As my older siblings and their friends emerged from their hiding places, they realized I was not among them, and a search ensued. No luck. They looked inside and out, but every time they passed through my bedroom, they dismissed the small shape under the covers as just another fold in the rumpled blanket. Unsuccessful in their hunt, they were forced to admit to Mom that they had lost me, and the search went into high gear. Soon the whole neighborhood was sifting through the tall grass of a nearby field, opening up storm drains, and scouring the rocky terrain of a nearby creek. The police patrolled the streets and knocked on doors. What seemed like a safe neighborhood an hour ago was now fraught with danger.
I eventually awoke to an empty house and wandered outside to look for my family. There I was met by the shouts, hugs and scolding of a dozen or more people. I could not understand the mixture of love, anger, and joy they all shared, but somehow I knew my presence among them was cause for rejoicing.
Most of us have grown too big to be mistaken for a fold in a blanket, but there still are times when we are lost without knowing it, sleepily going through life unaware of him who seeks us. We are sought, though without seeking. And when we return, whether like a hapless child unaware of any wrongdoing, or more like the prodigal son returning with a full measure of regret, we are met with that parental mixture of love, anger and joy.
The religions of mankind are shaped by those who search for God and plumb the depths of divine mystery. Such pursuits are what Jesus had in mind when he said, "Seek and you shall find." But I continue to marvel that God's pursuit of us precedes any search on our part. We are known before knowing, sought before seeking, missed before missing. Our needs are known before we sense them, and our shortcomings are accepted before we discover them.
A prayer by Pamela Hawkins acknowledges God's antecedent work on our souls, and our proper response to it:
There is no need unknown to you, O God of my heart.
There is no sigh too soft, no bruise too hidden,
no pretense too clever to keep from you,
for you alone are God-
my breath before I breathe,
my life before I live,
my need before I know that I need.
Renew my need for you, O God,
and grant me courage to ask.
I would not presume to question Jesus' admonition to seek, ask, and knock. But for me, it is enough to be scooped up into the loving arms of the One who sought me first.
The Rev. Brian Dale is the pastor of Allen Memorial Methodist Church in Oxford.
Pamela Hawkins reprinted from The Awkward Season: Prayers for Lent by Pamela Hawkins. ©2009 by Upper Room Books®. Used by permission from Upper Room Books.