A friend of mine, Sharon, in Roanoke underwent surgery in 2003 to remove a tumor from her abdomen, and a chemotherapy series after surgery. When I visited with her about a year after, she was preparing to return to surgery after the discovery of yet another tumor in the same spot as the last one. Friends who came to visit her were often sad and apologetic, believing she needed comforting. All it did was depress her even more.
She said when people saw she was struggling to keep her composure, they would tell her of their struggles, thinking it might make her feel better to know they understood her pain. So she ended up comforting them, quite an exhausting feat for one already faced with impending surgery and a long and painful recovery. So when I asked how she was doing, she only had to sigh. I had to admit I didn’t have any words of wisdom to share, no comfort to give. I could only be present to her. I could only hold her hand. And I assured her I wasn’t going to lay my troubles on her.
I said, “When you go to the grocery store and pick up a can of green beans, you never doubt there would be green beans in the can. You do not see the green beans because the can is not transparent. You do not know the guy who put them in the can, nor the guy who put the label on the can. And yet you have more trust in those people than you have in God who has walked with you every step of your life’s journey.”
When Sharon returned to the hospital for a check-up after the surgery, her friend Debbie brought her a can of green beans, which she put on top of the TV. When I came to visit the next day, she told me how she had never before witnessed to her faith as much because of that can of green beans. “When friends come to see me, they see the can of green beans, and ask me why. So I tell them it reminds me to put my trust in the God who has walked with me all my life. Now I have peace.”
Sharon has been in remission over ten years. And on a shelf in the living room is the same can of green beans. She says, “Because of that, I have hope,” because God walks with us through our trials. And if we can trust the One we know and who knows us well, then we have nothing to fear.
In the past couple of years I photoshopped a picture of a can of green beans which I framed and gave to Sharon. I told her to get rid of the can of beans in the living room, which was probably toxic waste by now. I gave another framed copy of the picture to Debbie, which she regularly copies and gives out to other people who need a little encouragement. Just a can of green beans … and an invitation to trust.