The older I get, the more I parent, the more people I meet, the more relationships I form, the more obvious it becomes to me that very few things in the crazy world around us are simply black or white. It seems to me Jesus already knew that. He also knew that our minds connect better to stories than to outlines or lists. I believe that’s why there are so many stories in the Bible and why Jesus often taught in parables. Even though our minds sometimes crave those straightforward, black-and-white checklists, Jesus invites us to engage with Him in a deeper way through stories. It’s as if he’s saying: I know your heart, and I know what you’re really asking, so here–listen to this story and decide which character you are and where your heart is wrestling. Well played, Teacher.
Lost and Found
In Luke 15, we have the parables of the Lost Things. Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Son. If only He would have continued sharing with the parable of the Lost Sock, we would FINALLY know where they all end up!
The chapter begins with:
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ Then Jesus told THEM this parable…” (emphasis added).
Jesus launches into the parable of the Lost Sheep, where the shepherd leaves ninety-nine sheep to bring back the one that had wandered away. Jesus was talking to “them”– the Pharisees, the people with the power, the ones with the gold star, the already-been-included ones. He finishes by telling them there’s more rejoicing over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
Putting ourselves in the story
I often settle in as part of the ninety-nine. I’m the one with the gold star, the one who’s already been included. But I am rarely like the shepherd who goes searching for the one that got away. I stay with my ninety-nine because it’s safe, it’s comfortable, and I know where the boundaries are. Recently, though, my heart was stirred as this parable came to mind on the playground after school with my middle son, affectionately termed Man of Passion.
The weather was lovely and the kids all flooded out of school. The same group of kids and the same group of moms all met up at the park to spend time together and let the kids run the school out of them. Man of Passion has a pretty great group of park pals to play with. The park pals all love the same things. They get each other. They’ve been playing together for years and everyone knows what they play, how they play, who gets to make the rules, and whose place it is to follow them.
But on this particular afternoon, there was–GASP–a newcomer. This little boy did not go to the same school as the others. He’d never been part of the park pals that run around all afternoon. In fact, they didn’t even know each other’s names. But this brave little boy walked right up to Man of Passion, as he was dishing out the rules for their next game, and said, “Hi. I’m Ryan.* Can I play? I love to play tag. Want to play tag?”
Silence. Staring. Awkward movements. Some of the other park pals started to voice their opinions:
“I don’t like tag.”
“That’s not one of the games we play.”
“It’s too hot for that game. Plus, how will we know who’s playing and who isn’t?”
Giving voice to their annoyance seemed to fuel it. I mean, who is this kid? He not only asks to play, but also wants to pick the game?! The indignation was palpable, and it seemed clear that Ryan’s idea was going down.
But one of the park pals was not so sure. I watched Man Of Passion wrestle in his own heart and mind before he spoke. He said, “S’up Ryan, I’ll totally play tag. Want to be ‘it’ first?” And then an enormous round of tag broke out on the playground.
Opening our hearts to lessons from our kids
That day, Man of Passion was an includer. He left the ninety-nine, knowing they might not follow, to include the one. The lonely. The boy who was brave enough to ask to be included. He sided with the lost. My heart swelled with pride.
Right up until the moment when he punched another park pal for tagging him out. You win some, you lose some.
Mamas, I have learned to be a better includer by watching my children. Man of Passon’s simple but brave choice to open the circle that day also opened my heart.
Unfortunately, closing the circle seems to be something we naturally get better at as we move towards adulthood. Unless we are intentional, we stay with the people who think like us, act like us, know the boundaries, and know who has the power. I challenge you to look for the one–the one who doesn’t fit in, the one who doesn’t know the secret rules–and leave your ninety-nine to include the one. Look around at the PTA meetings, the homeschool co-op, the park. Broaden your eyesight at the church potluck and the sports games. Be the includer, leave your comfort zone for the chance to bring in the one. And if you’re the “one,” be brave and keep looking for your flock. We’re better and stronger together.
*Child’s name was changed