Edward Waters         Bard of the Grey Wind

THE LOST CHILD

By Edward Waters


       
One day, while visiting a strange city, a man discovered a small child living in a back alley.  She was filthy and foul-smelling, crawling with lice and dressed in rags that barely hid the skeleton which passed for her body.  Her only shelter was an old corrugated box set against a wall beneath a fire-escape.  Her bed was a pile of damp newspapers.  And most of her food, such as it was, came from a large dumpster at the front of the alley near where it opened onto the street.  
     

        That was where he first saw her, climbing out of the rusty metal vault, her arms full of rotting scraps.  When he started toward her she dropped everything, fled to her box, and hid as best she could in the shadows of its recess.  The man followed, but stopped a few yards away.  All he could see were her bony toes and ankles, and her huge eyes as they caught what dim light the alley allowed.  He tried to speak to her, but she only began shaking with terror.  So he left.  He returned a short while later, however, with real food and several blankets.  The child still would not come out, but the man set his gifts on the ground and left once more.


       
The next day he was back and noted with satisfaction that the food had been eaten and the blankets taken.  He had brought more food, which he set down as before.  He stayed only briefly, but he did say a few words of greeting in a kind voice, and this time the girl did not shake.  She remained in her box, but she simply watched him in silence.


       
This went on for more than a week before the man earned some show of confidence.  Eventually, however, the child began to come out and take away the food while he was still present, as long as he kept a safe distance.  He always spoke to her, and though she never answered, she seemed to understand something of what he said.  After two weeks she would even eat the food where he laid it, and allow him to talk at greater length while she crammed whole handfuls into her mouth.  He told her stories, about what he did for a living, the places he had been, and the wonders he had seen.  And sometimes a look would come into her eyes, as if for the first time her imagination was beginning to venture beyond the dirty brick walls surrounding her.


       
By the third week, he would see her at the mouth of the alley waiting for him.  As he approached she always retreated into the dark passage, but when he rounded the corner she would be standing before her box expectantly.  And now, though obviously cautious, she would take the plate from his hands.


        Then one day, as she ate, he began to tell her a different kind of story.  He said that he was her father -- that, when she was so young she could barely walk, she had been kidnapped.  A ransom had been demanded and paid, but she was not returned.  Eventually the kidnappers were caught and punished, but by then the child was no longer with them, though they insisted she had been alive when they last saw her.


       
Ever since, the father had searched for his lost child, following every trace of a lead until, after years, he had come to this alley.  And now that he had found her, he was ready to take her away and give her a new life -- one where she would have a home with a real roof overhead, and a warm bed to sleep in; where she would have plenty to eat, and always be loved.


       
But as the man spoke, the child's eyes grew wide with fear.  Suddenly she dropped the food and scurried back into her box.  She grabbed up the blankets and threw them out onto the ground; then huddled in the corner, trembling violently.  Now nothing he said could calm her.


       
She could not comprehend a real home or a warm bed, plenty of food or being loved.  What she did understand was that this stranger wanted to take her away from everything familiar.  As pitiful as it was, this world was her idea of safety.  She preferred what she knew over his unbelievable promises. 

 

        Many people see God as a strict taskmaster and live in dread (or resentment) of His judgment and wrath.  Others point to Jesus, who they say reveals a God more about forgiveness and love.  Sometimes, however, I suspect that what we call divine wrath and love may be the same thing -- that they appear different only because of our perspective.


       
We cringe before a God who seems to demand that we give up all the pleasures and securities we have eked out as best we could in a hard world, and who threatens us with condemnation if we refuse.  But, in reality, a loving Father is saying, 'Come away.  Leave the dark alley, the battered box, the soggy newspapers, the ragged clothes, and the rotting food.  Look beyond all you've ever known, and let Me show you real life, your true home, and joy you never dreamed possible.'  Concerning condemnation, C.S. Lewis wrote, 'There are only two kinds of people in the end:  those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done."'  The worst condemnation of all would be for Him to give us over to what we think we want, and it is perhaps the greatest proof of His love that He keeps trying not to do so.


       
Yet, because we cannot bring ourselves to trust Him, we interpret His call as foolishness, His whisper as discouragement, His touch as danger, and His push as cruel misfortune.  He takes no pleasure in our suffering, but as He strives to free our hearts from the 'treasures' that shackle us, we persist in understanding Him only in terms of our fear.  As George MacDonald wrote, 'Man finds it hard to get what he wants, because he does not want the best; God finds it hard to give, because He would give the best, and man will not take it.'


       
The wrath of God is the great and terrible darkness that stretches out before me when my back is turned to His light.  Yet it is also my own shadow.  The light, however, is undiminished, and His love is unchanged.  Everything depends on which way I am facing; and the shadow vanishes as I abandon fear, turn toward Him, and believe what He has promised.


       
Jesus said, 'Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.'  Believe Him.  Go with Him.  Look beyond all you have ever known, and let Him show you real life.

 

______________________________________________________________________________

       Revised from an article first published by Covenant Fellowship of Greensboro, NC, and which appeared later the same year in Stirrings of the Greywind, High Summer 2002 (vol. 8, no. 2).  Copyright © 2002, 2006 by Edward Waters.
______________________________________________________________________________

References:

Lewis, C.S.  The Great Divorce.  1945.

MacDonald, George.  'Life.'  Unspoken Sermons.  Second Series.  1885.

Matthew 11.28
 

 
 

Back to General Writings Index