For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. … I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign Lord. I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. [Ezekiel 34:11-12,15 (NLT)]
Walking along the shoreline, I was surprised to see a baby opossum on the beach. A man with a large bucket was trying to scoop him up to return him to the safety of the mangroves but the little guy would have none of it. Lost and in danger of dying of thirst or becoming dinner for an osprey or eagle, I’m sure he thought he was on a wonderful adventure. Meanwhile, his mother was probably frantically searching the mangroves for her wayward child.
Thinking of frantic mothers and wayward children reminded me of Monica’s story. Back in 352, she gave birth to a baby boy—the man we know as St. Augustine. As a young man, however, Augustine was anything but a saint; he was disobedient, strong-willed, self-indulgent, and immoral. Although he’d been raised in the faith, he abandoned Christianity for the world of sin to pursue paganism and pleasure. Rather than lost on the beach, Augustine was lost in his hedonistic life. The original “helicopter” parent, Monica never gave up on her dissolute son and, as distressed as she was by his bad behavior, she pursued and prayed for him. Her persistence was rewarded and, after seventeen years of praying for her lost boy, Augustine converted to Christianity. After being baptized, he founded a religious order, was ordained as a priest, and was appointed as the bishop of Hippo. Devoting the rest of his life to serving the Church, he used his brilliant mind to establish the intellectual foundations of Christianity in the West. A prolific writer, Augustine is often called the most significant Christian writer after the Apostle Paul. What would his story be if his mother Monica had thought her sinful son was a lost cause? What if she’d stopped praying for her lost son’s soul?
There are some names on my prayer list that I’ve begun to think of as “lost causes”—people for whom I’ve been praying for several years. Due to an unfortunate combination of bad choices and bad circumstances, they are people whose lives have been wasted, people who have sunk so deep that rising from the depths seems impossible, people whose redemption seems hopeless, people who are so lost even their loved ones don’t know where they are. I was ready to delete them from my prayer list before seeing the opossum baby. The man with the bucket didn’t give up trying to save the animal, Monica never gave up on Augustine, and God will never stop trying to rescue the lost. Those names and others like them will stay in my prayers. You see, for God, there are no lost causes, only lost children.