I could never relate to that story Jesus told more than I did one night last weekend.
Lazy Saturday. Family togetherness. Why not let it spill over into the things that must be done? The buying of the groceries… because what mother-of-six in her right mind would go during the weekday, with all her ducklings in a row, without the help of another pair of adult hands (and eyes) – and expect it to be anything less than unproductive?
And sure, taking your entire family to buy two weeks’ worth of groceries on a Saturday evening at the newly-remodeled, expanded grocery in town – yes this might not be ideal. But fun, right?
Or maybe it was just a plain bad idea.
So there we were. I had the list and a few kids… he had some items to find and a few kids… and we’d split up and come back together and split and come back together….
We did this for a few hours. I pushed the baby in the stroller, with Maggie pushing a cart behind me (the small kind that I imagine works well for college students or bachelors or couples with no kids – but certainly will only hold a fraction of our fare…) And the hard-working husband – he pushed a full size buggy in front of his crew.
When we finally had all but one item, we were standing there at the checkout. Jeff darted down a nearby aisle – and took Christopher with him – to retrieve the final thing on our list. By this time Olivia was crying in her stroller, so I unbuckled her and lifted her out to hold and soothe her. I turn around to tell Carson – my active litte almost-three-year-old – that he could take a rest in the stroller (and this would also make it easier for me to keep him in one spot.)
Only, when I turned around, he wasn’t there. I quickly scanned my crew. The three big girls were there. No Carson. I had only turned around for a few seconds. How could he have disappeared?
I quickly glanced down aisle where Jeff and Christopher were looking for the right brand of the item we needed. There were so many people, I couldn’t tell if he had Carson with him, so I called out to them.
No, he didn’t have Carson.
I looked around again, and couldn’t see him anywhere.
I left the girls standing there in front of the checkout, with the empty stroller, and with Olivia on my hip I went the opposite direction, quickly scanning down aisles and and in between check-out lanes. I paced up and down a few times. Saw Jeff coming back my direction shaking his head with his hands up in the air. I re-traced my steps back the opposite direction again.
He’s so small. So easy to miss…
I kept thinking that he just couldn’t have gone that far. I had only turned around for two seconds. If he hadn’t gone that far, why haven’t we found him yet?
Then I caught my breath as a thought occurred to me – unless someone took him.
This is about the time that panic was about to set in. And I cried out a desperate prayer inside my head.
And then, the instant I breathed that prayer, I heard him.
I heard that familiar screaming cry I’ve heard a hundred times when he’s upset. I instantly felt relief. I couldn’t see him yet, but I could hear him, and I followed those cries.
There – a few hundred feet from the exit doors, there he was. So painfully small in a big, busy supermarket. A man with his little girl were nearby trying to call him to come away from the exit, and back to find his mama.
But he was lost and scared.
And I can’t even describe to you the relief I felt when I saw him there. And I ran to him, and with Olivia on my hip I knelt down and put my arm around him.
When I turned my back, he’d gone looking for his Daddy. But he didn’t know the way.
So He told them this parable: ‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?
And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors saying to them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents thant over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.’
There was never a time before that night when I could really relate to the parable Jesus told to the pharisees and the scribes that day. I left my three big girls standing there by the checkout, and trusted they would be safe – and went searching for my little lost one.
I must have read this passage a hundred times in my lifetime. And not one time before now did I have an inkling of the urgency that Jesus meant.
Sheep, yeah, I get it. Shepherds, sheep, yeah.
Only no, I never did ‘get it’ before now.
The urgency and determination of a mother searching out her lost man-child. Is this how the Father sees the ones He is calling to repentance?
And just last night, that amazing hard-working husband and I talked about this. How often do we casually overlook those around us, void of real sympathy and concern?
When the Father – He seeks them out. The ones who have lost their way….
But maybe WE are the ones who have lost HIS way… forgot His heart for the lost…
Well I aim to remember the way again… because now I know how it feels to look for the lost.