When I was 12 years old (1969), I experienced two events that changed the course of my life: I got my own paper route, and my mom drove me to the bank and opened a checking account in my name. The reason she opened the account was because she didn’t want the job of writing a check every week to the company that owned the newspaper, the Peoria Journal Star. When we got home from the bank, she taught me how to write checks. When the first bank statement arrived in the mail, she taught me how to reconcile the account.
Every Wednesday, I knocked on the doors of my customers and collected money for the newspapers. Every Friday, I met the Journal Star representative at Stafford’s Dairy, where I picked up the newspapers every day, and gave him a check for the previous week’s newspapers.
So there I was, 12 years old with money in my pocket and my own checking account. Before then, when I wanted to respond to an ad and order a product that was advertised in a comic book, I had to ask my mom to write a check for me to send in with the order form.
The problem I encountered was that my mom usually resisted my efforts to order products that were advertised in comic books. Although I was always ready and willing to cover the amount of the check, she routinely asked to see the ad before she agreed to write the check. She would question me as to why I “needed” to buy the product. Since my explanation wasn’t good enough for her, she would refuse to write the check and then proceed to tell me she wasn’t going to allow me to “waste” my money.
Mom didn’t realize it, but when she opened a checking account for me, she relinquished the power to veto my buying decisions. After I had my own checks, any time I wanted to order something in the mail, I simply completed the order form and mailed it with a check. Then I made sure that I was the first one to check the mail every day, so I could grab my package when it arrived. That way, I didn’t have to justify my purchases with my mom. (As a side note, the first product I ordered on my own was the Charles Atlas bodybuilding course that was advertised each month in all the comic books. If you’re a man between the ages of 55 and 75, you probably know exactly which course I’m talking about.)
Back then, the ability to write checks was a necessary component of managing a household. That changed with the development of digital money. Today, most Americans use a debit or credit card to pay their bills, and most people under the age of 25 have never reconciled a checking account. If they want to know how much money is in their account, all they need to do is use their smartphone to log into their account and check their balance.
The majority of Americans, both young and old, rarely write checks anymore. Their payments are made with a debit card, credit card, or by a preauthorized electronic withdrawal.
But despite the abandonment of making payments with checks, everyone is still familiar with what a check is. In fact, most people have received one or more checks from a person, business, or government entity within the past year. And everyone knows what to do with a check when they receive one — either go to the bank and exchange the check for cash or deposit the check in an account.
I have a question for you. What would you do if you received a blank check from Bill Gates, the richest man in the world? I’m serious. What if you were to open your mail tomorrow and find a blank check that was signed by Bill Gates, along with a letter from Gates that said you could write in any amount that you wanted, up to $100,000?
Let’s assume that when you received the check, you went on the internet and did some research. You discovered that an announcement had been made at the beginning of the month that Gates was giving away $1 billion in payments to people who would be randomly selected. What would you do if you did additional research and verified that the check was legitimate?
Would you stick the check in a drawer with the intention that you would eventually get around to deciding what to do with at a later time? Would you tear the check up and throw it in the garbage? Or would you write in the amount of $100,000, deposit the check in your account, and then confirm a couple of weeks later that the check had cleared, and that the money was still in your account?
If this happened to you, the arrival of the check in the mail would be the equivalent of you finding a treasure chest buried in your backyard. Whatever was in that treasure chest would be yours to spend as you wished.
The dictionary defines “treasure” as “something of great worth or value, a collection of precious things, or a store of money in reserve.”
I’m betting that you would not squander the treasure that was represented by the check from Bill Gates. There’s a good chance that you would turn over part of the money to your church or a charity. Then you would use the rest of the money to pay off some debt, help a family member who was in need, or save the money for a rainy day.
One thing is certain. You would not squander the treasure that was dropped into your lap. You would use it for your own benefit or for the benefit of others.
Can I share a secret with you? There are blank spiritual checks that are delivered to you all the time. The spiritual checks are from Heaven and are signed by Jesus Christ. The problem with those checks is that they don’t arrive in the mail in the form of paper checks. They arrive in the form of suffering. In other words, every time God allows you to suffer, he has given you treasure — something of great worth and value — that you can either use for your own benefit or for the benefit of others.
If you fail to consciously assign the treasure that is buried within your suffering, you will have done the equivalent of tearing the check up and throwing it in the garbage. Your suffering will have been completely wasted. Putting your name on that spiritual check or the name of another person is commonly referred to as offering your suffering up to God for your own benefit or for the benefit of one or more other people.
None of us really understand the full power of suffering. How can we when it’s a mystery that simultaneously exists in both the physical and spiritual world? We know from Church teachings that our Redeemer wrote such a spiritual check with all our names on it when He paid for our salvation with His crucifixion and death. To a lesser extent, our Lord gave us the same power that He had when He wrote His check. The good news is that we don’t have to pay the checks we write with our own crucifixion and death. We pay our spiritual checks with our suffering — suffering that we have to go through anyway, so we may as well make good use of it.
The good news is that any form of suffering can be used to validate a spiritual check that is written to benefit ourselves or someone else. The suffering can be physical, mental, emotional, psychological, financial, or spiritual.
All suffering is treasure that can be offered up to God for our own benefit or for the benefit of other people.