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  • Writer's pictureMike Woods


Updated: Mar 28, 2019

I love Dr. Henry Cloud. He is a highly regarded psychologist, counselor and best-selling author.

I saw a teaching he did on the coke machine that really resonated with me. It goes like this:

It’s a hot day and you are thirsty. Fortunately, you come across a Coke Machine. Since you

are thirsty and there is a coke machine right in front of you, you have a very normal human

reaction; you decide to satisfy your thirst by purchasing a soft drink. You pull a dollar out of

your pocket and put it in the correct slot on the machine and press the button for a can of

Coke. Nothing happens. You press the Coke button several times but to no avail. You

press the refund button to get your dollar back but that also misfunctions. You now have a

choice. You can walk away from the machine recognizing that it doesn’t work properly, or you

can try something different.

You pull another dollar out of your pocket and feed the machine. This time you press the

Sprite button. There is the same lack of response and no can of soda is delivered. After

multiple presses of the Sprite button with no results and another failure of your refund

appearing you try again. You take a third dollar out of your pocket, dutifully feed the slot, and

press the button for Diet Coke. Once again you don’t get what you want. Irrationally, you

continue to obsess over what you want. For goodness sakes, it is a hot day and all you want is a

cool drink. Is that too much to ask? You agonize over how to get the machine to work. Maybe

you put the dollar in the wrong way. You make several attempts to feed new dollars in

differently. You feed dollars in with George Washington facing towards the Coke machine,

with Washington facing away from the Coke machine. You even try with Washington staring

at the ground as another dollar disappears into the slot. All to no avail.

The Coke Machine is broken. There is nothing you can do to change that fact. All your time,

energy and effort to make the machine work comes to nothing. You notice there is a sticker on

the machine with a phone number that you can call, and the repair man can come and fix the

machine. The truth you need to accept is that the machine needs the repair man to function

properly and you are not the repair man.

Just like being thirsty on a hot day all people have normal desires that we want met. We have desires for love, acceptance, and affirmation among many others. At a foundational level we deeply desire those things from those closest to us. Just like it is normal to desire a cool drink on a hot day it is normal for a child to desire love from their parents, or affirmation from a spouse, or a hug from a friend. It is not at all unhealthy or unusual to desire these things from those closest to us.

Unfortunately, sometimes the person we desire these reactions from is like the Coke

Machine. Sometimes they are broken. Through whatever combination of life’s trials, they are

incapable of giving you the reaction you want or need. Maybe they are incapable of healthy

physical connection and you are not going to get that hug from your Mom. Perhaps their ability

to express love is severed and you’re not going to hear “I love you” from your Dad. Maybe through trauma or other wounds your spouse cannot provide you with the words of affirmation

that you desperately desire. It is critical to understand that a desire for love and affection is not

being “needy”. These desires are as normal as a thirsty person desiring a drink. The challenge

is in not recognizing that some people in your life are incapable of meeting your desire.

The trap that many people fall into is attempting many different strategies in an attempt to get

the response they crave. Just like the futile attempt of continuing to feed dollars into the

broken Coke Machine in the hopes of a better outcome, people keep going back to the same

individuals hoping for a different response. Sometimes the healthiest thing we need to do is

recognize that the person we want these things from is just plain broken. They need the touch

of the repair man and we are not that repair man. Recognizing and accepting people where

they are at is essential for us to move on.

Maybe we won’t get the love and affection we want to get in the way we want to get. But we

can certainly get delivered from the anguish of thinking that we are not worthy, that somehow

the other person’s brokenness is actually our shortcoming. If we could just do better, be

better, or be more loving we will get the loving response we desire. When dealing with a

broken person we need to be delivered from the persistent anxiety that we can fix the

situation. Sometimes our breakthrough and healing come in the form of acceptance. The

Coke Machine is broken and needs a visit from the repair man.

-Mike Woods

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1 Comment

Apr 29, 2019

Really great stuff Mike!

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