No Sheep Left Behind

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Tim Kimmel writes about children who stray and that the best time to look for someone is before they’re actually lost. He urges parents to commit to never giving up on their kids.

God’s grace defies human math. It doesn’t have much patience for conventional wisdom either. If you’re in charge of a hundred people and ninety-nine think you hung the moon and show their appreciation by submitting to your leadership, most would say, “Count your blessings.” Nobody bats 1.000. Come to think of it, nobody bats .999 either. If only one person goes rogue out of a hundred, most would say, “Cut your losses, be grateful, and move on.”

Let’s all be glad God doesn’t compute that way. Boy howdy. The chew-you-up-and-spit-you-out world we live in sees losses as the natural downside of leading others; of loving them, too. Fortunately, God doesn’t see that person out in the cold as a faceless statistic.

There are lots of explanations for why Jesus told the parable of the shepherd who left his ninety-nine cooperative sheep to go out into the night to look for the one who wandered off. Among other things, it shows the enormous value he places on us as individuals—even when we don’t place much value on him. In his teaching, Jesus doesn’t elaborate on why the sheep wandered off. There are logical explanations for why one would. Obviously some wander off intentionally. They have a bone to pick, a grudge to nurse, and a chip on their shoulder to balance. All these reasons have something to do with their crossways attitude towards the shepherd. What does he know? Who died and left him in charge? These types of people (sheep) have a mind of their own that inclines them to resist leadership, scorn love, and set their own course.

Then there are those other sheep who wander off simply because they aren’t paying attention. They don’t realize how much peril they’re in until they look up to find that the flock (and shepherd) is out of sight. Regardless, Jesus seems more interested in finding the lost sheep than he is in why or how they got in that position.

Kids are born with an inclination to stray. Some make this the focus of their daily life. They live to defy. (Some of you just put a face to that sentence.) Fortunately, their penchant for wandering off is fairly easy to anticipate. But then there are those other kids who just don’t realize that forces or circumstances are pulling them further from the safety of our love until they’re out in the cold on their own. What’s interesting is that both of these kinds of kids can end up way off course without ever leaving our sight.

I’m thinking of the shy child, the kid that struggles with their appearance, and the little girl who’s got intellectual horsepower to spare but can’t make the grades because of the academic challenges that go with ADHD. There’s the kid who’s chosen last, or the high school girl that never gets an invite to the prom, or the boy who’s always the punching bag for people’s humor and ridicule. These kids often end up like the kids that were hell-bent from the beginning to wander off—in over their heads with no idea how to find their way out… or back.

The best time to look for someone is before they’re actually lost.  It’s the assumption that they’re inclined to stray and the intuition that they might be unwittingly losing their way that often spares them the fear, loneliness, and pain that often awaits them in the darkness.

Jesus came to seek out and save people who are lost (Luke 19:10). One of the most effective ways he does this is through fathers and mothers (as well as grandparents) that commit to never giving up on their kids. He can give us long-suffering and unconditional love for those kids that simply refuse to let us be their parents. And he wants to give us a heads up and sensitivity for those children that simply find themselves in way over their head.

The search for the lost sheep can be long and lonely, but it’s what good shepherds do. Regardless of how many we’re responsible for or how little they respond to our leadership, each one left to our charge is far better off knowing that we come into our job committed to the principle of no sheep left behind.

 

 

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