Michelle Martin

Finding hope

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

In the last three days, I read a Chicago magazine story about the things you find if you just keep looking down in Chicago and a Chicago Tribune column by Mary Schmich about a woman who left her purse on the Red Line and had it returned to her. Then my 18-year-old son told me about finding someone’s wallet in a suburban fast-food restaurant parking lot and driving it over to the address listed on the ID.

The wallet belonged to a teenager, he said. The owner of the wallet didn’t appear to be home, Frank said, so he left it with the kid’s dad. There’s a good chance the kid didn’t even know it was gone, I told Frank.

That’s happened to me before. I once dropped a wallet getting into (or out of? I don’t know) my car, and by the time I got home, someone who lived near where I dropped it had called and left a message saying they found it and kept it safe for me.

But it’s also happened that I left a purse in a fast-food restaurant booth, remembered it moments after walking out the door, and returned to find it gone, never to be seen again. Was the maybe $5 inside worth that much to somebody? I was a college freshman at the time, and had no credit card, debit card or really much of anything of value.

The stories I heard this week run the gamut: Tom Chiarella’s story in Chicago, which ran in 2017, is a catalogue of things lost but not found by their owners, except for a working cell phone he was able to return; the woman in Mary Schmich’s column got the message her purse had been found hours later, but not until after she and her husband had canceled credit cards and changed locks; and the wallet my son found had probably not been missing long at all.

That’s the thing with lost possessions: Once they leave us, in a very real sense we no longer possess them at all. Whether we get them back depends on chance and the kindness of strangers.

The Gospels are full of stories of lost things, from coins to sheep to people. In every case, the person who suffered the loss goes to great lengths to find the item again, giving of their time and, in the case of the shepherd with the lost sheep, putting their other possessions at risk. But finding the item is never a sure thing.

In all of those parables, God is the one looking for what is lost. We are invited to see ourselves in the things being sought. We, who are inevitably sinners, are the prodigal son, the widow’s lost coin and the lost sheep, and God is looking for us.

Will we leave it up to chance, or the kindness of strangers, whether we will be found? Will we, like the prodigal son, return on our own, desperate and chastened, to find a welcome we neither expect nor feel we deserve? It’s up to us to do our part in being found.


  • family life