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  • Ross Moughtin

Searching for lost keys, how not to panic.


Late start today. Apologies. The reason is I’ve been hunting for lost things. First, Jacqui with an appointment at 9.00 couldn’t find her bag. Hurried search: I eventually find it. Then as soon as Jacqui drives off, daughter Beth staying overnight with her two girls couldn’t find her car keys. To be fair, they had a reasonable excuse. Our house is still in some disarray as we gradually unpack following our house move last week. Boxes are shifted, piles are rearranged, some things are ditched. We still have no settled routine. However, that’s no consolation when you are late and you can’t find what you need to get there. And for me losing things is a spiritual test which I invariably fail. I get annoyed with God: he knows where it is and he won’t tell me. You all know the feeling, it’s part of being human. You lose something and your first response is a quick survey, going from room to room, shouting for help. “Has anyone seen my (whatever)?” Then we start the systematic search, although in my case I use the word systematic somewhat loosely. This soon evolves into panic as we open empty drawers a second, even a third, time. We start to weep, even rail against heaven. We may do our best to calm down as we try and work out where we have been, looking into our history rather looking round our house. And at some point, we may have to come to terms with losing it, possibly calling a cab, borrowing some money or just asking forgiveness. I must say I found (sic) a book reviewed in the New York Times some months ago hugely helpful. As soon as I saw the title, I knew this was meant for me: “How to Find Lost Objects.” Even the author’s name held a promise straight from the Old Testament: Michael Solomon. Solomon’s rule #1: Stay calm and search on. He writes: “There are no missing objects. Only unsystematic searchers.” He’s right. Rule #2: Be disciplined in your search. “Don’t go round in circles. No matter how promising a site — if the object wasn’t there the first time, it won’t be there the second.” “Go from one room to another, and only move on if you think you have searched everywhere in that room. Once you have thoroughly searched an area and ruled it out, don’t waste time returning to it.” How true. And then the key rule which lead to me finding Jacqui’s bag this morning. Rule #3: Focus on cluttered areas. Here we have to thank some academics in Scotland for this golden gem. “The most efficient way to find something is not to look where you don’t need to look,” advises one of the team from Aberdeen university. “For example, if you’re looking for your keys, you should focus on the areas with the most clutter because if they were somewhere more obvious, you would have found them by now. “Our results suggest people probably waste a great deal of time looking in locations that they already know don’t contain the thing they are looking for.” They were clearly thinking of me. In fact, I used this rule this morning to find Jacqui’s lost bag. I headed for the place with the most disorder, here in my study where we had been sorting out all our pictures. It was there, right in the middle of the pile. Rule #4 Retrace your steps. This forming a mental image of what you were doing, even how you were feeling when you last saw the missing item. Relive the entire experience as much as you can. If you are interested, this is called context reinstatement. Clearly the woman in Jesus’ parable must have read Mr Solomon’s book. You know the story, she has ten silver coins and somehow loses one, possibly some days ago. It may have represented her dowry. Whatever, it was a significant loss, it meant a lot to her. There wouldn’t have been much clutter in a Palestinian home but there again, there wouldn’t have been any light. No windows. But she stays calm and focuses. Jesus tells us. “Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? (Luke 15:8) You can imagine her methodical sweeping, running her fingers through the dirt, area by area. Clearly it takes her some time. I guess she begins to get worried, even panic because when she finds her coin, she is elated. So much so, in fact, that she rushes out and calls to her friends and neighbours. “Come on over. We're celebrating my finding a lost coin.” Again, we all know the feeling, of finding a lost object maybe even as we were giving up. That sense of sheer joy, of anxiety relieved, so much so you want to share it with whoever may have the misfortune to be around. Well, hold onto to that feeling, says Jesus. That is how God feels when you are found. For Jesus tells the story from God’s perspective. God is overjoyed, yes God himself, the creator of heaven and earth. “Count on it—that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God.” (Luke 15:10, Message translation) Yet another surprise from Jesus. Remember this next time you find a missing object.

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