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Monday, June 14, 2010

Losing Our Way

Have you ever gotten lost before?

I have.

Yesterday while driving through the unfamiliar hills and valleys of Wisconsin en route to a destination with which I was unfamiliar, I was seized both by a sense of adventure and a memory of being lost in another time and place.

After I had graduated from college, I was given a conditional offer for a job in the Twin Cities which required a few appointments in different places which they conveniently planned for me for the same day. Part I took place in downtown Minneapolis,  Part II took place in one of the western suburbs. None of that meant anything to me; I wasn't a "city girl" and had no idea where I was going. Were it not for a dear friend who was familiar with the geography and parking garages downtown, I would not have made it even to my first appointment! Having experienced the discombobulation herself, she gave me a "map" to get myself both into and out of downtown, explaining the one-way streets and directions, and where they intersected with major highways.

In the end, it didn't matter. I exited the parking garage after my first appointment, already going the wrong way. I had a bad feeling I was doing the wrong thing, but I continued, hoping to find my way out of the maze of tall buildings that made me feel almost claustrophobic. Seriously; the city wasn't THAT big. I knew if I followed a major roadway, I'd find my way to the right highway and to my destination. There was time; I didn't need to rush.

But the road I was on kept going and going and going, and didn't contain any of the landmarks I was told to look for. I saw that "Hennepin Ave." had at some point become "Larpenteur Ave." It didn't become what it was supposed to become. I knew I was lost, and with that sign, I could no longer be in denial.

There I was, in the inner city...lost. I didn't have a cell phone, I didn't know where to go for directions because, well...I couldn't identify my own location! How could I ask how to get from here to there if I didn't even know where here was?  

Finally I saw a business with an open door, a large parking lot, and an easy way in and out without getting lost even more so than I already was! I walked into that very convenient store and simply asked for directions. I asked where I was and told them where I was SUPPOSED to be going. The clerk and his customer conferred for a moment, and managed not even to laugh at me. I was so far lost that my lost-ness was completely nonsensical!

The worst part about it for me, though, was that I could not even fathom this particular state of being; I had always had a very good sense of direction, and with little information I was always able to create a "map" in my head. But in this situation, there just wasn't enough to go on...and I got lost. In humiliation I accepted the directions, and the very kind customer explained he was headed in the same general direction, invited me to follow him back to the freeway and he'd point to me where to exit to get to my location, although he'd be continuing on.

Gratefully, gripping my steering wheel with white knuckles, staying on his "heels", I followed him as we wound through traffic, and I saw him signal my turn, pointing to the sign he said would be there. Gratefully I exited to the next freeway and found my destination with no problem...and from there, after that appointment, I knew my way home.

Yesterday as I watched for my exit, this time in the middle of nowhere as opposed a city crawling with traffic, I remembered that very kind stranger from so many years ago. As I drove the country roads, remembering the lessons from that day, I wondered if I'd missed my exit again or if perhaps I had not gone far enough. I knew to trust the directions I had been given, so simply decided to believe that the signs I needed to change course would be there, just as I'd been instructed.

As it was...they were. I left the highway, turned down a road, until finally, in the middle of Wisconsin farmland there arise a glorious church steeple: my destination.

Being Lost

I had time yesterday during my long travels to ponder the many things involved in getting lost. We've all done it. We've all lost our way at one time or another.

Being lost at any point implies one very important thing: that we have a specific destination.  Not a random point to get to eventually if we feel like it "sometime maybe", but a very specific destination, and often a specific time of arrival at that destination.

Think about it: when we go somewhere important, we plot our course, we plan (even the detours if necessary), and our goal is to arrive at point X at the specified time, if not a bit earlier.

Sometimes, though, those plans go awry.

There can be obstacles; maybe construction sends us on a detour, or perhaps we try to go straight through it, realize that was a bad idea and take a detour that was NOT on the map. Sometimes the planned detour is wrong and leads us off course.

Sometimes we just feel like being creative and randomly try to take a little jaunt off to the side, thinking nothing of it.

In any case, somewhere in the middle of all those options, we lose our way.

Then something happens: seems that the first reaction to being lost is, insist that we are not lost!

