Salt in Your Coffee (and Other Tests of Character)

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In Turkey, when the family of a prospective groom meets with the family of a prospective bride, the bride-to-be often prepares traditional Turkish coffee for the guests—not so much as a courtesy, but as part of an evaluation.

Coffee is a big deal in Turkey. Beginning with its introduction to Istanbul in 1555, the caffeinated beverage has found its way into the core of nearly every social interaction in the country. Knowing how to make a good cup of coffee isn’t just handy in Turkey; it’s an invaluable life skill. So when two families meet to give their blessing on a potential marriage, the bride is judged by the quality of the coffee she produces. If the taste is off, if the froth is inadequate, if the proportion of sugar is less than desirable, these all stand as marks against her capacity as a wife.

But the bride isn’t the only one under the magnifying glass. The family of the bride often has its eyes on the groom, because the bride traditionally adds a little something extra to his cup:

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Photo courtesy of Mary Lallier Photography

Salt. And lots of it.

It’s strange, but here’s the real twist: His reaction matters.

Turkish custom dictates that a good future husband will drink the salted coffee without grimacing, without complaining, and certainly without chiding his bride-to-be. A man who accepts the cup he is given and drinks it happily is a man who can endure life’s unexpected and unpleasant moments without losing his composure.

Interesting test.

So how do you handle salt in your coffee?

From time to time, God allows Satan to blindside us with difficulties we weren’t expecting. Oftentimes they’re trivial things: An impatient driver cuts you off on your way to work. You stub your toe while stumbling toward the light switch. A coworker hits you with a backhanded compliment after you’ve done them a favor. Just little things that are hard to swallow, things that make it easy to react instead of respond.

Other times, they’re not so little. Your company is downsizing and your job is gone. A loved one dies without warning. A fire burns your home to the ground and all your possessions with it.

Like the groom, your reaction matters. Trivial or not, big or little, these unexpected difficulties hit us when our guard is down—and our response reveals volumes about our character.

Job was a man with a mountain of salt in his coffee cup. Satan was eager to break him, to show God how quickly Job would abandon his Creator if things didn’t go his way. In one fell swoop, Job lost his possessions, his servants, and every single one of his children. It was a devastating blow that would have caused lesser men to fall to pieces and curse God.

Job was not a lesser man. Despite wave after wave of tragedy, the Bible records this response from Job:

Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord.

(Job 1:21)

The coffee cup analogy breaks down, of course. I’m not suggesting the proper way to deal with trials is by donning a fake smile and putting on a charade for the benefit of others. The Bible also says Job “arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped” (Job 1:20). There was grief—unimaginable, incomprehensible grief—but even in the midst of his despair, Job’s reaction mattered. In the span of an hour, this man endured more suffering and loss than most people face in an entire lifetime—and yet “in all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong” (Job 1:22).

Job’s example was not lost on James, who cautioned his brethren:

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door! My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.

(James 5:7-11)

God had a reason for allowing Job to endure what he endured. Job wasn’t perfect. Later in the book that bears his name, he made some extremely poor decisions, but that whole painful tragedy brought him into an even closer relationship with his Creator—a relationship that some of Job’s own shortcomings would have otherwise prevented. There are a lot of themes at work in the book of Job, but at the center of them all is the story of a loving God opening the eyes of a precious servant. At the end of the book, Job admits to God, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You” (Job 42:5). We then read that “the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning,” and that “after this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children and grandchildren for four generations” (Job 42:12, 16).

Job could have “cursed God and died” when this whole tragedy began, but he would have missed the incredible blessings God had in store for him. He would have missed “the end intended by the Lord.”

When salt ends up in our coffee cup, whether it’s a stubbed toe or a personal tragedy, our reaction matters. We can’t afford to forget Job’s example. We can’t afford to forget who allowed the salt into our cup—and, more importantly, that He allowed the salt for a reason. These are the moments that give us insight into our own character—into who we are behind the facades and the fake smiles and the social norms. These are the moments that can bring us closer to our Creator than we’ve ever been before, helping us to identify the obstacles that stand between us and Him.

So the next time you discover salt in your coffee, remember than even though it’s not fun, it is a tremendous blessing—and then drink up. What you’re about to learn is worth the discomfort.

Until next time,
Jeremy

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