And Bree now discovered that he had not really been going as fast — not quite as fast — as he could. Shasta felt the change at once. Now they were really going all-out.
The old cliché “God will never give you more than you can handle” has taunted me over the years. I can remember several times in life when it has seemed evident that God was giving more than I could handle.
Would anyone claim the ability to handle the sudden, near-death experience of their son due to life-threatening seizures? What about loved ones walking away from God? Disability? Chronic pain? You likely have much worse trials to add to my list. We endure these circumstances because we have no choice, even as we endeavor to walk through them trusting that God is for us in Christ.
Still, as I was lying facedown on the bathroom floor, drenched in a sweaty fainting spell while paramedics worked on my seizing son in the next room, I certainly didn’t feel like I had been given a situation that was within my ability to handle.
A Lion and Our Limits
“Gallop, Bree, gallop. Remember you’re a war-horse” (The Horse and His Boy, 270). Aravis, a young princess escaping the evils of her country, Calormen, urged the talking horse named Bree to run as fast as he could away from the enemies that pursued them. C.S. Lewis tells us this story in A Horse and His Boy, one of the seven Chronicles of Narnia. Bree and his friend Hwin appear, by their own reckoning, to be running all-out. “And certainly both Horses were doing, if not all they could, all they thought they could; which,” as Lewis tells us, “is not quite the same thing.”
This desperate sprint across the countryside by two talking horses — and the unlikely boy and girl on their backs — would quickly reach a peak of terror none of them could have anticipated. For not only were they chased by a terrible army of Calormene soldiers, but a much nearer and more dangerous enemy roared at their backs: a great lion.
“And Bree now discovered that he had not really been going as fast — not quite as fast — as he could. Shasta felt the change at once. Now they were really going all-out” (271). This simple scene in the midst of children’s story profoundly changed my perspective in three ways over the past decade and beyond: (1) it has changed how I understand my “limits” in the midst of difficulty, (2) it has reminded me of Who it is that bears down on me in those difficult times, and (3) it has helped me glimpse the goodness of God in how much he chooses to bear down on us.
Applying on the Bathroom Floor
I suppose there is some irony that while Bree found new speed with the Great Lion Aslan at his back, my story involves barely moving at all, having blacked out during a moment when I desperately wanted to be present for my son’s crisis. How is the horrible physiological response to stress (blacking out) in any way parallel to Bree finding a new gear with the Lion at his back?
“When you’re under the pressure of the Great Lion, never, ever let yourself forget: all his paths are steadfast love.”
Well, as unlikely as it sounds, I found my own new gear, facedown on the floor. As I lay there, I cried out to God, asking him to save my son, while I was forced to find a new gear of trust in my Lord. I wasn’t there to watch over my son every second, but God was. I couldn’t make the seizure stop, but God could. I wouldn’t go with him if he died, but God would be there. I, like Bree, found that I had not been trusting as much — not quite as much — as I could. I had not been enduring as much — not quite as much — as I could. There was new speed to discover with the Great Lion in pursuit.
Have you learned this yet? That what you consider your limits aren’t your limits? That you don’t actually know what your limits are because you aren’t the Maker and Sustainer?
Beyond My Limits
We think we’ve given our all, we think the reserves are gone, but actually, we have never had our limits truly tested. When my mind says, I can’t do that; it’s beyond my limits — I can’t endure that loss, I can’t live with that trial, I can’t face that outcome — God is perfectly capable of applying the kind of pressure that will prove me wrong.
Paul tells the Corinthians,
We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. (2 Corinthians 1:8–9)
You see, the new gear that we find in the midst of hardship is not a testament to our strong constitution. It is a Spirit-empowered gear that blows faith and hope into the hearts of those who are burdened beyond their own strength. It is a testament to his strength at work in us, even when we are weak and sweaty on the bathroom floor.
Paths of Steadfast Love
God often shows us, then, that we most certainly can do what we think we can’t (by relying on him). And as counterintuitive as it sounds, he doesn’t get us there merely by encouragement or through positive thinking or by pouring on the affirmation, but, as with Bree, by bearing down and increasing the trial that drives us to him.
“When God pushes us past our limits, it is his grace to us. He’s driving us toward his goodness.”
You see, as Bree quickened his pace beyond what he thought he could, the Great Lion was increasing the distance between them and the true enemies that were coming after them. Aslan did terrify them, but for the sake of their own safety and well-being in the end. We can trust that even if we, like Paul, feel we have received the sentence of death, God is subjecting us only to what is right and good in the end, and not a drop more or less. He really does work all things together for the good of those who love him — and in so doing, conforms us to the likeness of his Son (Romans 8:28–29).
When God pushes us past our limits with circumstances that have us sprinting and gasping, it is his grace to us. He’s driving us toward his goodness. He’s pressing us beyond ourselves to new vistas of himself. He’s moving us away from the things that would really harm us by putting distance between us and our old enemies — the world, our flesh, and the devil.
And when you’re under the pressure of the Great Lion, never, ever let yourself forget: all his paths are steadfast love (Psalm 25:10). You can trust him, even facedown on the bathroom floor.