The Lost Backpack

Updated: Jul 27

Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31 NASB)


On a recent spring day, Kent and I met up with our grandsons in front of their house for an outdoor adventure. We walked down to the ball fields and checked out the sheltered area in the forest where we had a built a fort the week before. It had been dismantled. Our older grandson, we’ll call him “Sam,” was all for rebuilding the fort. But Kent wanted to check out a little beach park about a mile away. Sam good-naturedly gave in, and we headed across the field and up the hill to a residential street deeply shaded by white oak street trees and the surrounding forest.


After 10 minutes or so, we noticed that Sam was not wearing his backpack or his fleece. “I left it at the fort!” he said. Sam immediately started running back the way we came, but paused reluctantly when we called him. “I need my backpack. If I find a snail, I won’t have a jar to put him in,” Sam said. I told him I had a jar in my backpack he could use. But the wheels were turning in his mind and he again started off, “I’m going to go get my backpack!”


“Sam! You can’t go by yourself,” we said. He came back reluctantly, with distress in his furrowed brow and wide eyes.


“It’ll be ok in the woods for a little bit,” we reasoned.


He didn’t try to disagree but just resolutely turned around and headed off again.


“Sam, wait!” He stopped, anguish in his face. Then Kent and I exchanged a look and agreed, “Ok, let’s go back and get it.”


In a split second, Sam’s brow unfurrowed, he grinned, and he took off at a brisk walk with the three of us following. I heard him call out, “Thank you, thank you!”


We retraced our steps, walked back through the forest and down the wooden steps, and stepped onto the east edge of the ball fields. The fort was directly across the field to the west. Sam set off at a gallop, like a dog chasing a squirrel. He disappeared into the shadowy trees and emerged a few moments later, hugging his backpack and fleece to his chest. His face glowed.


I couldn’t quite hear what he was repeating over and over, but the younger one, we’ll call him “Joe,” caught it. In a soft, sweet voice, Joe said, “He’s saying, ‘I love my backpack! I love my backpack!’” We all plopped down on the grass. Sam pulled out a snack bar and ferociously chomped it down.


I felt happy for Sam, but a bit ashamed too. Why did it take so long? Why didn’t I immediately say, “Let’s go get it!” when we first knew the backpack had been left behind?


Well, we had a plan. We liked our plan. The lost backpack was a problem, but we reasoned that it would be safe, and we’d find it when we returned. Kent and I were thinking mostly about ourselves, and only a little bit about the backpack.

But once we really noticed Sam’s distress, our concern shifted to him.


I also thought, What would I do if I had left my backpack in the woods? Walk the other way? No way. This brought to mind a snippet from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount that is so ingrained in our culture we have a name for it: the Golden Rule. I learned it like this as a child:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Another translation reads, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12 NASB).

When I really listened and saw my grandson’s distress, I could imagine myself in his place, and it was clear what to do.


Now, can I apply that to my neighbor—the world outside me and my family and my friends? Our world is in a time of great distress. The Golden Rule still rules. If I put myself in the place of my neighbor, listen and observe, what will I do? With love and effort and persistence, it will become clear.

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