At an early age I was taught about the providence of God. One of the first verses my mother had me memorize was Romans 8:28—“And we know that in all things God works for good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV). Knowing that God has good plan for our lives is one of the simple aspects of faith we begin to teach our children.
So, when did I forget the simple, yet oh-so-important, concept of providence?
I am not sure, but I did forget.
I became aware of this fact this past August when my wife and I moved to Marshall.
It all began the day I lost my watch.
Now, the watch in question is not your ordinary Timex from Target. It is special. It is valuable because of it price—at least 15 times more than I have ever spent on a watch—and because of its origin—it was a gift from my wife’s parents on the day I completed my PhD.
It is the kind of watch that I have always wanted, but would never buy for myself. It is the kind of watch that says that I am a real grown-up, serious about telling time. It is the kind of watch I imagine passing down to my son (which one, I haven’t decided).
So, sometime during the dark hours of our first night in our new home, my watch was quietly removed from the console of my unlocked car in our driveway. It was devastating. I knew that it would be a long time before I could afford another watch like that. I knew that I could also never replace its significance as a gift. I was disappointed, to say the least.
We did all the things you are supposed to do—called the police, asked the neighbors if they saw anything, visited pawn shops, reported the theft to the insurance company—and there seemed to be no hope of ever finding the watch.
After word got around to the neighbors, my colleagues at work, and my family members I remember repeatedly hearing the same phrase from several people, “Oh, I will pray that you find it.”
That phrase, even though I am a God-fearing, Jesus-following, Providence-believing Christian, seemed ridiculous to me.
My educated, grown-up mind told me that it was gone, either sold for easy cash or it had become a permanent part of the wardrobe of the thief that took it. How would prayer miraculously bring the watch back to me? The possibility that God would convince the thief to bring it back or somehow keep it safe in the pawn shop until I arrived to get ti was not just unlikely; it seemed an impossibility to me.
It also seemed absurd to think that God, who must concern himself with all the troubles in the world—starvation in North Korea, wars in the Middle East, poverty in the city where I live, or the plight of small children suffering under unimaginable oppression and abuse—would be concerned in the least bit with a stolen watch.
I told my wife after hearing the “I will pray you will find it” phrase from one individual that I did not want God to give one thought to my watch. It seemed downright selfish to even imagine that God should care about one silly watch, just because it meant a lot to me and I asked him for it. I told her that I would not even pray for God to give my watch back.
But, I prayed it nonetheless. The watch means a great deal to me, and I wanted it back.
The ironic thing is the timing of the missing watch. You see, my wife and I had spent the better part of two years trying to find God’s plan for us. As I neared the completion of my degree we sought out God’s will for us on a daily basis, constantly fretting about where I would get a permanent job, where we would settle.
At the very moment in which we finally found a home, I lost the watch and was not just convinced that I would not find it; I was also convinced that it was too small a thing for God to be concerned with.
The lost watch represented my own questions about the nature of God’s plan for my life. Does God really care about the plan for my life? Does he even care about the little things, like a lost watch?
This lost watch was a synecdoche for my lost soul. That’s a fancy word we English professors use when a small part of something stands in for or represents the whole.
If I really believe that God did not care about my watch, then how could I believe that God did care about the direction of my life?
Eventually, I was calmly resigned to the fact that the watch was lost forever. I was not mad at God. I was just certain that sometimes bad things happen; we move on. It wasn’t God’s fault because it really shouldn’t be any of his concern.
Well, as you can see from the picture, that is not the end of the story. One evening, several months later a neighbor came to our house and brought the watch to me. She had found it inside the bushes in front of her house less than a block away from our home. It seems that the thief had a change of heart for whatever reason and tossed the watch away. It lay there gathering dust for months, not a scratch on it.
I have spent a lot of time trying to answer the questions that come to mind when I think about the loss and miraculous return of my fancy watch. Why was it taken? Why did the thief not keep it? Why did several months pass before I found it?
I can’t help but imagine all the tiny little events that happened to ensure that the watch was returned to me. If the thief had understood its true value or completed his/her malevolent plans, it would never have been left behind. If it had fallen outside the bush, it could have been gobbled up by a lawn implement or found by someone else. If my neighbor had not been one of those people who said, “I will pray you get your watch back,” she might not have remembered that it belonged to me.
But, none of those things happened. What did happen is that God saw fit to return the watch to me. And I am grateful.
The best thing about the watch, though, is not how well it tells time. The best thing is that when I look at the time, I am reminded that God does indeed care about my life, even the little things.