A while ago, in the middle of a particularly difficult day I was reminded about a story I first heard many years ago… about a carrot, an egg, and a coffee bean. I bet you’ve all heard the same story, right? I’ve never been able to find out who originally wrote it but I’ve seen it shared in many different places through the years, with slightly different emphases, but always with the same core meaning. Since it’s been encouraging to me on more than one occasion I was hoping it might be helpful to you as well.
You know we all have things that happen to us that bring us pain. Life in this world can sometimes be difficult and no matter how hard we try, we really can’t control the things that matter the most to us so there are bound to be times when our heart’s desires go unmet. And even when things are going pretty well, if we’re honest with ourselves, deep inside we’re aware of a reoccurring dissatisfaction with life that grows stronger the older we get. Truth is, while we can’t control the things that happen to us or the painful things other people may do to us, there’s one thing we can control, and that’s our attitude.
Yeah, I can almost hear you now. You think this is going to be another “change your attitude, change your life” motivational speech. I’ve definitely seen this coffee bean story used here and there to just that end but I assure you, I won’t be going there. Life can be overwhelming and painful for us all at times and no matter what attitude I choose, I’m still going to hurt. Sometimes very badly. So, I’m not offering up a clever mental strategy to deal with life that will insulate you and me from feeling the things that happen to us, but I am offering up some things I’ve been thinking through for you to consider.
I’m not going to take the time to repeat the whole story here but the bottom line is this: when the boiling water of adversity was applied to the carrot, the egg, and the coffee bean, they each responded differently. The carrot went into the water hard, rigid, and unrelenting, but came out soft and mushy. The egg entered the water fragile, with a hard shell protecting its soft, liquid insides, but came out looking the same on the outside but hardened on the inside. And the coffee bean started out hard but after being crushed, went into the water as a powder, and actually changed the water itself.
Humanly speaking, there are many sinful responses we can have when pain, disappointment, and shattered dreams hit us between the eyes. We can choose to be angry and depressed, we can choose to harden ourselves to help protect us from the pain, we can choose to redouble our efforts and work even harder to keep these things from happening again, or we can blame others for our misfortunes and become bitter towards them, and life in general.
Those of us who love Jesus have the Holy Spirit living in us, so thankfully we have other response options available to us. I love the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, “We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not despairing, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed.” Paul definitely knew what it felt like to suffer and yet his attitude remains a constant source of inspiration to me. He trusted in the love of God, in the fact that everything that happened to him, happened by the will of God, and he was determined to allow God to accomplish His plan through his life, no matter how much it hurt. I so want to display that same trusting, humble attitude when God turns the heat up in my life, don’t you?
Are we like the carrot when painful things happen? Are we hard and rigid going in, but allow the heat to cause us to lose heart, to lose hope, give up, and fall apart?
Are we like the egg instead? Do we respond to the heat by allowing our soft, sensitive heart to become hardened and calloused? Do we look the same on the outside, but inside, reflect a very different reality?
Or do we respond like the coffee bean when the heat is applied? While it’s true that whole coffee beans can flavor the boiling water somewhat, it’s only when those beans are crushed to become a powder, can they truly change the water into full-flavored, rich coffee that fills the entire room with its fragrance.
Again, from the inspired words of Paul, this time in 2 Corinthians 2:14-15, “Thanks be to God… who manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. We are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” When the heat gets turned up in our lives we can choose a humble and faith-filled response that gives God the thanks for the very circumstances and people who are causing us the pain only if we trust the loving, sovereign heart of our God in what’s happening to us.
One further thought. Building on the analogy of the carrot, the egg and the coffee bean, I believe that it’s God Himself who’s overseeing both the crushing process and the boiling water, and He’s promised that although we will experience heat in our lives, and it will hurt, He will be faithful to never allow us to be destroyed by that heat. Never.
When my trials seem overwhelming and my pain unrelenting, am I choosing to trust the heart of God and allow Him to release His fragrance to others in the process? Or am I simply getting through it, any way I can? Either way there will be pain, but one hurt leads to life and the other to wasted opportunity. I love what Christine Caine once said, “Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted.” Only God knows what He’s up to. It’s all in our attitude… which is rooted in the good character of our loving God.
So I’m asking me and I’m asking you: Do you know God personally? Do you trust His heart towards you? Today, in the challenges of your life, are you responding like a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?