of His strength working through us. We don’t have to like it, but maybe knowing this can help us live through it.
I learned about these very necessary “pieces and parts” one day when a couple of girls introduced themselves while standing in line to get some take-out food at a restaurant near my house. Pauline and Jessica had both read my book Uninvited. We chatted for a minute about what God had been teaching them, and then the topic of what I’d be writing next came up. I told them about this book and the revelation God had given me about dust. Jessica’s eyes lit up. Her mom is a professional potter.
As I shared how, when we place our dust into God’s hands and He mixes it with His living water, the clay that’s formed can then be made into anything, she smiled so big. She’d seen clay being formed into many beautiful things when placed into her mother’s hands. And then she shared something with me that made my jaw drop.
She told me that wise potters not only know how to form beautiful things from clay, but they also know how important it is to add some of the dust from previously broken pieces of pottery to the new clay. This type of dust is called “grog.” To get this grog, the broken pieces must be shattered to dust just right. If the dust is shattered too finely, then it won’t add any structure to the new clay. And if it’s not shattered enough, the grog will be too coarse and make the potter’s hands bleed.
But when shattered just right, the grog dust added to the new clay will enable the potter to form the clay into a larger and stronger vessel than ever before. And it can go through fires much hotter as well. Plus, when glazed, these pieces end up having a much more beautiful, artistic look to them than they would have otherwise.1
Jessica smiled and said, “C’mon, that will preach, right?!”
Oh, it absolutely did. I kept thinking about what Jessica shared and how it might relate to my season of suffering. What if the clay made from all the other dust currently in my life could be strengthened by this newly added broken piece?
And then I read Isaiah 45:9:
Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’?
God is making something beautiful out of my life. I know that. So, why question what He sees as the necessary ingredients to make my life stronger and more beautiful than ever? Sure, my diagnosis added some more brokenness, but even this could be used for my good.
I kept reading that verse from Isaiah and decided to do a little investigation into the term potsherd.
A potsherd is a broken piece of pottery.
Interestingly enough, a potsherd was also mentioned in the story of Job when he was inflicted with an awful disease.
So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.
His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”
He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
In all this, Job did not sin in what he said. — Job 2:7-10
A broken potsherd can lie on the ground and be nothing more than a constant reminder of brokenness. It can also be used to continue to scrape us and hurt us even more when kept in our hands.
Or, when placed in our Master’s hands, the Master Potter can be entrusted to take that potsherd, shatter it just right, and then use it in the remolding of me to make me stronger and even more beautiful.
When I understood this, I saw that in all my circumstances God was keeping me moldable while adding even more strength and beauty in the process.
I don’t want to have cancer.
There’s no part of my human brain that thinks cancer is fair for any precious person who receives this diagnosis. God didn’t cause this potsherd reality in my life. It’s the result of living in this broken world between two gardens.
Since I do have cancer, however, I don’t want this broken reality to just be a potsherd wasted on the ground or something I keep in my hand that hurts me more. I must take even this and entrust it to the Lord.
Take this, Lord, and shatter it just right, so I can be made stronger, more beautiful, and able to withstand fires as never before. I believe that You see things I cannot see. And You have eventual good in mind.
This perspective didn’t take away my cancer. But it did take away the feeling I had to figure this out on my own. It took the weight of it all out of my hands and helped me release it to God.
When we hit the place in our lives where we finally realize some things are truly more than we can handle, we will throw our hands up in surrender. And that surrender can happen in one of two ways.
We might surrender to the enemy, giving in to those feelings that this isn’t fair, God isn’t there, and God isn’t good. Or, we can surrender to God. This kind of surrender isn’t giving in; it’s giving up! Giving up carrying the weight of all that’s too much for us to our God, who not only can carry it but use it for good. When we know the truth about the amazing things God can do with the dust and the potsherds of life, we won’t surrender to the negative lies of the enemy. Instead, we will lift our hands to the Potter.
- Conversation with Jessica Leavitt.
Excerpted with permission from It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way by Lysa TerKeurst, copyright Lysa TerKeurst.
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Are you dealing with more than you can handle? Does it feel unfair, and wrong, and scary? God absolutely does allow us to be encumbered with far more than we can handle alone… because He never intended us to hand it over to Him! What would happen if you handed your potsherd to Him? Come share with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~Devotionals Daily