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I am not proud to admit it, but I am quite directionally illiterate when it comes to navigating my way around this world. Much to my chagrin, I am that stereotypical Millennial who uses GPS for everything from a roadtrip to a quick errand across town.

If you ever give me directions somewhere just know that I will politely nod, acting like I know the streets you are referring to, all the while thinking, I’m just going to use Google Maps.

For clarification, this is not, I believe, because I am lazy or incompetent. Much of my navigation skills were formed by learning my way around the small northern Michigan town I grew up in. I didn’t need to know street names. There was one stop light. There was only one route to school. And it was a straight shot of five blocks to get downtown. I don’t remember a time ever getting lost, because I don’t remember a time where I could not tell where I was, based on the buildings and landmarks around me. That is how I learned to navigate the world. Using buildings and landmarks as my compass and atlas.

Having since left that small northern Michigan town and moved to places where the buildings and landmarks are no longer familiar, this way of navigating through the world has become insufficient. It is not that I don’t know how to navigate. It is that I learned to navigate the world in a way that is now incompatible with my place in it. And it is this problem to which GPS has become the easy solution.

M.R. O’Connor writes in her book, Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World, that this is how GPS has become as detrimental as it is helpful. As O’Connor explains in her book, GPS has made it so that we can never feel lost and never misplace ourselves, but also then never truly find our place in it. For it is in opening ourselves up to the vulnerability of getting lost and feeling misplaced that we truly learn our place and form a connection with the world we are in.

GPS inhibits us from engaging in what O’Connor calls wayfinding. She writes,

In the simplest terms, wayfinding is the use and organization of sensory information from the environment to guide us…In the deepest sense, it is a concept that offers a new way of thinking about our connection to the world.

The detriment of GPS is that it prevents us from finding our way in this world by truly forming a connection with the world around us. The very thing preventing us from getting lost in the world is causing us to misplace ourselves in it.

As our calendars have shifted from November to December I wonder if we are experiencing a similar conundrum in our lives that is keeping us from truly experiencing God’s presence and purpose in this season. Without delay we’ve jumped right from the bountiful thankfulness of Thanksgiving to the comforting warmth of Christmas. The darkness of winter has not yet arrived as our streets and homes, including my own, are aglow with the bright lights of Christmas.

In our rush from one holiday to the next I wonder, are we using Christmas in the same way we use GPS? Is the busyness and cheerfulness of the holiday season just an attempt to placate the feeling of being lost and avoid the darkness? To our detriment, perhaps, the very things helping us to celebrate are preventing us from truly knowing and experiencing our place in the world and the presence of God in it.

As I read O’Connor’s book that explains how we find our place in the world best by opening ourselves up to the vulnerability of getting lost in it, I couldn’t help but wonder if the same is true about our experience of God’s presence in our lives.

  • Maybe it is in misplacing ourselves that we find what it means to truly be found.
  • Maybe it is in the vulnerability of feeling lost that we discover God is present in a way we never expected or in a place we never would have looked.
  • Maybe it is in our difficulties at wayfinding that we discover anew the ways of our way-making God.
  • Maybe it is in acknowledging that we’ve lost our way that we better discover the God who is the Way.
  • And maybe the season of Advent is a chance for us to explore the ways that we have misplaced ourselves so that we might discover the ways God is at work in places and people we’ve overlooked.

Fleming Rutledge rightly asserts, “Advent begins in the dark.” Advent begins in our lostness. But perhaps what makes us uncomfortable is that Advent doesn’t just begin in the dark. It lingers there.

Yet, as Advent reminds us, it is in this wilderness place that the words of the prophet Isaiah cry out, “Prepare the way for the Lord.” In the wilderness of our lostness, Advent reminds us of a God who draws near to make a way where there is no way.

Perhaps Advent lingers in the dark so that we can find God in a way we wouldn’t have in the light. Perhaps it is in recognizing we have misplaced ourselves that we see the overlooked and ignored places God is at work in our lives.

After all, wasn’t it to misplaced parents in a town long since overlooked that our God was born into this world? Wasn’t it the centuries of cries of displaced people to which the cries of the newborn Jesus was the answer? And isn’t it for the misplaced that he came into this world as a shepherd leaving his 99 sheep to find the one who is lost?

Christmas reminds us that it is in the displaced and for the misplaced that Christ has come. Yet, in order to experience his presence anew this Advent season, there is one thing Christ invites us to acknowledge: our lostness.

GPS photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Matthew Lee

Matthew Lee serves as the Lead Pastor at Immanuel Community Reformed Church in Lansing, Michigan.


  • RZ says:

    Yes to all the questions raised here! In fact, kudos to the concept of humble questioning itself. Context leads to a deeper fairh. The GPS, like the Google-feed, gives the what without the why and how.
    Skepticism and despair are not healthy responses. Deconstruction without a commitment to reconstruction is futile. But so is unheeded pain, intentionally deaf resistance to critical analysis. It might leave us in a pen that feels right only because the other 98 sheep look and think exactly like we ourselves do. The Nicodemus story is an advent story. “Perhaps Advent lingers in the dark so that we can find God in a way we wouldn’t have in the light.”

  • Jon Pott says:

    An intriguing irony, that the very thing meant to keep us from getting lost can cause us to miss the actual lay of the land. Applications everywhere! Thank you.

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