The Wrong Toy in Your Happy Meal


My son suffered the ultimate indignity last week—at least from the perspective of a six-year-old boy.

Because our Wednesdays are crazy, we take that day to eat out. I usually bring it home rather than pay for expensive containers of artificially colored and flavored, H2O-diluted high fructose corn syrup. We’ll drink water from our tap, thank you. (I’ve got a bottle of Karo handy if I need a late-night fix.)

The choices in my tiny ‘burg of 2,000 are actually pretty extensive since the Chinese place came to town, but I let my son choose this time. And we parents all know what that means: We’re goin’ to McDonalds.

My son has a McToy fetish bar none. He might play with said Happy Meal treasure for what amounts to nanoseconds, but he’s perpetually itching to see what the Golden Arches is dishing. Surprisingly, he still plays with a little Spyro the Dragon LCD-game he got at McDonalds two years ago, so sometimes Ronald gets it right.

But this time…nope, not this time.

I prolong the agony because I don’t want him rifling through dinner. So we took the plethora of hot bags home, and he pounced on the Happy Meal the second we walked through the door to see what bonanza lay inside.

Wait two seconds…

“Dad, we gotta go back!” he yelled, eyes rimmed with tears.

I fed him my practiced nonplussed expression.

He moaned louder. “But they gave me the girl toy!”

The girl toy. The dread fear of all sub-tween males. The %^$#* GIRL toy.

A man meets the woman of his dreams, marries her, and settles down to bliss. Soon, she’s pregnant. But an unusual illness turns out to be pancreatic cancer. She dies within two months, taking the baby with her.

A couple who’s struggled with infertility adopts an infant boy. Their delight turns to endless days of agony as the boy later manifests an incurable genetic disease so rare that no one tests for it. He’ll progressively become an invalid and die in his teen years. Meanwhile, their health insurance won’t cover the costly therapy needed to prolong his life by five or more years.

A young man starts a company with his best friend. They prosper. But the friend develops a gambling problem that knows no bottom. The man soon learns his friend has embezzled millions to cover his debts. Bankrupt, the company goes under and takes the young man and his family down with it.

Almost two decades ago, I sat on the front porch of a cabin at a Christian camp listening to a boy cry. I didn’t know him. He wasn’t one of the kids that called me “counselor.” But he was hurting, so I hunkered down next to him and listened.

I’d heard anecdotes of warring parents who dropped their kid at camp so they could spend that week shredding their marriage license, but this was the first one I’d encountered in the flesh. He’d received the “Mommy doesn’t love Daddy anymore” phone call just minutes before.

My parents stayed together, so I didn’t possess any firsthand broken home experience. I prayed silently (on the outside, while inside I cried out for wisdom) and listened as this poor kid bawled.

In the end, I told him that I couldn’t identify with what he was going through. I could tell him all sorts of things that might make him feel better for a minute, but I didn’t know what it was like to have parents split up. That was a horrible hurt no one should have to endure.

I charged him with this: One day, he’d be a camp counselor and he’d come across a boy whose parents said to hell with family, and he’d know exactly what to say because he’d experienced that torture, too.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that we need a Gospel that speaks to failure. Everywhere we turn today, we’re treated to a message that screams about seizing our best life now. But no one envisions a best life that includes suffering—now.

Among all the questions why, few of us take the time to ask if our pain is someone else’s gain. Even some stranger’s gain. Man of SorrowsWe consider the horror dumped on our laps and automatically assume that God’s forsaken us, or we’ve somehow forsaken Him. Yet we rarely wonder if the torment we’re enduring is meant to bless someone else.

Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to Asia, buried a wife and several children in Chinese soil, then went back to England a different man. Joel Osteen was recently voted the most important Evangelical in America. If Taylor were still alive today, and you had your choice between receiving counseling from either Osteen or him after a drunk driver plowed into your family’s car and killed your wife and kids, whom would you choose?

The Bible says this of Jesus:

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
—Isaiah 53:3 ESV

Jesus’ contemporaries didn’t think He had anything to give them, did they? We know better. We go to Him with our hurt precisely because He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. And His people, who likewise know sorrow and grief, can be the flesh-and-blood shoulder we need to cry on as we cry out to the heavenly Man of Sorrows.

Your tragedy carries meaning for someone else. God never intends for us to squander pain. Be wise in knowing how to use yours to the benefit of another grieving soul.

My son? On his own he decided the best way to deal with the wrong toy in his Happy Meal was to give it to a girl who might appreciate it. He told me that this would ease the disappointment.

Out of the mouths of babes.

24 thoughts on “The Wrong Toy in Your Happy Meal

  1. Kaye

    One of my favorite verses is 2 Tim 2:10: “Therefore I can endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” In my mind these “elect” are believers now as well as those who will be. If I view my own personal tragedies as a means to salvation or blessing for someone else, it makes them so much easier to bear. Thanks for your post.

  2. Excellent post and perspective. Although, to be quite honest, I don’t think I’d counsel the woman that just lost her husband in a car wreck that it happened to bless someone else (which I know you don’t intend). Just like you did with the little boy, I would listen and cry with her and acknowledge the fact that there is evil in this world. Then someday, only when the woman was ready, we could talk about how God could use even the evil in the world to glorify himself if we submit our lives to him. The evil itself is never good, but God works all things for good for those who love him.

