My mother tells this story about me: as a child, probably four years old, I was with her while she was trying on clothes in the dressing room at Kmart. She began to slip a dress over her shoulders, meanwhile I slipped under the door and wandered away. Before she was able to fully cover herself and dash out the door after me, I was out of sight. She began frantically searching for me, calling my name and looking under every rack of clothing, knowing I loved to hide between the folds of fabric.
Both of my kids have wandered off at some point in each of their lives, and I can testify that there is no panic quite like a mother’s panic when her child is missing. The fear stabs into the deepest places of your heart, and every possible worst-case scenario runs through your mind in a moment’s time. Neither of my children have ever been “lost” for more than a minute, but I can’t imagine carrying the feeling of having lost a child for weeks, months or years. I can only imagine how my mother felt that day in Kmart, searching for me on every aisle.
What about forever? What if your child was missing endlessly- what if all your children were gone? What if you had many children and they were all missing and you were perpetually followed by the pain of that loss?
God knows the pain that accompanies the heart of a parent Who is missing His children.
I ran away from God for more than a decade. Seth was tiny when I decided it was time to stop running and come back home. “Don’t you think we should go to church now that we have a family?” I inquired of Eric.
I thought the answer would be obvious. We’d already decided that we needed to change a lot of things since we would now be responsible for this tender little one… obviously, giving him a foundation in faith would be one of them. Right?
But my husband held a perplexed look in his eyes. “Why would we do that?” The answer was not so clear in his mind as it was in mine. This is the first I ever knew that my husband did not hold dear the same religious beliefs with which we’d both been raised.
Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? (Luke 15:4)
It’s a very long tale, the story of how I strayed so far from the flock and eventually found myself paired with someone who’d never identified himself as a believer at any point in his life. Moreover, how had I gone so far that I had been with this man for three years before this fact even came to light? We began to explore this chasm in the midst of our recently established family values. I eventually learned that even though he was also raised in church, he’d never experienced anything beyond skepticism, while I had been an “on fire” Christian in my youth.
So began a new season in our marriage: a season of navigating parenthood and new gender roles and labor divisions, of defining values and long-term expectations for our family, and eventually job loss and shifting lifestyle choices and nurturing the seeds of new dreams- all while being divided on the intimate matters of faith. In nearly seven years since the day we had that revealing conversation, our lives shifted and changed dramatically by degrees, but we never lost the wonder of our love for one another.
Eric never openly resented my decision to raise our children in church, and over time my relationship with the Lord was completely renewed. My faith flourished more and more each passing year, and Eric attended church services with us willingly: for the kids’ sake, so they could see their parents united.
I prayed without ceasing: God, how can I live for You in this marriage? How can I show him who You are? How can I speak Your words over him? Will you save him? Or will you leave me with the consequences of my youthful foolishness for the rest of this life?
…each of us has turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6b)
When Jesus became a man, he came to save everyone. Scripture plainly states that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). I clung to the knowledge that Jesus paid the price for me, and He paid the price for my husband as well.
I’ll never forget one evening standing at our kitchen window, washing dishes with tears streaming down my cheeks. I’d been praying, and in the fervor of my discourse with God, I vowed to even go to death if the pain of my loss could bring Eric to know Jesus. I felt God whisper to my heart then, My child, don’t you know that I love him even more than you love him?
I still never stopped praying. Many, many times I wondered if God was even listening anymore. How could He stand to hear me repeat the same prayer over and over for seven years? I wanted to do even more for God’s Kingdom, but I was distracted by One Lost Sheep.
One Sunday morning, I was precariously balanced between the elation that comes with hearing words spoken prophetically over your life and the disappointment that my most heartfelt prayer remained unanswered. I had felt so sure, when I had prayed earlier that weekend and felt the floodgates of Heaven open and Living Water crash over me, that the time of his salvation had arrived. Had I misunderstood the Spirit’s quiet roar?
I applied makeup around red-rimmed eyes, and still I prayed. In that moment, I felt the familiar vibration of the Holy Spirit speak to my heart again. This time, He gave me words for Eric. With trepidation, I shared those words during our morning meal, and heard his prosaic resistance as the kids clashed chaotically around us.
That morning, our pastor repeated virtually the same words over a listening congregation that God’s Spirit had asked me to share over the breakfast table. It was the main idea, the crux of his sermon that morning, and my eyes widened with surprise at the same moment Eric leapt as if filled with electric current beside me. This Sunday morning was no ordinary Sunday. This is the Sunday that my One Lost Sheep was finally found.
And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:5-7)
Eric reached for me during the altar call that morning, squeezing my fingers tightly to let me know that he was ready to stop fighting his doubt with man-made arguments. The man who walked into that high school gymnasium temporarily converted to a church auditorium was transformed, and he walked out visibly buoyant, having left behind the sin that had kept him from knowing God.
I confess to you today that I earnestly doubted my husband would ever be rescued, but today I write from a position of victory. This miracle is yet so new, I hold it close to my heart with wonder, and like a freshly polished gemstone it still shines in my memory. Lest I one day forget, and if the gemstone should ever lose its shine, the knowledge that God has heard my prayers is now recorded, an Ebenezer stone placed here for all to see.
Let’s return back to that scene in Kmart more than 32 years ago, and remember the angst my mother must have experienced when I disappeared from her sight. Now, let’s imagine the relief that must have flooded over her when a voice on the loudspeaker called out her name and asked her to retrieve me from the customer service desk. I was waiting for her there, probably anxious about the consequences for my actions, but in her mind she was only happy that her child would be returned to her arms.
In much the same way my mother rejoiced to be reunited with me that day in 1984, know that the Lord also celebrates to receive the lost into to His flock! He wants to save our loved ones, even moreso than we want it. Who are you praying for today? Don’t ever stop praying. Never stop believing that God wants to answer your prayer, and trust that His timing is good! Our Lord is a Good Shepherd, and He is faithful to rescue His sheep.