I have one very vivid memory of the day my family moved from our modest three-bedroom bungalow to a new home on the other side of the city. It was a warm July day and, being four years old, I was incapable of helping much in the move, as well as completely uninterested in doing so.
Some of my extended family members had begun bringing boxes into the home and unpacking the contents into various cupboards and closets. After a few minutes of watching my aunts and cousins bump into each other as they set up the kitchen, I noticed a few empty boxes begin to accumulate. Realizing that no one was paying attention to me, but rather focusing on the overwhelming task of relocating a family of seven, I grabbed one of the empty cardboard boxes with a plan in mind. Little four-year-old me dragged the large box into a closet, climbed inside, and gently shut the flaps over my head. I giggled as I thought about the funny prank I was pulling, while simultaneously wondering how long it would be before someone took notice of my absence and sought to find me.
A lot goes through a child’s mind in the solitude of a dark cardboard box. It was only 30 seconds before I became excruciatingly bored, and less than five minutes before I believed my family had abandoned me altogether. It felt like I waited hours, my tiny legs scrunched up against my chest, my squeaky voice whispering songs and nursery rhymes to pass the time. It was likely only 15 minutes before my aunt opened the closet door to hang a few linens. She was about to close the door when I leapt out of the box and screamed, “You found me!” In reality, she hadn’t found me at all—I made myself seen. I just knew I didn’t want to be hidden anymore.
As I grow older, I realize just how human that was of my toddler-self to hide and wait to be discovered. I wanted to be noticed, my absence felt; I wanted to be sought and searched for and ultimately found. And, all of these things are true today, if not in bigger or more intensified ways. How often have I felt excluded, or insignificant, or unwanted?
We have a Father who is relentless in His pursuit of the Lost one, the Down one, the one who thinks they can wander away without being noticed. I wish I could go back and warn my four year old self that there would be days to come where I would feel like I’m still waiting in that cardboard box for someone to find me. I wish I could teach her that Someone already has.
I am noticed. I am acknowledged. I am found.
The Message phrases the parable of the Lost Sheep well: “Look at it this way. If someone has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders off, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine and go after the one? And if he finds it, doesn’t he make far more over it than over the ninety-nine who stay put? Your Father in heaven feels the same way.”
Your father in Heaven feels the same way.
Let those words settle in your soul on the nights when you feel lost, or alone, or in a cardboard box of your own. A Shepherd will find his lost one, will celebrate when he does, and your heavenly father feels the same way.
words by Alyssa Vlieg and photo by Cate Willis