There was a game that my family used to play in the car sometimes, back when I was around seven or eight years old. The game had to be played somewhere between the backroads that stretched beyond your familiarity, and the exact middle of nowhere. We tried to start the game along a generic, rural road, driving until we reached a crossroad. At that point we flipped a coin, turning right for heads, left for tails. We did this at each intersection, the coin flip determining the route.The goal, obviously, was to get completely lost. For reasons I don’t recall, we called this game a “Pig Ride.” It was a game my parents had once played with their friends, and it was a game I later played with my own friends in a beater car named Euphegenia, laughing ourselves silly over the near impossibility of getting lost in your hometown.
There was something so excellent, however, about sitting in my parent’s backseat as children, thinking that getting lost was the height of adventure as we drove deeper and farther, turn after turn, into territories unknown. If only getting lost was always such fun.
During Middle School I began to develop the normal kinds of feelings one has about being lost, namely feelings of fear. The middle school I attended was terrifyingly gigantic. I swear that it stretched out for miles from the front doors to the portable classrooms far, far beyond the lunchroom trash incinerator. It prompted a true withering of self esteem as every 50 minutes or so, all day long, I was to find my way from one classroom to another. (My high school building, three years later, was an even greater upgrade for my fear of getting lost, despite being three years older and wiser.) I actually still have nightmares about not being able to find my way around both those buildings. Being lost was no longer fun and games for me.
I remember driving home to Rochester, New York for Christmas Break when I attended Hope College. One guy had a car and we split the driving between me, for the first shift, and two others who would keep going on into the Catskills after my stop. I definitely got very lost in an industrial area of Canada that I had no right being in at 10pm. There were no other cars, no people; just factories lining the dimly lit streets. Eerie, I promise.
This all took place, of course, while we still drove to new places using a map, even an Atlas, or maybe using directions scrawled across a scrap of paper that someone dictated to us through a landline phone squeezed between shoulder and ear. Certainly, these are reasons for ending up in a part of Canada that no one else had ever been to, but that I have etched into my brain’s catalog of Lost Places.
Before I even left the country, I worried about getting lost on the Chilean bus system when I studied abroad. I worried about it all the way until realizing that if I ended up going the wrong way, on the wrong bus, I should simply get off that bus and find the correct one. (Duh!) Nonetheless, it was one of my greatest fears in heading to a new country— that I would get lost and have to explain myself in another language.
I get lost a lot less than I used to, largely thanks to GPS which arrived on the scene around the time my first child was born. (In fact, my husband and I readily acknowledge the direct correlation between our marital happiness and the first GPS installment suctioned to our windshield.)
Even so, I still remember what it feels like to be lost— because lost is as much of a feeling as an activity. It is the feeling of being alone, and if it gets real bad, you feel worried that you might always, always be stuck in that unknown place, all by yourself. Being lost prompts deep, dark feelings of confusion, fear, anxiety, even depression.
At this point I know you are seeing how there are ways of being lost that have little to do with cars, or buses, or even new school buildings. Lost can just be directionless, and it feels pretty bad. Sometimes we miss the path right there before us, invisible to us in our murky mindset, or maybe our troubled heart makes us immune to following. It is as hard to understand how we end up lost in life, as how we end up lost in the wilds, the burgeoning cities, and the hometown neighborhoods. Sometimes it just happens.
I’m sad that in this wide, full world so many people are so lost. All around us, every day, people are struggling to find their way. I am sad. But I will also say this: of all the times that I have gotten lost, I always got through it. I learned to navigate the school buildings- often with the care and guidance of (note: not scary) teachers. In Canada, I just kept driving through the factory lined roads until we found ourselves on a street with a name on a map that pointed us to the road back to New York. I did get off a few buses in Chile, and went to find the right one, and I even traveled through three countries in South America without GPS or cell phones- or English!
These things take time, patience, trust, and an understanding that the broad, solid ground beneath your feet is there by way of the steadfast love of your Creator, and following it will lead you to the right, safe, good, new place.
Keep going, my friend.