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Spiritual Life

Lost at the Beach: A Look at Matthew 18:12

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My wife Barb and I loaded up our six kids and a gigantic pile of luggage in our large SUV and headed out for a week-long vacation in Florida. After spending two days in a vehicle overwhelmed by food wrappers, crumbs, whining, screaming, and the occasional unpleasant smell, I looked forward to doing a significant amount of absolutely nothing once we arrived at our rented vacation house. Barb, on the other hand, lobbied for one of our vacation days to be spent at an area beach. Being of fair complexion, the beach is not necessarily one of my favorite destinations. But in the interest of marital peace, I agreed to rub on exorbitant amounts of sunscreen and we headed over to Clearwater for a day of beach fun.

The day was gloriously warm and cloud free. Once we arrived at the white sanded beach I immediately made a beeline for one of the overpriced beach umbrellas to make sure I had proper shade to sit under. Then we sat down and unpacked our stuff. Barb had made a picnic lunch with enough PB & J sandwiches to feed a small army. After we ate I rallied the troops and gave them my typical lecture about staying near us and having a buddy with them at all times. Then I plopped down in the reclining chair under my umbrella and settled in for the day, feet propped and another sandwich in hand.

Even though I am a hyper-protective father, it only took a few moments for me to become lost in the peaceful ambiance of my surroundings. The salty air, the noisy call of the seagulls, and the rushing of the foamy waves overwhelmed my senses. This tranquility lasted a few minutes until suddenly my paternal instincts kicked in and I snapped back to reality. I immediately began taking a “kid inventory” to make sure all were present and accounted for.

“One, two, three ... four, five ...”. But there was no six. The peacefulness of the prior moments vanished in an instant as I realized that my two-year-old daughter, Mira, had disappeared.

I jumped out of my seat and looked around once more, then turned to Barb and yelled, “Where’s Mira?” Barb was busy feeding the baby and hadn’t noticed Mira had slipped away either. I felt my stomach sink and images of my daughter accompanied by thoughts of things unmentionable sprung up in my mind. Quickly we gathered the rest of the children together and devised a plan. Barb, with tears welling up in her eyes, took off in one direction with some of our kids, and I ran the opposite way down the beach with the rest in search of Mira.

As we were running, I alternated between asking people if they had seen a little girl in a purple swimsuit and begging God to protect Mira and bring her back safely. As we worked our way down the beach, I became more discouraged and frightened as person after person stated that they had not seen her.

Finally, a woman stepped up to us and said that she saw a little girl pass by just a few minutes before. She and her family joined us in our search and as we worked our way even farther down the beach, another person pointed us to the lifeguard chair. I looked up and there stood the lifeguard, holding Mira in his arms. As I ran up to them I could see that Mira was not upset, and even had a sassy look on her face that seemed to indicate that she enjoyed her little excursion down the beach, blissfully ignorant of the trauma she put her parents through.

I, on the other hand, nearly collapsed from relief and the adrenaline rush that was pumping through my veins. I took Mira in my arms, kissed and hugged her, and told her to never leave us like that again. She clung tightly to me and we made the long trip back to our little plot, where I handed her over to her equally elated mother.

At the time, the experience of temporarily losing Mira felt like it had lasted for an eternity, but in reality, it all happened within a matter of a couple of minutes. Nonetheless, it deflated our enthusiasm for the beach, and we decided to call it a day early and head back home.

That night as I climbed into bed, the day’s events were still on my mind. Despite feeling worn out, I had trouble sleeping. I kept replaying the whole situation in my mind over and over until eventually, I began to pray. As I did, I felt the urge to be still and allow God to speak to me.

During those few moments of stillness, God brought to my mind the parable of the lost sheep. In that story, if the Good Shepherd loses just one sheep out of a flock of a hundred, he is heartbroken and will relentlessly pursue that one sheep until he finds it and brings it back into the fold to safety. (See Matthew 18:12-14)

After refreshing that story in my mind, God began to impress his truth into my heart. The words went something like this:

“Chad, do you remember how you felt today when Mira was lost?”

“Yes, I responded, “I don’t think I’ll ever forget.”

God continued, “I want you to know that the way you felt today when Mira disappeared – that overwhelming sense of loss and desperation – that is exactly the way I feel about every lost soul on earth.”

As those words sunk in, for the first time I began to relate to God not only as his child but also as a father. I sympathized with God as I realized the great pining in his heart for his fallen creation and his lost children. I understood more completely his willingness to do whatever it takes, including sending his Son to the Cross, to reclaim what was lost.

Never before had I understood his great love at so profound a level. It occurred to me that this insight into God’s relentless love for his children could have revolutionary consequences for the Church and for our world today if God’s people would also understand, embrace, and put into practice the Father’s desperate love for the lost.

Our relief at being reunited with Mira is just a small taste of the joy the Father experiences when one of his lost children comes home to him. No wonder the angels rejoice over just one sinner who repents. One of God’s beloved children has been rescued and brought safely home in the loving arms of the Father.

Copyright © Chad Rath 2013. Used by permission.

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