I was definitely lost.
It was over 90 degrees that late October day in the woods at Roman Nose State Park. I’d gone out to spend time with myself. I was mad at Julie, mad at myself and mad at God. I had a sandwich, a Coke Zero, a book and a journal. I hiked and hiked and prayed and prayed. I stopped for lunch. I read and journaled. I started to feel better. I unwound a bit. I began to have a teeny bit of hope.
So I started hiking back the way I’d come, wishing I had brought a bottle of water with me. I hadn’t realized how far I’d gone. I started getting confused and began hopping trails which ended up doubling back on me. It was hotter than I’d expected. I didn’t have cell phone service. I was feeling light-headed and dehydrated. And worried. Not too worried. Not like I was going to die out there worried. But slightly worried. I wanted to get back. I needed to. I could sense a little panic starting to rise up. I started to think about what I was going to, and when I was going to start yelling for help.
I did make it back. I’d been out for five or six hours, but I made it. I don’t like feeling lost.
Lynn Darling writes about getting lot in her book, Out of the Woods. She starts, “Getting lost is easily avoided, say people who never get lost.”[Out of the Woods, Lynn Darling, p. 1] Lynn got lost by moving into a country house in the woods outside of Woodstock, Vermont. Her husband had died, and her daughter had gone to college. She wanted to move out of the city, to write and to figure out the new life that lay ahead of her. She needed a location change, so she “lost herself.” She planned the unplanned path. She disconnected her heart’s GPS. She unmoored herself from the familiar.
We’ve all been lost, hurt, disappointed and afraid. Or else we will be soon enough.
Darling writes about the difference between way-keeping and way-finding. Way-keeping is the ability to stick to a certain path and follow well-marked landmarks and signposts. This is what our culture says is the way to be a man or a woman or a good worker or a peace-maker or a good student or a dignified or dutiful soldier. We’re often way-keepers. That’s not always bad. It depends on what way we’re keeping, and if that way is God’s way or not.
Way-finding is, as Darling puts it, “what you do when you must rely on yourself, your reading of the landscape and the decisions only you can make.” Darling is advocating for this way-finding approach to life. Her story wraps around how getting lost is what helped her get found. She says that it’s important to get lost on purpose sometimes, so you have to figure it out.
She writes, “The experts will tell you that survival in the wilderness or even in the shopping mall, if that’s where you happen to be lost, depends on optimism and pragmatism, on a healthy dose of hope and the ability to read the altered circumstances you confront with some degree of accuracy….I think whatever understanding I gained about direction, about orienting myself in an unfamiliar world, began in earnest then, when I learned how to face the present without blinking and decide for myself how I would cope.” [p. 149]
I’m somewhat persuaded by her argument. I think there is a deep resourcefulness in all of us, an often untapped reserve of wit, humor and strength that only comes out when we’re in our greatest need. You’ve got to get yourself in the spot where you actually need to tap into that reserve, but it feels incredibly risky and dangerous. I like how she talks about optimism and pragmatism, hope and ability in the new-found altered circumstances you’re in.
And yet – what if you newfound way-finding only gets you further lost? What if your resources actually aren’t enough? What if the task really is too big and too great for whatever you have, no matter how much more it is than you thought it was?
This is where God finds a way, and where he keeps you. You’re God-keeping and God-finding, as cheesy as that sounds. Really, he’s keeping and finding you.
It might be true that you can only really and fully know God when you find yourself in that lost spot. You’ve negotiated it. You’ve denied it. You’re angry about it. You’ve tried other ways and methods. And now you’re ready for help from the outside.
You just can’t make it work on your own. Nothing is happening. You looked into the future and didn’t blink. You steeled yourself for what lies ahead. You’re optimistic. You’re determined. You’re pragmatic. You’re figuring out how to cope.
And you’re still lost and stuck. You might be even more lost, except now you’re discouraged because you went through all of that to get to where you are now.
God finds you in that place. I once was lost but now I’m found. I was blind but now I see. I was deaf but now I hear. I was alone but now he’s with me. I was trapped, and now I’m free. Free at last, free at last.