Truly I say to you, as you did it not to the least of these, you did it not to me. – Matthew 25:45
When Todd was four years old, we lived in Lawton, Oklahoma, where I served in the Army as a chaplain. On Saturday we had gone out for a Chinese dinner with our friends Skip and Carol. We were sitting in our paper walled booth eavesdropping on the couple in the booth next to us and had just received our egg drop soup when I was called to the phone. It was Vicki, our babysitter.
When we left home Vicki was in the house with the baby, Bethany. Todd was out in the yard as usual playing with Harry his next door friend. It was now 9:00 pm and dark. Todd had not come home. Nor were he and Harry next door playing. Vicki was crying because Todd could not be found. He was gone. He was lost.
We immediately left our eavesdropping and our soup and rushed home. First we searched the yard, then the house, then the yard again, then we called the police, and then moved outside to search the neighborhood. From 9:30 until after midnight with the help of six policemen and twenty or twenty-five neighbors, we continued our house-to-house search including nearby ditches, neighborhood yards, and vacant lots. We searched silently; fearing the worst, hoping the best, and numbed beyond the verbalization of either.
Finally, at 12:20 am, Carol checked the upstairs back fire escape of a church two blocks away. It was unlocked. Down two halls inside a classroom sat Todd and Harry. They were sitting on the floor in the dark comforting themselves by pretending to look at books whose pictures they couldn’t see. They were alone. They were tired. They were hungry. But mostly, they were scared. They had climbed the back stairs to what they thought was a “candystore,” and upon entering the door had shut. They could neither push it open nor reach the lights. So they looked around, sat down to wait, and the darkness came.
When Carol brought the boys outside, two policemen picked them up and ran up the two-block hill to our home. As Todd was carried across the street he saw me in the distance, and leaning toward me with outstretched arms, cried out in a small, broken voice, “Where were you, Daddy? Where were you?”
And for the next three weeks as I tucked him in bed each night, he looked up sadly, and said it over and over again. And I persisted in my assurance with hugs and words that gave him no apparent comfort, “I was looking for you son. We all were looking for you.”
There is no doubt that this experience with my four-year-old lost son left its indelible imprint on me as a father. It also marked my faith. Later, as I studied alone, I closed my eyes to rethink the words “as you had done it unto me.” And in the silence of my inner self I caught a glimpse of hell. It would be hell to stand before the judgement seat and hear the crying, broken voice of God saying, “Where were you Rod? I was tired. I was hungry. I was alone. Where were you?”
Prayer: Lead us each to say to you Lord, “I am here. I am looking for you in the eyes of the tired, the hungry, and the alone.” Amen.