I remember a few years ago, we went shopping in Bristol. Our son, Samuel, was 3 years old at the time, and our daughter, Alice, was 8 months old. We were in a clothes shop looking for some coats.
My wife, Kate, had Alice in a pram, while Samuel was freely wandering around with us. After a while, we’d found what we wanted, and I went to pay for the goods. There were other people in the shop, including a man and teenage girl who were giving Alice lots of attention. Kate and the kids were towards one end of the shop, while I was paying for the clothes near the entrance.
After I’d paid, I headed back to Kate and the kids. She had been feeling uncomfortable with the attention that Alice was receiving from the other customers. Therefore, as Samuel darted between coat stands, she had stayed with Alice. She had made sure that Samuel was contained in a small, quiet corner of the shop and that he didn’t pass her to get to the exit. We then called out to Samuel that it was time to leave. However, he didn’t answer, so I went to get him. As I walked around it quickly became clear that he wasn’t there. I shouted louder for him to come to us, but still there was no response. I started to panic, but reassured myself that he couldn’t have got past both Kate and myself in order to exit the shop.
However, as I circled the shop, looking amongst the clothes stands, it was apparent that he wasn’t there. I then went to the rear of the shop, and looked in the changing rooms, but still there was no sign of him. I asked the shop assistants if they’d seen him, and they suggested looking upstairs in the store room, so I raced upstairs and looked around the room calling out his name, but still there was no response.
At this point, I was really panicking. Kate was guarding the exit of the shop with Alice in tow, and other people in the shop were starting to sense the gravity of the situation and were joining in our search. I was shouting out Samuel’s name in desperation, and as I re-checked every area, it was evident that he wasn’t in the shop anymore.
Kate started to call the police and remained in place at the entrance of the shop. I raced outside in search of our son, fully aware that if he had been taken, I had a small window of opportunity to find him before he was gone for good. I ran over to a homeless man who was sitting opposite, and asked him if he had seen a small boy leave, to which he shook his head. In a wild panic, I did a circuit of the Broadmead shopping centre, desperately scanning all directions for a glimpse of Samuel. I was terrified and pleading with God to help us find him. My heart was racing as I realised there was no sign of him. I feared for the situation he might be in and felt completely helpless.
As I got back to the shop, I braced myself for the next steps, when miraculously I saw him standing next to Kate. A sense of relief washed over me, as I heard Kate speaking to the police officer on the phone to say that he was safely back with us. After I’d gathered my senses, I asked what had happened. Apparently, he had decided to hide between some large winter coats, and found it hilarious that we weren’t able to find him.
I can’t imagine many things worse than losing your child, and my heart truly goes out to anyone who has ever been through that. I got but a tiny glimpse of the desperation that anyone in that situation would face and it was truly terrifying. Living for those minutes with the thought that I had possibly lost my child forever was, without doubt, the worst experience of my life and one that I never want to repeat.
As I reflect on this, it reminds me of a couple of things. Firstly, my own despair at the loss of my son, is a reminder of the value that Jesus places on each life. Jesus wants to see all lives restored to him more than I could ever imagine, and he is seeking lost souls with infinitely more passion and fervour. I pray that we (myself in particular) would also have that same desire to see people who are lost in this world found and brought back to Jesus.
Secondly, I can only be in awe of the fact that God allowed Jesus to suffer the death that He did in order to help us find a way back to Him. Behind knowing Jesus, my wife and kids are the most precious things in my life, and the thought of allowing one of them to suffer so that others could benefit would be an impossible decision for me to take. Yet God freely allowed His precious Son to suffer for our sake, which demonstrates a love for us that goes beyond anything we could truly comprehend.
The parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin (see Luke 15 verses 3-10) provide two examples of where someone continues to search for something of value that has been lost, until it is found again. These verses go on to relate this to “the joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents”. God places so much value on each one of our lives and His desire to see the lost restored back into right relationship with Him should inspire us to partner with God in finding, loving and directing people to Jesus before it is too late.