This week, while I was preparing to don my flowered Bible Story Lady hat and teach the church preschool lesson, “Jesus: Lost boy found at the Temple,” a long-lost memory from my childhood resurfaced, one that I hadn’t thought about in decades.
As you know, the Bible story in Luke 2:41-51 chronicles the boy Jesus getting separated from his parents on a trip, the frantic search of his parents day after day after day, and their joyful relief when he was finally found happily hanging out at the Temple, swapping scriptural insights and awing the sandals off of the most scholarly religious teachers of the day.
He was not frightened. He was not lost. He knew exactly where he was – safe in his Father’s house.
Studying this lost-child-found story and considering how it went down from perspectives of all the people involved I was suddenly transported back in time to a similar situation in my own life.
I was six at the time, living in Starke, a small north Florida town with little more than a few stoplights and a Sunoco gas station. We had to drive forty-five minutes to Gainesville for shopping, and on this particular chilly pre-Christmas Saturday, my parents had packed my older sister and me into our station wagon for a much anticipated foray to J.M. Fields, the predecessor to Walmart (my childhood was barely post-caveman days).
The sun was barely peeking above the western horizon as we entered the enormous (to my six-year-old eyes) building, and Christmas shoppers seemed to pack every square inch. Mama grabbed a cart (I remember thinking when I could finally see over the handle bar I’d truly be a big girl) and off we went.
At first, I had no trouble staying right behind Mama’s blue car coat as I’d been warned repeatedly to do, but when we ventured near the toy department, I became irresistibly drawn by something I glimpsed a few aisles over. Whatever it was captivated me for what must have been 2-3 minutes, and then another amazing toy called my name yet further down the aisle, and then another.
By the time I looked up, Mama’s blue coat had been replaced by the jackets and sweaters of dozens of strangers, swarming the aisle like bees around a honey log.
In the din of that shopping frenzy, calling out her name no more brought Mama back to me than hollering into a hurricane. When my hopeless situation became clear to me, I considered sitting down right there and having a good cry. But being the pragmatic just-do-it gal that apparently climbed out of the womb, I decided to become proactive instead.
In my practical six-year-old mind, I deduced that it would be highly unlikely that I’d find my family in the midst of this hullabaloo; my best bet was to go back to the beginning.
So I made my way through the throngs back to the front of the store, followed a rotund man out the big glass doors when he opened them, and into the vast parking lot, where I located our car, climbed up on the hood, and sat there in the gathering darkness. They can’t leave without me, I reasoned, incoming shoppers staring at me in surprise – a little girl sitting alone on a car hood in the dark – as they parked and headed toward the store.
“Do you need help?” more than one asked. “Oh, no,” I recall confidently answering, “I’m waiting on my parents.”
I was not frightened. I didn’t feel lost – I knew where I was: safe on my own car. It was simply a matter of being patient until my family finished their shopping and returned for the ride home.
Of course, unbeknownst to me, my poor hysterical parents were combing the store, the loudspeaker blaring for little lost Debbie to come immediately to the service desk, and store personnel were running every which way checking out every whimpering child in the store.
At last, a sweet little gray-haired grandmother, hearing the loudspeaker announcement, remembered the little girl she’d seen in the parking lot on her way into the store and alerted the authorities of my whereabouts.
I couldn’t have been more surprised when an entire posse of panicked people suddenly burst through the doors, running through the parking lot in my direction, my parents leading the pack.
Sort of how Jesus must’ve felt when his vastly relieved mother gently rebuked him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
The calm reply of a confidant child who had simply returned to his true home, “Why were you searching for me?” … “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
As a caring parent myself, I now see the “lost Jesus” story through the eyes of his terrified parents. But how enlightening it was for Papa God to show me a completely different viewpoint through this time-submerged memory.
We are never really lost. Even when we can’t find our way, there always is one. No reason to panic. Or give up hope. We simply need to go back to the beginning of our faith … to our true home with Papa God. Where the lost are always found.
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