Most Saturdays during those years of my childhood were race days. After much tender raising and careful training, a volunteer drove the caged birds far away and released them. Barefooted in our small backyard, my siblings and I spent many hours squinting in the Florida sun betting on which bird would arrive first.
All day, the back door slammed– opening and closing– sparking frequent shouting matches among my siblings over whose prediction was right.
The strongest birds arrived quickly. They focused on the finish and obediently fluttered into the coop to receive rest and reward.
Other birds– the skeptics— arrived home in a timely manner but remained on the wires or in the tree limbs that hung above our house. They lingered longer than we wanted, which added minutes to their clocked arrival time.
Eventually, after coaxing and wooing, they would surrender to their fatigue and squeeze through the coop doors to receive rest and reward.
But the birds whose arrival was the most anticipated were the stragglers. They were gone longer than the others, hours or even days, and we spent more time and energy waiting on their arrival than the others. In addition to the extra discussions concerning their whereabouts, we invested more of ourselves watching the sky for an appearance.
Worry mounted in the waiting.
But often unexpectedly and with no one watching, one or two stragglers would quietly appear: dazed and confused, tired and hungry.
The stragglers didn’t need coaxing or wooing into the nest. They knew what was waiting and were eager to receive their rest and reward.
Do any of these varying personalities sound like someone in your family? Maybe you have one child who is strong and obedient, while another is skeptical and suspicious, but eventually surrenders to the comfort and love of home. Maybe your family is a combination of these differing natures and includes one or two stragglers who require more of your time and energy.
Similar to my childhood Saturdays spent waiting, you may feel like you have waited a long time for the arrival of a Straggler. And the wayward child who lingers too long in the night causes your worry to mount.
No matter how long you have waited for a Straggler, you can rest assured the delay is not in vain. God has a powerful plan emerging from the pain to offer rest and reward.
When His plan works through our pain, it changes us:
Our hardened hearts soften into faith, patience, and compassion.
Our prayer focus changes from our weak Straggler to our strong Savior.
Our doubting spirits quicken at the faithfulness of God.
C.S. Lewis said, “ Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
God’s life-changing rewards comfort us during the tension-filled waiting for Stragglers.
When God’s plan emerges from our pain, worry takes flight and hope soars.
And when our Straggler suddenly appears on our doorstep, weary, hungry, and exhausted, our joy will overflow as we give thanks for the reward of their changed hearts and changed lives.
Our gratitude will climb to new heights when we welcome our child into the nest knowing they are eager to receive their rest and reward.
In keeping with the November tradition of giving thanks, will you join me in a prayer:
A Prayer of Thanksgiving for the Straggler
Thank you for the Straggler who struggles with faith, family, and fear:
Their suspicions refine our hearts to fiercely believe, boldly love, and wholeheartedly trust.
We believe the Light will dispel their darkness and bring them home.
Thank you for the Straggler who struggles with depression, dependency, and disinterest:
Their fight inspires our pursuit of wise counsel, persevering patience, and a practice of
We believe Love will dispel their self-hatred and bring them home.
Thank you for the Straggler who struggles with choices, commitments, and confusion:
Their vulnerability unveils our brokenness and reveals a clearer understanding of God’s
We believe the Promise Keeper will dispel their hopelessness and bring them home.
While we wait for our Stragglers with our necks craned heavenward, we won’t stop watching and we won’t lose hope because of this promise found in I Peter 5:10: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.”
And if we believe the words, “His eye is on the sparrow,” then we can trust His eye is on our Straggler who is apparently taking the scenic way home.
Waiting with you,