Wandering Away


Our neighbors had a 17-year-old dog, Hickory. I say had because while they were on vacation and the dog was being cared for at home by others, Hickory wandered off and has not been seen since.

It’s common for sick and dying animals to wander away. They separate themselves from their normal world and find a quiet place elsewhere to lay down and die. We all suspect that’s just what Hickory did.

While it’s a sad thing to lose a beloved pet that way, it’s even more heartrending when a person wanders off to die. When people wander away, it’s not usually to due to a terminal illness or decrepitude. Instead, they wander off to die emotionally or spiritually.

I’m sure if God gave me eyes to see the numbers of people I’ve encountered in my life who have wandered away from Him, I’d be staggered. As it is, I already know too many.  I’m sure you do , too. (If not, consider reading this past post and follow the main link in it to see if your memory gets a refresher.)

Jesus had this to say:

What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?
—Luke 15:4

I’ll go even farther than Jesus does with his illustration, which is about seeking the unsaved, and say that while a lost sinner who remains lost is a tragedy, nearly as bad is a believer who wanders away.

And what is our responsibility to those nameless people in our churches every Sunday who are there for a few months and then are gone, never to be seen again? What is their story? Do we even care to know it? Perhaps if we had, they would not have wandered away.

We live in a world that would prefer that the weak, the disabled, the stunned, and the emotionally shattered would just wander away and die like some animal on its last legs. Better that they do it out of sight than we have to bear with their prolonged downhill slide.

Yet it was those very people, the ones the Romans (who valued youth and virility) ignored and left to die, who were cared for by the early Church. Most historians agree that the exponential growth of the early Church in Rome came because it refused to let the marginalized and weak go ignored in their time of need.

Consider the Best Picture winner of 1978, The Deer Hunter (Spoiler Alert!):

Nick, Mike, and Steven are close friends from a steel town in Pennsylvania. All three ship off to fight in Vietnam, with all three captured and tortured by the Viet Cong. The method of psychological torture? All three are forced to play Russian roulette for their VC captors. When the trio create an opportunity to escape, only Nick is able to board the rescue ‘copter, with Mike and Steven left behind. In the attempt, Steven’s legs are badly damaged. The enemy on their tails, Mike manages to carry Steven to safety in friendly territory. Nick, meanwhile, vanishes.

At war’s end, Steven winds up in a home for disabled vets. Mike wanders the seedier side of Saigon and glimpses Nick in the gallery of a gambling hall where people play Russian roulette for money. The two don’t meet.

Eventually, Mike returns home. He reunites with Steven, only to hear that Nick has been sending Steven huge amounts of money. Mike knows how. Desperate to save his friend, he returns to the gambling hall where Nick is playing Russian roulette. To speak with Nick and convince him to come home, Mike must play Russian roulette too.

I’ll leave the ending for you to see.

Mike wouldn’t let Nick wander away. He risked his life just to speak with his friend, The Deer Hunterwho had, by then, been reduced to a shell by his handlers and the psychological torment he’d endured.

If anyone in this world is equipped to go into the hellholes of life and reach those who have wandered away, it’s the Christian.

Yet what is the answer most often given by Christians to the question Why do other people wander away? I know I have heard the most common answer more often than I can count: “Because their faith is weak.”

It’s a simple enough answer, isn’t it? The only problem is that it’s a simplistic answer, the kind that bears little of the humility of genuine Christian love and more of spiritual pride. It’s the answer of dispassionate church boards, elders who only love status, distracted church members, and tired pastors who long ago stopped caring.

In the Kingdom of God, what is true to the heart of the Lord runs counter to conventional wisdom and simplistic answers. When posed with the same question of why other people wander away, the true Christian responds not only in humility, but also with an answer that begs a deeper question: “Because my faith is weak.”

See, anyone can rationalize why other people fail, leaving them to wander away unmissed, but it takes someone who believes in a big God to put a figurative gun to the head to ensure one of God’s lost sheep doesn’t wander away to die.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
—John 15:13







5 thoughts on “Wandering Away

  1. Normandie

    I wish I had answers, Dan. I wish I knew why some folk don’t answer the call, why some take immediate offense when Christians fail them (or God ), why some never dig in or hang in or press on and why others can’t wait or get enough or stick with faith through thick and thin.

    I know God doesn’t love me more. So why did I meet and fall in love with Him while my brother didn’t/won’t and my daughter can’t get past offenses and my mother still thinks I’ve opted for the opiate of the masses?

    But you’re right about one thing: if we as lovers of Christ don’t bother to try to find out why, if we don’t bother to call or visit or continue to love those who haven’t quite made the final leap or who have so much stuff going on inside that they miss the sweet voice of Jesus calling them back, then we’re like the watchman who’s going to have a whole lot of questions to answer one day.

