The boys had been missing for two hours. It was time to call for help.
I never imagined I’d be that father on the local evening news sitting next to a traumatized, desperate-looking wife, staring into a camera, and pleading for the safe return of his child.
But as my wife and I sped eastward on Farm Road 156 outside Springfield, Missouri, I resigned myself to that possibility. I didn’t know what else to do.
Our 7-year-old son, Omar, and a friend had been missing for two hours. Several other parents had helped comb our small, three-street neighborhood looking for the boys. It was getting dark, and they were nowhere to be found.
Fear gave way to full panic quite easily. (Have you ever experienced that?)
I pulled out my phone and dialed 9-1-1. My heart pounded as my right thumb hovered over the “send” button. Is this really happening? Is Omar gone? Has he been taken? I am actually about to report a missing child!
Fatherhood has taught me many things about myself and my relationship with God. Particularly, what it must be like for God when He sees a son or daughter stray outside the boundaries He’s set.
The first night I sat up with Omar after his birth in the hospital, I held that tiny baby boy, looked into his face, and just wept. I finally understood a new dimension of God’s overwhelming, indescribable love for people.
I realized in that moment no human being on earth would ever be more precious, valuable, and loved by me than my child. It was an instantaneous, fierce love. I’d suffer, lose everything, even die for my child. Him returning love to me wasn’t even a requirement. I would always love Omar, no matter what he did with his life. The same applies to his sister.
And, seven years later, as I sat in the passenger side of my truck frantically searching for Omar, I remember very briefly flashing back to that night in the hospital. The thought that it might be all over terrified me more than anything I’ve ever experienced.
Just before I could hit “send,” my wife, Tara, cried out, “There they are!”
I looked up, and just ahead about 200 yards we could see the boys pushing their bikes up the road. We were more than a mile from home! Why did they go so far?
We pulled up to them and I burst out of the truck. I wish I could tell you I ran and grabbed my son in an embrace of relief. But I didn’t.
The transition between fear and panic to intense anger was milliseconds. I tore into the boys and gave them a chewing-out all of Greene County could hear. And even more frustrating was how, after my three-minute tirade, they still had no idea what the big deal was. Seven years old! So innocent. So ignorant!
After we got home, we asked Omar why he didn’t come home at the agreed time and why he’d gone so far from home. His answer: “We were going to the James River.” We asked why. “We just wanted to have an adventure,” Omar replied.
At that time, the James River was swollen from recent rains and the water temperature was in the 50s. Neither of the boys could swim. What might have happened!
Before I could get angry and chew Omar out all over again, the Lord spoke softly to me: “You do this to me every day.”
The Lord was right. I do. In a way, I put God through a similar experience of Him frantically searching for me because of my wrong choices.
Men look for distractions, adventures, and new experiences. We often forget that — as we chase those things — we easily stray outside the boundaries of God’s designs for us.
One important thing fatherhood has taught me about my relationship with God is to be patient and extend extra grace to my children.
Our Heavenly Father pursues us and searches for us each day. Are we to be found? Have the distractions and lures to adventure drawn us out past His boundary lines?
This Father’s Day, think about the patience and grace extended to you by God. It will help you in those moments when fear and worry over your child becomes a crushing weight.
Anger is the easy path. It takes a godly man of courage to choose patience, faith, and grace. I had an opportunity to grow closer to my son on that farm road three years ago, and I missed it. God had to teach me a hard lesson.
If that describes you today, take a moment and spend time with God. Ask Him for help in being a better dad this year.
Photo: Dan Kersten with son, Omar.