Lost and Found: Depression and Isolation (Luke 15:1-10)
By Karyn L Wiseman
I went to Junior High and High School in the West Texas community of Andrews. It was a loving and vibrant community where high school football and marching band were important. I was a band geek and loved working with our band director, Jim Harvey. In 1984, Jim and his family went to their usual Colorado vacation spot to spend part of the summer. On July 11, their 14-year-old son, Chris, went for a walk with their dog. He visited with a friend in the trailer park at about 3pm. The dog returned to their home later but Chris never did.
At 11pm they contacted the sheriff's office and a full-scale search began. For weeks volunteers searched the mountain area around the trailer park where they were staying. Posters with pictures of Chris were circulated around the area, across the state, and then on to surrounding states. For years the Harvey Family returned to try to get some small clue as to what happened to their son. They received some false leads but have never found any sign of Chris. I was disturbed by the story since I loved my band director. But I was also disturbed by the fact that they never found a single shred of evidence as to what happened.
That story stayed with me for years. And it reared its head when I adopted my son in 1999. I had been impacted by the story of this lost child and it crept into my parenting. I was worried about my son in public. I kept a sharp eye on him and I did everything I could to assure he never became lost.
It led to a bit of helicopter parenting in my life. My son, as he aged, chaffed at the hovering. He assured me over and over that he was fine and he knew what to do if anyone ever tried to take him or if he got lost.
Once when he was little, however, he did get separated from me in a department store and I panicked, like most parents would. I had stopped to look at an item and he kept on moving forward. He got into an area with lots of clothing racks and he couldn't see me. And I couldn't see him. He panicked and eventually hollered out. Within about a minute we were reunited. But as every parent knows - that 60 seconds or so felt like an eternity.
I cannot imagine what the Harveys and other parents of lost kids go through. I cannot imagine not knowing where your child is for hours, days, weeks, months, or years. I cannot imagine the feelings of grief and fear. I cannot imagine searching that diligently and finding nothing. But I can to a very small degree know how loss can impact people who hear those stories and fear for the same thing in their own lives.
It made me afraid of my son becoming lost - even as he got older. I kept an eye on him. I made sure he checked in by phone if he was away. And I monitored his internet activity when he first got online, because the internet is a huge place with lots of cracks and crevices to get lost in.
The truth is that you can easily get lost in today's world - in the real world and the virtual world. It's easy to get lost in cyberspace and all of the options for social media interaction, online gaming, and surfing the net. Lost in the fear and anger that is perpetuated in almost every sphere of our lives. Lost physically through isolation and the void of "pseudo-connection." Lost from our families and friends due to bad relationships or bad decisions. Lost to greed, temptation, addiction, and obsessions. And lost from connections to faith, the church, and God.
Being lost is scary. Being alone and fearful is rough. Feeling lost can bring us to our knees. It can lead to depression and addiction in frightening ways.
Today's text is a parable about being lost. These two stories are vivid and clear. Yes, they are about a lost sheep and a lost coin, but in the end they are also about so much more.
Jesus attempts to teach the Pharisees and scribes about something lost and later found. They have questioned him - once again - about his associations with the least, the lost, and the left behind of society and he tries - once again - to set them straight. He was in relationship with these lost people.
To be in relationship means to search out community, connections, and communal bonds. But today many of our relationships are strained or less than fully developed and engaged due to our cultural obsession with technology and social media, among many other things.
I teach about the power of technology and social media to bring together people we connect with in our lives and with the story of faith. I utilize social media on a regular basis in my ministry and in my personal life. I believe in the power of connection through the medium of technology. I fully support their use.
But I also know that sometimes and for some people technology isolates and keeps them disconnected. Many people hide their fear and lost-ness behind their social media presence. Some people sit in the midst of isolation and depression with nothing but a screen to keep them company.
Fear and isolation can bring about behavior that a screen relationship can't really fix. Fear and isolation that grows as we sit behind our multiple screens has led to violent and angry posts. They have led to people feeling secure enough behind those screens to say things they would likely never say in public or to another person face-to-face. They have also led to people feeling lost, depressed, and afraid.
In the text this week Jesus is talking about a lost sheep and a lost coin. But in reality he is talking about being found. Found by the seeking shepherd and by the searching woman. And ultimately found by God. In the story we get no clue how they get lost. We have no idea what separated them from the shepherd or the woman. We only know they are lost.
It's so easy to fear losing someone we love or to get lost ourselves. It's so easy to fall victim to fear. It's so easy to fall victim to isolation and depression. It's so easy to lose one's way in the world - real or digital.
But being found ... that's another story.
Being found means that being lost, possibly fearful, and feeling isolated have happened. To be found means needing the shepherd or the woman or God to come search for you.
In the passage, the language about the sheep and the coin are in a passive voice. But the language used for the shepherd and the woman are in an active voice. The searching is a vigorous reality. There is intentionality and purpose in the searching. I believe that in all we do, in all of the places where we are lost, and wherever we are - God is searching for us.
Where are you lost? Where are you afraid? In what ways do you need to be found?
Because I'm telling you, I believe that God is searching for you always. Are you ready to be found?
Bible Study Questions:
1. How much time do you spend in real relationship building in your life? Either in real life or online? Could you go without your cell phone for a day, a week, a month, or a year?
2. What is it that keeps you afraid or lost in your life? Where does that fear and lost-ness come from? Where do you experience it? How have you been found?
3. What kinds of relationships do you foster online and how do they differ from ones in your everyday real life? Have you felt depression associated with these relationships?
For Further Reading:
1. Monica A Coleman. Bipolar Faith: A Black Woman's Journey with Depression and Faith. Fortress Press, July 1, 2016.
2. "1 year without a cell phone" written by Chelsea Smith on the Blog, Port of the Sea: true stories from a temporary nomad
3. Kyle Chayka. " Let's Really Be Friends." A discussion of online relationships and intimacy.
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