I love Chinese Food. Truly I do. White rice or fried rice, hot and sour soup or egg drop, General Tso’s chicken or beef with broccoli—it all works for me! But my favorite part of the meal is (by far) at the very end. The fortune cookie. Oh, I know, lots of people think they taste like cardboard and just throw them out. But I can’t wait to open one and see what it says inside. Sometimes the sayings are funny not-quite-right translations of famous phrases, or glib statements such as “Be Happy!” Other times, however, they can actually be pretty insightful. In fact, so insightful that I’ve saved a little stash of those white slips in my desk drawer.
Here’s one that caught my attention yesterday: “Fear is interest paid on a debt you may not owe.” I would probably tweak that to say “Worry is interest paid on a debt you may not owe.” Do you ever worry? In particular, do you worry about your child and what the future holds for him or her? I have. And you know what? I can confirm for you, 21 years into this, that “worry is interest paid on a debt you may not owe.”
When my son, Tim, was born with Down syndrome, I worried about many things about his life. Some of them were likely the same things you’re worrying about today. Such as:
- Will he ever talk? And if he does, will people ever take the time to understand him?
- Will he have any friends?
- Will people make fun of him?
- Will he ever find meaningful work?
- Will anyone besides our family and close friends love him?
Much of what I worried about, and even many of the things I grieved in advance have not turned out as I expected. They’ve actually turned out much, much better. Yes, Tim does talk. (When he was younger, he sometimes talked so constantly that I second-guessed the wisdom of speech therapy! :>)) And no, people do not always take time to understand him. But most try. He has friends, a few close ones, and a myriad of friendly acquaintances. Have people made fun of him? Occasionally, and who knows how many times when I did not see or did not hear. And I’m thankful that I am not omniscient, for that very reason. We’re at that “transition age” where we’re looking for employment, and while he has many skills, it is still a challenge to get people to see past his appearance and give him a chance at a job. Is he loved? Oh yes, he is deeply loved by his family and our close friends, and many others too.
“Ah,” you may ask, “but I thought you said it all turned out much, much better than you expected? This just sounds ‘sorta-kinda-okay’ to me.” Why yes, it did turn out much, much better. And here’s why. Not because he talks, and others listen. Not because he has some friends, and most people are nice to him. Not because he’s developed some job skills, and he has loving family and close friends. Nope. Not for those reasons. Although those reasons are all a LOT for which to be thankful! It all turned out much, much better because God had a much, much better plan than what I could ever have imagined. Let’s review the questions again:
- Will he ever talk? Tim’s life is a never-ending word picture of God’s kindness and grace. He testifies to God’s goodness with both his words and his outlook on life. If Tim, with all his challenges, can do that—what does that communicate to the rest of us?
- Will anyone ever take the time to understand him? People study Tim’s life all the time. Because he looks different, they notice him. And when they do, they instantly notice his joy and his freedom—and implicitly understand that he has something that they want.
- Will people make fun of him? Tim is one of the funniest people I have ever met. He has dry wit. He can imitate almost anyone. He has a belly laugh that will make you laugh until you start crying. He can imitate Elvis Presley “to a tee,” in voice and dance. People are generally having way too much fun laughing with him to even have time to think about laughing at him.
- Will he have any friends? Tim knows how to be a friend like few others do. He is kind, devoted, compassionate, concerned, prayerful and encouraging.
- Will he ever find meaningful work? Tim brings meaning into everything he does. Whether it is at the doctor’s office where he is employed, or at the elementary school where he volunteers—Tim’s life’s work is to impart God’s definition of a meaningful life to others. Tim has a love for God and love for neighbor that is absolutely contagious. If I recall correctly, that’s the greatest thing that Jesus asked for in Mark 12:30 (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”)
- Will anyone besides our family and close friends ever love him? Tim knows how to love unconditionally. He gives his heart away with abandon. He usually forgives with relative ease. He is often insightful and caring about the shortcomings of others. He is sensitive to those who are hurting.
Really. What more could I ask for? Not only was my worry “an interest on a debt that I did not owe,” there was actually an amazing gift I did not realize I was going to receive. A son with: a voice, a message, unstoppable humor, the gift of true friendship, a deeply meaningful life on God’s terms, and the ability to love well—what a gift! So, today, when you’re tempted to worry, look to Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:31-33:
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Our heavenly Father knows what we need. What we tend to forget is that he often meets our needs in ways that are simply beyond our imagination. Don’t miss the gift he has for you because you’re busy worrying, and therefore “paying interest on a debt you may not owe.” Don’t live today like a pagan. Trust your heavenly Father to give you good gifts. Ask him for the eyes to actually see them. They may be sitting on your lap.