Lessons from a Lost Sheep
- Dena Johnson Martin Dena's Devos
- Updated Nov 05, 2014
Several years ago, I took my children to Orlando, Florida, where we spent five days visiting the Disney and Universal theme parks. It was a celebration, a reward for having walked through the toughest days of our lives. It was an opportunity for the four of us to get away from the daily burdens and just spend our time laughing and enjoying life and one another.
At the time, my oldest was a huge Harry Potter fan, and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios was fairly new. The kids were looking forward to it as the highlight of the trip. On the appointed morning, the boys dressed in Harry Potter shirts and we made our way to the park. I must tell you that I might have been slightly insane to take three children—ages 7, 9, and 12—half-way across the country by myself.
We planned our trip during the off-season so that we wouldn’t have huge crowds to fight, but Harry Potter World was packed! It seemed as if the Hogwarts Express had hit every country on its way to Orlando. Keeping track of three young children was a challenge.
At one point, my boys decided to ride one of the roller coasters. My younger son was just shy of the 54” necessary to ride the more extreme rides. But, in an effort to experience everything, he measured at the foot of the roller coaster. To his delight, they told him he was tall enough!
Up the steps my two boys went together. I promised that their sister and I would wait at the bottom, and then we would continue our day. After a short while, I saw my older son coming toward me…but my younger son was nowhere in sight.
As I talked to my oldest, he told me that they had measured his brother again at the top and determined that he was not tall enough to ride after all. The workers had sent him down the ride exit, alone and on a different path from the one the boys had taken together. And Cole never made it back to me.
Suddenly, the panic set in. I began yelling for him, scanning the crowd. I looked for workers who I thought might be able to help me. I sent his brother back toward the ride exit, hoping that he could somehow cross paths with my lost child. I am certain that the sheer terror on my face told the story to everyone who saw me.
“Cole!” I yelled frantically and repeatedly.
Eventually, a sweet couple who spoke very few words in English began to search with me. Through my broken Spanish and their broken English, we were able to communicate about my son’s hair color and eye color. Finally realizing that both boys were wearing the same shirt, I showed the couple what Cole was wearing.
I continued to stand in the same place, somehow hoping that my lost little boy would find his way back. I continued to yell, the panic increasing with each passing moment. The tears flooded my face even as I tried to console his terrified little sister.
After what seemed like an eternity, this precious Spanish-speaking couple came rushing toward me—with my son. With cries of “Gracias, gracias,” I melted into a puddle of tears as I embraced my child. Nothing in the world mattered in that moment except that my son was no longer lost. He was safe and back in the arms of his loving mother.
Scripture tells us that we are much like my son. We are sheep, prone to wander. We lose our way, sometimes by our own poor choices and sometimes led astray by others. But, just like I did with my son, the Father promises that he will search for us, pursue us relentlessly, bring us back to the sheepfold safely.
“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away! In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish" (Matthew 18:12-14).
Just as my son lost his way at the theme park that February morning, there was a time when I wandered away from the safety of my heavenly Father. My marriage had been ripped apart by adultery, my offer of forgiveness rejected. My position as pastor’s wife was stripped from me with my divorce. My financial stability shattered. Most everything that I treasured was gone in an instant.
I had spent my entire life walking with God, and to say that I was angry with him is an understatement. I remember thinking, even saying, that if this was the blessing I received from my obedience to God, I wasn’t sure I wanted to live life his way. I determined that I would live life on my terms, still going to church on Sunday but making my own decisions for the rest of the week. That’s how a large majority of Christians live anyway, I reasoned.
I was scared, left alone to raise three children on my own. I was lonely, rejected. I was looking for security, and I found it in a relationship. The only thing I wanted was to be loved, protected, to feel secure. And there, in the arms of a man, I felt secure.
As the days wore on, I knew that God was calling my name. But, I continued running. The harder I ran, the more he pursued me.
“Get your security from me,” I heard echoing through the recesses of my heart day after day. “I am here, waiting to welcome you home. I will protect you. I will care for you. I promise we will be OK…together.”
Eventually, the relationship ended. I somehow knew that God had protected me for a future he had planned for me. I remember so vividly pausing, surrendering.
“Lord, I don’t want this journey,” I began, “but as long as you will take this situation and do something amazing in me so that you can do something amazing through me, I will take it. Don’t let my pain be in vain.”
Over the next months, I began to understand a new depth of my Father’s love. He is so gracious and faithful! While I was doing everything I could to run from him, he chose to pursue me. As I did everything I could to hide from him, he came searching for me. He fought a mighty battle for my affections. He was not content to leave me in my sin, to leave me in disgrace. He loved me so much that he welcomed me home even as filthy and unfaithful as I had been.
And God has been so faithful to answer my prayer to do an amazing work in me. My relationship with Christ today bears no resemblance to my relationship with him before. The intimacy, the understanding of his love and his grace, the daily whispers from my savior. It’s as if I didn’t even know him before (Job 42:5).
While I am not proud of that time in my life, I am so very thankful for the lessons God taught me. I have a much greater appreciation for his faithfulness, his forgiveness. I have a deeper understanding of his grace, mercy, and forgiveness. I understand how much he truly loves me. And, I can say that my faith has been tested and tried, and I have not a single doubt that I am his at the very core of my being.
What a treasure to know that the Father will leave his faithful sheep to come after the one who has wandered away. Where would I be without him?
Have you wandered from the safety of your Savior? Are you running away in the face of pain and suffering? Are you seeking security somewhere other than from your Good Shepherd? If so, pause and hear him calling your name, calling you home to him. He loves you. He has left the faithful ones to come find you no matter where you are or what you are doing. Follow the sound of his voice, and return to the Savior. You will never regret it.
Dena Johnson is a busy single mom of three kids who loves God passionately. She delights in taking the everyday events of life, finding God in them, and impressing them on her children as they sit at home or walk along the way (Deuteronomy 6:7). Her greatest desire is to be a channel of God’s comfort and encouragement. You can read more of Dena’s experiences with her Great I AM on her blog Dena's Devos.
Publication date: November 5, 2014