Lost Cause?

Lost Cause?

He prayed for his son at every house we visited.

Carol Toay lived in Edgeley, North Dakota, when this article was written. It originally appeared in the Mid-America Union magazine, Outlook, in August 2002.

IT HAD BEEN ALMOST 30 years since I met him. It had been almost 30 years since I thought about him, and now I couldn’t get him out of my mind. This gentle, kind man with a crushing heartache had displayed a quiet hope.

I was a happy 18-year-old freshman at Union College when I decided to spend the summer canvassing in Colorado. Not only was I in Colorado, far from the cornfields of Iowa, but I was in a beautiful area, Buena Vista and Leadville. While there I understood the reason for the peace and contentment of my Colorado peers. Who would want to live anywhere else?

The scenery, the interesting people, the fun weekend hiking and camping with the Leadville church family, working with my patient friend Bonnie, enjoying every minute of living with the Sherbondys—all of these memories took a back seat as I thought of him now. Jim Smith,* the director of the literature evangelist work in Colorado, had come to guide and support us that summer.

He was a people person. Tall and gray-haired, he had a face lined with wrinkles, but his eyes and voice exuded kindness, comfort, and safety. He showed interest in what we had to say. He listened. He chuckled. He cared. He told us about his son John.* We could all tell that he loved John very much.

John was living a life he had not been raised to live—a dangerous life. He was a hippie and had turned away from God. He had chosen friends who did not have a positive influence on him. His father’s heart was broken. When Jim worked with Bonnie and me, he always asked the person with whom we were visiting if he could pray before we left. I was amazed to hear him pray for his precious son.

How can he bare his soul like this to strangers? I wondered. In every home, with every person, every time, he explained how he loved this son who was living a life apart from God. He simply wanted his son to return to God. He was leaving it in God’s hands.

I wondered at his prayers. Why did he pray so? I concluded that his son was a lost cause. He could never overcome the life he had chosen.

Years later, a married mother, I listened to a woman speaking at a women’s retreat. She told about her life as the wife of a conference president and the work she and her husband were doing in the eastern United States. Her husband? John Smith, the very child for whom Jim had prayed for so many years. 

Now it was my time of heartbreak. Sometimes feeling more dead than alive, I prayed for my child. Throwing myself at the feet of God, I pleaded, cried, sometimes able to utter only two words: “Remember me.” I thought of Jim Smith. I thought 

of his brave hope. I thought of his acceptance of the fact that he could do nothing but pray. And he did. His son had been plucked from a hopeless, godless life. This gentle, hurting father had smiled and prayed and prayed and prayed.

Prayer works. God hears. The lost cause was overcome by God’s goodness. I will pray and pray and pray.


* Names have been changed.