First we think that our chosen course will bring us back to where we intend in due time, and we sit back to enjoy the scenery. Or perhaps we're not loving the scenery, but we sure do love the calm assurance that our current course is going to meet up with the road that will take us to our intended destination.

Sometimes we get so busy enjoying our detour, intended or not, that we completely forget that we even HAVE a final destination. In that case, it takes much longer to realize that, well...we're lost.

There is one common thread involved in getting lost:  Arrogance. Pride.

Oh, no, it doesn't begin that way, but it sure does head in that direction in a big darned hurry!

You can see where I'm going with this....

Our spiritual lives are the same way.

We HAVE a destination:  eternal union with God.

We HAVE a map to get us there:  the Sacraments, Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, Sacred Liturgy, etc.

Yet sometimes, we get lost. Maybe we're just confused and go left when we mean to go straight. Sometimes we hit a pothole, fall over, hit our heads, get confused and shuffle off looking for help where there is none to be found.

Sometimes we just decide we know better and try to break our own trails.

Often we don't realize we've lost our way, for we haven't INTENDED to get lost. We fully desire that final destination in the Lord, but...oh, that shiny bauble off to the side is so....pretty! We stop thinking, we take our focus off of our goal, and in so doing, we become disoriented.

It's a world full of shiny objects and we're all a bunch of crazy kittens. Or maybe we're puppies in a butcher shop, finding the falling scraps irresistible.

Yup. Lost. And when we get lost, we lose a bit of our dignity.

That's the final sign of being lost:  we first decide we must rely on OURSELVES to get ourselves out of our mess. We try to backtrack, we try to push on, and in so doing, we become more and more....lost.

The only way, contrary to what we want to believe, to get our dignity back, is to ask for assistance. To ask for directions. To admit we've lost our way and desire to once again to be set right.

That's why we have the Sacraments, especially of Confession. When we go to Confession, we are simply coming to the feet of Our Lord and admitting to Him, "I got lost."  He understands, and He even knows HOW we got lost, even more than we do!  If we KNOW how we lost our way, we tell Him, through His Ministers who can listen, understand...and draw us a map back to the highway.

I remember that day so long ago, when I was so lost, and so alone that I realized I had to find someone to point me in the right direction. Not only did he set me on my way, but he led me almost all the way!

That's what Jesus for us, although instead of ever leaving us to go it alone, He gives us direction, lights the way, and leads us along the path we must follow.

Our pilgrimage here on earth lasts a lifetime, and we often lose our way. We have only to remember that we are never alone, and if we but go to the throne of Mercy and ask for forgiveness, we will be set back on our way.


Fr. John Mary, ISJ said...

Love the picture of the "doggers":<)!
Yes, Jesus in His Sacraments is everything...He loves us with such infinite and constant Love!

RJSciurus said...

Nice post. Of course, you had the good sense to recognize and acknowledge that you were lost. So many Catholics today do not come to Confession and admit that "I got lost" because they don't yet realize that they ARE lost.

Adoro said...

Father ~ I do not know what I would do without the Sacraments...I need them so often!

RJ ~ And that's exactly the point and purpose of this post. :-(

Kiwi Nomad said...

I remember once getting very lost in Bologna, Italy. I had taken the right bus number in completely the wrong direction. I ended up in these hills on the edge of the city and knew I was completely and horribly lost. I couldn't speak Italian, and I just sat there with tears rolling down my cheeks. Step up two heroes who rescued a damsel in distress. One was an Englishman who had been working in the city for three years, so was bilingual. He asked me what the matter was, then spoke to the driver for me. Driver then didn't charge me for return fare, and back in town dropped me off at the right bus-stop with a note for the next bus-driver- and I never had to pay the next fare either. Two kind people, both helped me when I was lost.... and I was very happy when I finally walked on into the very beautiful youth hostel there!! I was lost- and two kind people helped me find my way again. You don't ever forget those kind of kindnesses.

Adoro said...

Kiwi ~ OH my, how scary! It's so good those wonderful people stepped in to help you! I especially love the note written on your behalf for the next driver....this just brings me to tears! No, you can't ever forget such kindness. :)