My “usual” coffee order always comes with cream. This means I don’t like bitter coffee. Which, if you believe a recent psychological study that says my coffee order reveals my personality, also means I feel a need to “soften the bitterness of life.”

We all know the bitterness of life—when it feels like God got your order wrong even though you specifically asked for double-fat whipped cream. Or a mocha-double-shot-frappe-thingy with lots of sprinkles on top to keep you smiling for weeks.

But you got black bitterness instead.

This isn’t the outcome you anticipated when you set out to follow God’s vision. You prepared your life or ministry for an expected creamy smooth cup of joe, full of the ideal flavors of life—joy, peace, love, forgiveness, health, hope, prosperity, and success. The bitterness of life wasn’t the order you placed, on your knees in prayer and in faith.

Eventually, in our Christian life, we discover, to our dismay, that no matter how much we pray, prepare, and do the right things—bitter cups of joe still get served to us. Personal illness, financial struggles, relationship failures, work stress, life changes, and parenting challenges show up. Ministry burnout, lack of ministry growth, relationship conflicts, ministry disagreements, and church splits happen.

So what do we do when life isn’t the way we expected? Let’s imagine the coffee shop just served you a bitter cup of coffee. What do you do?

Ten options:

  1. Storm back to the counter, demand your money back, and vow to never come back again.
  2. Slam the coffee on the counter so the froth noticeably spills over the edge, and say “I specifically said I wanted… Can’t you hear me?”
  3. Throw the cup out, don’t tell anyone about it, and try to hide all the evidence.
  4. Tell everyone you know about how awful it is and how wronged you were.
  5. Carry it around wherever you go to show people, and ask “Can you believe it?”
  6. Doctor it/numb the taste with an overindulgence of sugary chocolate anything.
  7. Question yourself. Maybe I said/did something wrong.
  8. A few of the above.
  9. All of the above.
  10. Find some creamer

We don’t need a psychological study to tell us what these options could reveal about how our personalities handle unexpected adversity. Here’s a quick analysis based on what you might have chosen from the options above:

1, 2: We like to find someone/ something to blame. We get angry at injustice.

3: We want to hide our struggles so people will think everything’s fine and we won’t look weak or like a failure (the “I’m fine” cover-up).

4, 5: We tend to seek sympathy and validation for our feelings of injustice.

6: We want to numb painful feelings.

7: We tend to blame ourselves and look for evidence of our personal failures.

8, 9: We have a mix of these issues.

Which leaves us one more option. In reality, when life gives us hardships instead of blessings, it’s difficult not to react in these ways. When uncertainty becomes the repeated flavor of the day—imperfections get put on display, and pain is our constant companion—we become desperate for something to “soften the bitterness of life.”

Which brings us to option number 10: Find some creamer. This option requires a deeper acceptance of adversity and struggle as a part of life. Holding the cup of bitterness we’ve been served and “leaning in” to the discomfort of it helps us begin to heal and hope again. But when we embrace the struggle in a full body hug we get even more: “Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure.” (James 1:2-3, The Voice)

Another translation says we are to consider trouble “an opportunity for great joy.” That doesn’t mean we shout “hallelujah!” when a bitter cup of life is handed to us. It just means we accept the cup and the promised possibility that we will eventually discover joy.

Finding the creamer is finding that elusive joy—the sweet taste of life we need and crave the most when uncertainty, pain, and the imperfectness of life become our daily reality. Joy softens the bitterness of life, but first, we must find it: A hug from a friend. A child’s laughter. A beautiful sunset. A butterfly in flight. A song of praise. A warm cup of coffee, just the way we like it…

Drop by drop by tiny drop, gathered moments of joy begin to transform the bitter into something better. After four years of dealing with chronic physical pain, I can attest—joy works to soften even the bitterest of days.

Does it feel like God got your order wrong? I’m praying you find some creamer (joy) to soften the bitterness of your un-usual cup of joe today.