I don’t always like praying for lost things—why bother God with such trivial matters? But my kids keep losing things, so we keep praying to find them. And slowly, over time, God has taught me why it’s worth teaching our kids to go to him, even for the little things.
by Jerry Windley-Daoust
“Dad, I lost my iPod.”
Internal groan. One more reason I hate the mix of kids and small electronics. On the other hand, this is the new used iPod she spent months saving up for, doing yardwork for neighbors and extra chores for us.
“Where have you looked?”
After clarifying “everywhere,” and determining that, indeed, we’ve turned the house pretty much inside out, I get up and turn the house inside out again with her. I recruit more helpers. A good while later, I ask: “Have you prayed to find it?”
“Yes.” But it’s a “kinda sorta” yes, as in: I wished really hard God would help me find it while I was looking.
Internally, I’m balking at the idea of praying to find an iPod. I love the phrase “first world problem,” because it really does do a good job of putting things into perspective. Mentally, I’m balancing my child’s sadness over an expensive lost toy against the long list of really, really bad things happening to innocent people all over the world, which should probably be the real thing prompting us to stop, drop, and pray right now.
But now we’re close to tears here. “Okay,” I say, “let’s try praying again. But this time, let’s take some time out to really pray.”
Why Would God Care about a Lost iPod (or Silver Coin)?
In our family, this is probably one of the most common ways we pray spontaneously, in a close tie with praying for emergencies whenever we hear a siren. And there’s a good reason for that: more often than not, our prayers have been answered pretty quickly with a happy shout and the restoration of what has been lost. That seems to be especially the case when our kids are the ones doing the praying, with their simple faith uninhibited by adult preconceptions about how God works.
Personally, I have always resisted praying for lost stuff. What stops me is the whole first world-problem-thing I mentioned before: Why bother God with such a trivial request? Who do I think I am, that God would help me find this or that when there are mothers praying for their children to live, fathers praying for work, children praying for the bombing or the abuse to end? Then there’s the guilt, because my selfish request reminds me that I don’t spend nearly enough time praying for the real needs of the world as I should. And then there’s my whole concept of prayer as primarily about relationship. “God is not a gumball machine,” I am always telling my kids, “and prayer is not like a magic spell.” It seems rude to be going to God for something so selfish when I don’t spend nearly enough time in prayer unselfishly nurturing our relationship.
But you know, God uses my kids to school me all the time, and I have to say, this is an issue that he has pushed back on pretty hard. Over and over, we go to God in prayer, and what is lost gets found.
And over and over, I smile wryly and wonder: Why? Why does God seem to answer these prayers so readily, when other prayers seem to go unanswered? And what is he trying to teach us?
And then God reminds me of the Parable of the Lost Coin:
“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:8-10)
See? God says to me. If I can sympathize with you over a lost coin, then why can’t I sympathize with you over a lost iPod? (And indeed, the footnote in my Bible tells me that the coins in question here are worth about a day’s wages—or about the value of my daughter’s lost iPod.)
Okay, I concede, but this parable isn’t really about a lost coin. It’s about lost people—all of us sinners who have wandered away from God. This parable occurs in the context of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees and scribes, who are “grumbling” about his association with “sinners.” Immediately before this parable, we have the Parable of the Lost Sheep; immediately after, we have the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Plus, I want to point out to God, why bother with our “lost coins” when my Facebook feed is riddled with more serious prayer requests from friends and acquaintances?
Well, I think I hear God say, lost iPods and keys are the low-hanging fruit. It’s mostly about helping you to see. Other things take a little more time and prayer. Okay, so I’m not sure that’s really what God is telling me here, but it makes sense. After all, as the German theologian Gerhard Lohfink reminds us, God’s miracles don’t contravene nature; they perfect nature.
And, God wants to add, why shouldn’t I help you see, if it will help you find what you’ve lost? I love you.
Ah! I think. Playing the “love card” again. Really?
‘What Is Lost Has Been Found’
Why this should surprise me, I don’t know. All three of the “lost and found” parables are ultimately about God’s love for us, after all. The whole sequence ends with the father’s words: “We had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
It is about relationship, after all—but not like normal human relationships, which we expect to be fairly reciprocal. Our “lost coins” are trivial matters, it’s true, compared to the good God hopes to restore to the world. And it’s also true that we could never give God enough to be “deserving” of what he gives us. But our relationship with God is no ordinary human relationship; it is, instead, the impossible relationship of the father and the prodigal son. All we need to do is turn to him, and he says to us, “All that is mine is yours” (Luke 15:31).
“Let’s stop looking,” I say to my sad daughter, “and take a few moments in prayer.”
We sit down on a bed. Then we are silent for a full minute. And then I pray: “God, you celebrated when the woman found her lost coin, and when the shepherd found his lost sheep, so we know that you care about even our smallest troubles. So we ask you, Lord, to help us find this lost iPod, because Julia would really love to listen to some music, and we know that you love her very much. Through your grace in this situation, may we grow to love you, too. If you lead us to find what has been lost, let that teach us to come to you in bigger, weightier matters, too. But if we can’t find it, may we be assured of your care anyway; and teach us detachment from all things other than you. Saint Anthony and Saint Zita, pray for us. Amen.”
And then we are silent for a bit longer. “Now,” I say, “we’re going to look for this thing for five more minutes, and if we find it, great; otherwise, at this point, let’s let it go, and we’ll just keep our eyes peeled for it.”
I send her off, and it’s not five minutes, it’s one (maybe two) minutes later that I hear her call up the stairs, “Found it!”
My jaw drops, as it does every time this happens. “Um, where?”
“Well, on top of the coat hooks.”
“On top of the—wait, what? How could it be on top of the coat hooks?”
“I remembered that I took it outside with me yesterday, and I thought maybe I left it in my coat pocket. I checked my coat pockets two times before, but this time I looked on top of the coats, and there it was. I must have put it there to feed the dog after I came in!”
My secular friends would put this down to coincidence, and me being my skeptical, scientifically inclined self, I might too—if this kind of thing didn’t keep happening over and over. In fact, it happened two more time in the next two days, in similar fashion: After turning everything upside down, we stopped to pray, and then found what we were looking for.
And having found what we were looking for, my daughter and I stop to pray again, spending a few moments to say, “Thanks, God! Thanks for showing us your love and care! Thanks for reminding us to pray to you more often!”
This, then, is why we teach our kids to pray for what they have lost:
So they might know that God loves them, and cares even about our most trivial trials.
So they might know that prayer really is effective, because in our human weakness, it is easy to give up on God when our “big asks” aren’t answered the way we’d like, right away.
So that they might know that so much of the spiritual life is about learning to see. How often are we blind to what is right in front of us, whether it is our lost keys, or some glaring injustice, or God’s grace?
And so that we will learn to pray for other lost things: innocence, loved ones, hope.
Because maybe, if our kids learn to pray for God’s help in finding lost keys, coins, and iPods, they will grow into such a good and healthy dependence on God that these little lost things won’t matter, because they will have found the love of God . . . the one thing they will never lose.