I am sitting on the bed in a tangle of sheets, a puddle of tears, telling my husband, “I can’t. I can’t do this. I can’t be away from family and friends and starting a new church in a strange city and so stressed about money and sad about our miscarriage all the time. I need something to change. I need a break. I. Can’t. Do. This.”
My poor husband sits silent, and through the haze of tears I can see my words gutting him. It’s been a long, hard year—so much loss, such a short time. A year earlier, in a dizzying three-week span, we had lost a pregnancy—a loved and celebrated pregnancy—at the same time that we unexpectedly moved two states away from family and friends to start a new church alongside strangers in a new town.
We had stumbled into town hurting, lonely, and a little lost (literally lost—I kept getting turned around in my own labyrinthine neighborhood). We were excited about building a new church, but some days, it was hard to be inspired. Hard to see past the crushing needs of today.
Can we talk about those two crippling words: I can’t?
Because I have said those words too many times in my life:
“I can’t do this.”
“I can’t deal with this.”
“I can’t do (that thing God wants me to do).”
“I can’t keep living in (whatever situation I don’t want to be in—infertility most of all).”
The thing is, with God on our side, very few things are actually can’t-level things.
And can we be honest about what we’re really saying when we say, “I can’t”? When we say, “I can’t,” most of the time we’re really saying, “I won’t.”
Sometimes problems arise and we manage to find a way around them. We just change direction and—woo-hoo!—we’ve sidestepped the crisis. But sometimes God has us in circumstances we can’t escape. No way around, no way out. Sometimes He puts us in, or allows us to remain in, situations that expose our every doubt, fear, and weakness. They range from the inconvenient to the catastrophic: A class we can’t drop. A conflict we can’t avoid. A baby we can’t have. A financial disaster. A devastating diagnosis. A heartbreaking miscarriage.
We cannot run from these situations. Some are griefs that feel past bearing, past surviving—and yet we must bear them. We must survive them. The only way out is through. And in situations like this, God is saying, “Grow.” He gives us no choice but to move forward. No choice but to change.
Maybe we have to become stronger. More resilient. Willing to take on a challenge we’d rather avoid. Or maybe we have to become “weaker.” More vulnerable. Willing to accept—even invite—help. Maybe, like so many of our Bible heroes before us—Hannah, Esther, Ruth, Jeremiah, Peter, Paul, and countless others—we have to become braver. More independent. Willing to stand alone. Whatever our demons, we have to take them on and wrestle them down till we sit on top, bloodied but victorious.
One of my favorite things about being a Christian is that we get to change. Most people you know are probably still the same basic people they’ve always been since late adolescence—just taller and less pimply. But their character, their strengths and weaknesses—those have stayed mostly the same. Christians are no better than anyone else, but thanks to the grace of God, the blood of Christ, and the power of the Spirit, you and I get to grow and change. What a wondrous, liberating gift! You know all those flaws you hate about yourself? Those weaknesses that frustrate you, embarrass you, and limit you? With God’s help we can change them! We can grow. We can grow—even through the heartache of infertility and loss—and what a privilege that is! Paul paints us vivid pictures of spiritual growth in his letters:
Yet, my brothers, I do not consider myself to have “arrived” spiritually, nor do I consider myself already perfect. But I keep going on, grasping ever more firmly that purpose for which Christ grasped me. My brothers, I do not consider myself to have fully grasped it even now. But I do concentrate on this: I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal—my reward the honour of being called by God in Christ. (PHILIPPIANS 3:12–14 PHILLIPS)
Let’s fast-forward a few years to another “I-can’t” scenario… Kevin and I were taking our eight-year-old miracle baby, Avery, out to learn how to ride a bike. When we got her settled on her bike, she blinked up at us from beneath her huge helmet, crocodile tears threatening. “I can’t ride a bike!” she insisted. Now here’s the thing you should know about Avery: she is one of the most naturally gifted athletes I have ever met. There is no door frame she cannot climb, no balance beam she cannot conquer—but a bike without training wheels. . .well, that was new.
As I stood there wringing my hands (classic me), Kevin insisted (classic Kevin), “Sure you can! Let’s go!” And without giving Avery time to work up to full-blown Panic Mode (I maintain she did not learn Panic Mode from me), he grabbed her bike seat and started pushing her down the street, jogging alongside. Avery had no choice but to pedal, but the whole time she was shrieking, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!” After a few yards Kevin let go. . .and Avery kept speeding down the street, hollering, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!”—even as she proved herself wrong.
Isn’t that what we do with God so many times? He assures us we are ready for a challenge and pushes us out of our comfort zone. We zoom along, pedaling furiously, fighting and crying and screaming, “I can’t do this!”—“I can’t survive infertility!” “I can’t give to others when I’m so needy myself!” “I can’t move past this loss!”—but the fact is, we are already doing it. The fact is, with God we can.
During a time of intense persecution and suffering, the apostle Paul wrote:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. (2 CORINTHIANS 4:7–11)
Do you hear that?
Paul and his companions were hard pressed, but not crushed.
They were perplexed—confused, unsure why God was allowing them to suffer—but not in despair.
They were persecuted, but not abandoned.
They had been struck down, but not destroyed.
The next time you are tempted to shut down, to run off, to stop growing; the next time you are tempted to shout, “But Lord, I can’t,” remember this: Maybe you can’t. . .but God can. And maybe, with God, you already are.
Day by day, hurdle by hurdle, step by step, let us keep moving forward. We need not jump ahead ten steps, or even ten days—let’s just move forward one step at a time. Let’s allow God to make us braver than we think we can be. Let’s quiet the voice that insists, “I can’t.” Like the Little Engine that Could, with every step let’s whisper, “I think I can. . .” because even when we can’t, our God can.
This article is adapted from Elizabeth’s new book, When God Says, “Go”: Rising to Challenge and Change Without Losing Your Confidence, Your Courage, or Your Cool.
A veteran of infertility and more humiliating medical procedures than she cares to remember, Elizabeth Laing Thompson is also the author of When God Says “Wait”: Navigating Life’s Detours and Delays Without Losing Your Faith, Your Friends, or Your Mind. She writes at LizzyLife.com about finding humor in holiness and hope in heartache. Elizabeth lives in North Carolina with her preacher husband and four miracle kids, and they were totally worth the wait. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram.
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