Text by: Robert Lowry

Tune by: Robert Lowry


1 Where is my wandering boy tonight—

The boy of my tenderest care,

The boy that was once my joy and light,

The child of my love and prayer?


O where is my boy tonight?

O where is my boy tonight?

My heart o’erflows, for I love him, he knows;

O where is my boy tonight?

2 Once he was pure as morning dew,

As he knelt at his mother’s knee;

No face was as bright, no heart more true,

And none was so sweet as he.


3 O could I see you now, my boy,

As fair as in olden time,

When prattle and smile made home a joy,

And life was a merry chime!


4 Go for my wandering boy tonight;

Go search for him where you will;

But bring him to me with all his blight,

And tell him I love him still.


You may know the great hymnist Robert Lowry’s most popular hymns: “Low in the Grave He Lay, Jesus, my Savior,” “My Life Flows on in Endless Song,” and “We Shall Gather at the River.” However, this is a very unique hymn, outside of the very last line in the first stanza, with the word “prayer,” there is no religious imagery or content. It is entirely written from the perspective of a parent whose child has left the home and is lost to them. As a parent of a son whose late teen and early 20’s were very troubled, this hymn speaks to me with an immediacy which belies its approximate 150 years of age. I suspect anybody who has had a troubled child understands the anguish expressed in these short verses very well.

Revisiting this hymn has brought to mind the story Jesus told of the prodigal son. We often focus on the behavior of the brothers in this story, but real story is the heart ache the father experienced as he watched his son wander off and into perils he dared not imagine. When faced with this type of unending anxiety, it is little wonder he was overcome with joy upon his son’s return and held such an extravagant party.

For a hymn which contains scant overtly religious content, there are many stories surrounding it which speaks of it being a vehicle which drove many wandering sons to repent and be reunited with both his earthly parents and his Heavenly Father. I will share one of these stories which I think best captures the range of human experience here.

“A widowed lady of culture, about forty years of age, who was an accomplished vocalist, had ceased to sing, though her sweet voice was still in its prime. The cause was her sorrow for her runaway boy. She had not heard from him for five years. While spending a week with friends in a city distant from home, her hidden talent was betrayed by the friends to the pastor of their church, where a revival was in progress, and persuasion that seemed to put a duty upon her finally procured her consent to sing a solo.

The church was crowded. With a force and feeling that can be easily guessed she sang Where Is My Boy Tonight? and finished the first stanza. She began the second…and as the congregation caught up the refrain…a young man who had been sitting in a back seat made his way up the aisle and sobbed, Mother, I’m here! The embrace of that mother and her long-lost boy turned the service into a general hallelujah. At the inquiry meeting that night there were many souls at the Mercy Seat who never knelt there before—and the young wanderer was one.”

Brown, Theron, and Hezekiah Butterworth. The Story of the Hymns and Tunes. New York: American Tract Society, 1906 pp. 446-7.

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