Saturday, May 24, 2008

Spilling Over

A friend and I were talking last week about the often heard phrase, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” She contends, and I agree, that such a phrase is less than helpful and really not true. There are times in life when we are very much given more than we can handle. I feel quite sure the many Chinese families who have lost their only child (due to the rigidly enforced one-child rule) in the multiple schools collapses in that terrible earthquake there most definitely have on their plates far more than they can handle. I suspect those who leaped to their deaths from one of the Twin Towers in New York City on 9/11 had also been given far more than they could handle. Those have always been the tough things that are more than we can handle—our anguish and grief just spill over—we can’t handle it.

I also think there are joyful things that are more than we can handle. When I contemplate the love my husband and I have for each other, I realize that it is really more than I can handle. It is a good so great that it just spills over. I have that same sense when thinking about my children and grandchildren and the delight I have in their lives—that delight can’t be contained; it can’t be “handled.” It just spills over. I also experience that spilling-over abundance when working at a task that is beautifully suited to who I am and the kinds of talents I have—the privilege of doing something like that so fills me with joy that it also spills over. I can’t handle it.

The real question is not “Why does God give us more than we can handle?” because having more than we can handle is just the nature of life. The more important question is: “What spills out of us when we are in those situations when we can’t handle what life has handed us?”

What spills out? Is it anger, blame, selfishness, hoarding, fear, paranoia? Is it courage, personal responsibility, generosity, hope and concern for others? Do we pull deep within ourselves to find the reservoirs of self-control and the ability to face what seem to be insurmountable obstacles because we have been carefully cultivating these qualities for years? Or do we reach inside and find it empty because we have insisted that life hand us no frustrations and that all wants and needs must be immediately gratified? Do we just find more sophisticated ways to express normal two-year-old temper tantrums when things don’t go our way? Or, have we realized that temper tantrums must be transformed into a core of inner strength that will serve us well for the rest of our lives?

What does spill over for you? It tells the world who you are.

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