A few weeks ago I turned 52. I suppose I should give my head a shake, but I still can’t quite believe I’m that old. Somehow, I still feel like I’m not that far past my university days. The crates we still use as furniture at our house, (and every year we swear we’ll get rid of them), purchased while we were still poor students, might somehow create that illusion.
Yet, despite my misperception, I can’t deny it – the parents of my students are definitely younger than me for one thing! Other things speak as well, like creaky bones when I wake up, but probably the biggest indicator is how much more I tend to lose things. Not a day goes by at work where I am not shuffling through my stacks in my classroom, looking for something I misplaced. This year I have one student who has the expert skills of the best detective – if I set her loose on a case, she turns items up with remarkable speed. I have jokingly told her I might have to fail her so I can retain her services for another year. I suppose I’ll just have to settle for hollering down the hall for her to come help me out next year.
A few years ago, my friend Bev shared what a Catholic friend from work had told her – about the Catholic saint named Anthony, who is the patron saint of lost things. When something is lost, Catholics pray to him, asking for his help. Over the years since I heard this, I have prayed to him many times and invariably, I find what I was looking for. It is actually quite uncanny and mysterious. For example, this week I invoked the prayer when I had a room filled with squirmy students waiting for my math lesson and I couldn’t find the activity they needed to get going. Sure enough, I found my papers.
One of the prayers I found online is quite beautiful. It petitions Saint Anthony for help in finding the lost item, but ends “at least restore to me peace and tranquility of mind, the loss of which has afflicted me even more than my material loss.”
As this prayer attests, it’s not just material things that get lost. There are many ways we ourselves can get lost – a lost sense of joy, or direction, or peace. We can lose our way in a way Google Maps can’t help us. One day this week, as I left school and entered my car, I had that sense of feeling lost. I’d failed to remain patient with one of my students that day and feelings of shame were weighing down my heart as I was going home. Nothing warps the perceptions like shame. Paul Patterson (our pastor) says in times like that, that we can’t even “think our way out of a paper bag” and I prayed for help. It wasn’t instant, but after prayers, a good rest, and talking to Lyle, the shame weighing me down fell off my shoulders. The God of infinite second chances and forgiveness had found me once again.
God has found me so many times in my life that if I were to count them, I wouldn’t come to an end. One of my favorite stories of the Bible is the shepherd who is looking for his one lost sheep, and doesn’t quit until that one is found. If I had to choose a story to tell my life through, that would be the one, and as I get older, my gratitude grows more every day for this huge gift.
This week, I noticed several times of prayer that were immeasurably helpful. There were no dramas of lostness going on, just petitions for the day. As Lyle and I often do, I prayed for our son Joel who is moving out soon, that God would continue to guide his beautiful life. (These prayers won’t be ending anytime soon!) I prayed for patience and love for my students. I prayed for Lyle and our dear friends, and for our parents who are feeling the effects of aging. I prayed for those who are sick and struggling. And I prayed prayers of gratitude for so much help and guidance given in each day.
In the parables of the Bible, God is always searching for the lost things – lost coins, lost sheep, and even a son who was lost. I am so grateful that I’ve been found. Even when I am lost, I know it is only a matter of time before I hear my name and I’m found once again.