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  4. Peter Smythe

    In my practice as a lawyer, I am greatly aquainted with grief and I’ve had my own share of it personally. Frankly, I wouldn’t care to hear from a man who has had his own share of grief so that I could identify with him or he with me. Give me a man who is attuned to God and His Spirit. I don’t care where’s he’s come from.

    • Peter,

      I think that’s a little short-sighted. The man who has been through the storm can better speak about storms because he has seen God in the midst of it.

      People who are acquainted with grief (as was our Savior) are used by God because their pain has better attuned them to God. I would suspect that most great men and women of God are that way because they have spent so much time before God because of trials. Our time on earth is meant to fit us to heaven. It is not purposeless.The man who endures one trial can better weather the next and grow in grace.

      If we do not give away that wisdom that God has given us because we weathered the storm, we diminish it’s usefulness for Him.

  5. Kristie

    Great post. This was one of the reasons I sent my daughter to public school in high school after many happy years of homeschooling. I don’t want her to hurt of course, but she needs to start meet hurting people and having the ability to identify with those who suffer through the “system” of public education and the whole worldly system in general. And she’s already seeing the despair in just a few short months.

    Glad to hear your son did the right thing.

    • Kristie,
      This gets to the heart of my struggle about which school. We don’t even have kids yet, and my mind spends many a brain cycles on this subject. I know the quality of public schools deteriorated to match the Chicago sewage system, but how would my kids learn to minister?
      I’m always on the lookout for different parents’ perspectives. Thanks for yours!

  6. Marta Odum

    Great post! I’ll be back to this blog. I’ve learned from my pastor that we suffer in salvation for a couple of reasons. A) We have tests and trials so that we may learn from them.. When something unpleasant happens, we would do well to drop the “Why Me?” attitude, and ask “What is God trying to teach me?” and then pray for the wisdom to see the lesson. In this respect we can count the tests and trials as joy, because we know we will be a stronger, wiser person on the other side of it. B) Some tests and trials are not about us at all. They are about our primary service to God: a witness to His goodness and His wonderful plan of salvation. We need to walk holy and praise God in the midst of our darkest hour! If the unsaved (and the backsliding/teetering on the edge saved) see us praising God during trials, they will want some of the peace and joy that we have. And of course that joy comes from Jesus Christ, which we will let everyone know. When He brings us through the trial, we will have an awesome testimony of His overwhelming goodness. Our lives should be our witness, every moment! Not just when the blessings are raining down. Even if He never does another thing for me He has blessed me far more than I’ll ever deserve: He died for my sins. C) As Christians we are supposed to live as Christ did, we are supposed to arm our selves likewise. This is the suffering side. The Bible tells us we will suffer as Christians, and sometimes we will hurt more than the unsaved. We all have a cross to bear, we all have a cup to drink from. That is just a fact of salvation, period. Anyone that tells you all your troubles disappear when you are saved is trying to sell you a holy hankerchief or something. But none of us will ever have to bear a cross like Jesus did. None of us will ever suffer as He did. Our tests and trials, our wounds are nothing compared to His. And thanks to His supreme sacrifice, there is life for us after the wounds. Eternal Life by His side in Heaven! Oh Glory be to God!

    • I sounds like you have a good pastor…

      Sometimes I think that God is capricious, and cares only for His own glory and power. It’s a very human reaction, as we often do that very thing. Tales of gods are full of that very thinking. Sometimes it’s hard to get past Job, wondering why these things are happening, but accepting them just the same. Hidden in Job, but shining through in the New Testement, is the concept of others being guided to salvation by the way Christians respond to trials and suffering.

  7. Good stuff, Dan. I’m a little sick of the “best life now” mentality when we really aren’t the best to define what our best life is.

    Not only does God use tragedy to teach others, he also uses it to get through to us too. Ain’t it amazin’ what God can do?

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  9. I found your blog this morning when reading “A Place for the God Hungry.”

    I was touched by your post on the woman and the bus. And then I went on to read about your experiences the with the holy spirit and how you’re a pentecostal. Okay. Good for you, I think. But I was deeply, deeply hurt by an Assembly of God church as a teenager, and I have a bad taste in my mouth toward pentecostals. Not fair, but true. Fifteen years later, I’m in a different place, I think. So I add you to my RSS feed and go about my day. After all, maybe there’s something for me to learn here.

    A little down time this afternoon and I decide to surf some of your old posts and find this one. Deep down, THIS is my bone to pick with the old A.G. church I was at. They were so quick to label my suffering as “meaningful” for others…to even go so far as to presumptuously TELL me why I was suffering in the first place.

    You know what? Sometimes there IS no meaning. Life is just hard. Do we trust Jesus anyway? Yes. Do we come alongside people and suffer WITH them? Yes. Do we bombard them with this idea that somehow God has dumped this on them so they can do…whatever someday?? No. NO!!

    I left my faith for many years in large part due to one of these “conversations” with a well-meaning christian.

    • Robyn,

      Thank you for writing and sharing the difficult experience you had.

      My background is not in the churches that came out of the Azusa Street revival. In fact, I’m more a Welsh Revival charismatic with roots in the Lutheran Church. I’m very familiar, though, with the excesses in Pentecostalism and the AoG. In spite of that, I attended a very good AoG church pastored by my neighbor of many years and grew in it immensely. I attend a Pentecostal church now, but it’s fairly well balanced, too.

      Still, I know of what you speak, though I’ve not heard too many Azusa-based churches that take a view of suffering as a blessing for others. If anything, that’s more an Anglican/Catholic view.

      I prayed for you just now. Be blessed, and thanks for reading..

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