by Chrissy Muhr
Back in eighth grade, a friend and I got lost while exploring.
“If we have to spend the night in the woods,” Amelia growled at me, “I’m going to have to kill you.”
I smiled nervously, calculating how best to escape should it come to that: “Maybe if you climb that tree, you’ll be able to see which direction we should go.”
I didn’t know if this would be any better than my original idea of letting the dog lead us home (we’d ended up going in circles for an hour), but it put a little distance between us. Just in case. We were in the woods not far from my house. I should have known how to get home, but I didn’t. Up in the tree, Amelia thought she could see a break in the forest, so we walked in that direction until we finally found the road.
I’ve been lost many times since then: inadequate directions, clueless in foreign countries, failing to find a familiar place because I hadn’t been paying attention to how I’d gotten there the last time. There was even that time in high school when my parents moved to a new house while I was staying with friends, and they forgot to give me the address. I knew the neighborhood they’d moved to but not the house, so I drove up and down the streets until I saw their car.
Getting lost makes me feel things. Anger at the person who gave bad directions or at myself for not listening well enough. Fear that I won’t find my way or that I’ll be stuck. Worry that I’ll miss something important or be embarrassed for arriving late. Shame for having messed up, for not being able to find my way without help, for mixing up my left with my right or my right with my left. (I can never remember.) But, oh, the joy – and relief – of being among familiar people in the place I was aiming for all along. Often, I get there because someone noticed I was lost and helped me find my way.
It’s too bad that getting lost doesn’t just happen physically. I’ve experienced much the same thing in my spiritual life. I’ve gone in circles, unable to see clearly because of the “trees” blocking my view. I’ve been frustrated, trying to find a place I’ve been before. I’ve been angry at people, scripture, God for not giving clear directions. I’ve tried to lead others and found that I know less than they do about the direction we should go. I’ve received directions that are unintelligible, vague, misleading, upside down. And there have been times when I’ve felt like God moved. He didn’t give me the address, and even though I know the neighborhood, I can’t seem to find the right house. I’ve been embarrassed to share with others how lost I am. I don’t like asking for help. But, oh, the joy – and relief – when I find myself nestled once again in God’s arms.
Back in eighth grade, a neighbor helped Amelia and me find our way home. And I’m still getting help from my neighbors. The difference is that I’m learning to ask for help when I’m lost. I need someone who will come beside me, listen to my journey and understand where it is I’d like to go with God. I need someone who can help me see the signs of God’s work in my life, to notice the forking of a path and to help me discern which way to go. I need someone who can assure me of God’s faithfulness and goodness. I need someone who is convinced that “lost” is not a perpetual state, but is rather a step on the way to wholeness.
I’ve worked with a spiritual director. She helps me cope with feeling lost. She listens, questions, makes suggestions and shares from her own experience. She gives me new ways to see God’s markers on the path I’m traveling.
Because I can’t do this alone. None of us can. And there’s nothing wrong with asking for help.