    A personal note: God suggested I start making weekly phone calls to my old-maid aunt. In those days I had occasional contact with her on holidays; nothing more. She hated the church (which meant God to her) because she’d taken offense in her youth. She was then in her late seventies.

    Obeying that directive wasn’t easy. When I started calling, she’d “Umph” at my hello.I always ended the conversation with, “I love you.” It wasn’t long before my mother phoned to say her sister didn’t want any mention of the “L” word. Period. Please desist. I refused. “Umph.” “I love you.” For three months. Thanksgiving came. My aunt stood in my mother’s kitchen and said, “I love you,” for probably the first time in her life.

    When she needed a caretaker, my son and I were available. God in His symbiotic way provided for each of us. By the time she died nine years later, she had met the Lord and now dances with Him.

    Obedience isn’t always easy. But if we hang in there, it reaps rewards we can’t even imagine.

  2. bob pinto

    Good to hear a few stories with happy endings. Seen a few myself.

    Friendships may sound like a lousy reason to continue going to church but they can sure get you through the bad times when you feel like wandering off. I’ve wandered off myself on occasion and nobody noticed. Happily, that wouldn’t happen to me now.

    There are people who are insecure and don’t know how to make themselves known or interact. They don’t know that a big church might be the worst place to go.

    Well meaning people will foul up on you bad and not give you the same degree of love they give others. I dread a long slow health demise for this reason.

    This is a great fault of our society. It’s worse in families where nobody wants you for anything unless they need something. And, yes, my own faith is weak.

  3. Normandie


    I hear you. I’ve been there, and it’s a terrible thing to feel lost in a group — or a family — to go to the one place that ought to love you and find everyone so caught up in him/herself that your presence is barely noticed. It takes a rare leader to teach members how to reach out, how to look beyond themselves to others. And you’re right: in our society, even families aren’t taught how to love one another.

    One more story. I was always very shy, terrified of being noticed–and at almost 5’11” I was far too visible. One day I happened to be the first woman to arrive at a gathering, only to find five visitors already gathered at a table. I stood at the door, petrified. I knew I ought to greet them; I’d been raised with all the social graces. But, oh, I didn’t want to! I wanted to turn around and hide until someone else came to the rescue. Then the voice of the Lord thudded into my head: “Your shyness is sin. You’re so busy thinking about yourself and your needs that you’re missing what I want, which is that you think first of others’ needs.”

    Whoa. Talk about a shock. Who would have thought being shy was displeasing to the Lord? But He had my attention, and when I obeyed, marching over there with my heart in my throat and sweat beading down my back to welcome that group of ladies, my life began to change. I, the tall shy girl who rarely spoke, became someone the Lord could trust with more — all because I’d been faithful in the small thing He asked of me.

    So, my friend. People are always going to let you down, but the Lord is ever faithful. If you can remember in Whom we’re to trust, keeping your eyes focused heavenward instead of either on your own pain or others’ rejection, you may hear Him whisper just the faith-building words you need. And just perhaps, if you step out with your hand extended instead of waiting for someone to come to you, you’ll find a person in need of you at the other end. In the many years since that day when I looked beyond my fears into the faces of others, I’ve found countless people just waiting for someone to reach out to them. Imagine if I’d remained trapped inside myself? Oh, the smiles I’d have missed! And the friends I’d never have made.

  4. Gayle

    I am having a terrible time since my mother has been attending a church that is based on the bible with humanistic interpretation and no belief in hell and the Christ is in everyone,etc I am so sad because she is 80 and ? we have shared the lord together forever, my brother in another state was atheist for 30 years and he has led her down this path with other books too this last year and just the last few months to the church. I am the only one who lives near here. My sister in another state now attends this church too leaving a baptist background. They wanted me to go and I explained it is not Christian nicely and would not go. My mother got agree when I tried to review there statements and explain it contradicts bible and no mention of Christ our savior. Aim sad,angry and wanting to stay away and hope she misses our close relationship. I am torn up with how to be to my mom now. Please help me.

    • Gayle,

      I am not an expert on restoring family members who have drifted away. I will share what I do know, and you can take that for what it’s worth.

      1. Pray for your mom and the rest of your family that God the Father would open their eyes and make Himself real and true in their lives, both by the truth of His Word and by the power of His Presence.

      2. Pray some more.

      3. Be the most loving, caring, calm, centered, relaxed, joyful, helpful, thoughtful, and wonderful person they know. That means getting in front of God and letting Him make you into that person.

      4. A controversial thought, but I’m sharing it anyway: Any one church has less influence over someone than most think. Unless being at that humanistic church or participating in its life outside of Sunday dominates in the life of your mother, it will have less influence than you think. Besides, our salvation is found in Christ, not the church we attend. The outside forces operating on the lives of your loved ones are likely more influential than the church. This is why your being present in their lives as a Light is more important. Don’t give that church more power than it actually has.

      5. Rest. Go to God and rest. Put it all in His hands. Ultimately, all control is His.

      God bless you.

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