September 19, 2020

Get Lost!

Popular religion focuses so hard on spiritual success that most of us do not know the first thing about the spiritual fruits of failure. When we fall ill, lose our jobs, wreck our marriages, or alienate our children, most of us are left alone to pick up the pieces. Even those of us who are ministered to by brave friends can find it hard to shake the shame of getting lost in our lives. And yet if someone asked us to pinpoint the times in our lives that changed us for the better, a lot of those times would be wilderness times.

When the safety net has split, when the resources are gone, when the way ahead is not clear, the sudden exposure can be both frightening and revealing. We spend so much of our time protecting ourselves from this exposure that a weird kind of relief can result when we fail. To lie flat on the ground with the breath knocked out of you is to find a solid resting place. This is as low as you can go. You told yourself you would die if it ever came to this, but here you are. You cannot help yourself and yet you live.

– Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith

* * *

Don’t take this the wrong way, but, “Get lost!” 

Barbara Brown Taylor suggests it can be an important spiritual practice. Come to think of it, there is some precedent in the Bible for this.

Abram, leave your home, your country, and your extended family. Come with me.

“Where are we going, Lord?”  

Never mind. I’ll show you.

* * *

Moses, you really blew it when you attacked that soldier, but I forgive you. Tell you what, I have a plan — go live in the desert of Midian for, oh let’s say forty years. Things should blow over by then.

“Wow. With all due respect, that seems a little extreme, Lord. What’s a city boy from the palace like me going to do out there?”

I’m sure you’ll find something. You could learn a trade, you know, like shepherding a flock.

[Eighty years later, as the Exodus was about to occur…]

Nice job, Moses. Now, once you leave Egypt, I want you to guide all these people to Mt. Sinai.

“But Lord, we’ll have to go through the wilderness, won’t we? How am I going to find food and water for all these people out there?” 

It’s OK. Let’s just make the journey and see what happens.

* * *

Naomi, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you and Elimelech and the boys pick up and move to Moab?

“Leave Bethlehem? Are you sure that’s a good idea? I’d feel lost among all those foreigners.”

Oh, you never know. It might just turn out to be an adventure. And when you least expect it, you might find a friend.

Elijah, I want you to go hide by the brook Cherith. By the way, you’ll be there for some time and then the brook’s going to dry up.

“Uh, sure Lord, but I was a Boy Scout. What do I need to do to get prepared for that?” 

No preparations needed. Just get lost for awhile, OK?

* * *

David, you’re going to be king someday. But first, I have an idea. Why don’t you spend a few years wandering the hills, living in caves, and learning to deal with your enemies?

“Sounds tough, but if you say so, Lord.”

Good. By the way, maybe you could write a few songs along the way. You know, songs for the road.

* * *

Jesus, you are my beloved Son! Congratulations on your baptism. Now it’s time to get started with this Kingdom business. Tell you what, first thing — go spend forty days out in the wilderness. No, you won’t need food. Just go and see what happens out there, OK? Forty days and nights now, don’t forget.

* * *

I understand why people use them, but I have not graduated to the GPS generation yet. Once in awhile I use my iPhone maps app to assist me in finding an address, but I’m afraid that if I get a GPS and use it all the time, I will lose my directional skills and senses. My approach has always been (and no, this is not a “guy” thing) to get directions first, and then try to find my destination by being aware of my surroundings, landmarks, what streets and houses look like, etc. I’ve received some pretty bad sets of directions, and many times I’ve misread the good ones folks have written for me. Needless to say, I’ve found myself lost on a number of occasions. But I figure that getting lost is part of the learning process, and if I eventually find my way (I always have and I’m here to write about it) I won’t be as prone to forget the next time I go that way.

I don’t mind getting lost. I don’t mind rambling around. It’s never a problem if we end up taking “the scenic route.” Given a choice, I’d rather drive the “blue” highways than the interstates and meander through the countryside and small towns a bit. I’d love to take a trip out west or to Europe or India sometime and just wander.

On the other hand, getting “lost” in the personal sense scares the spit out of me. Feeling insecure and being out of control are not experiences I savor. I pretty much count on waking up each morning with a job, a family and a house in which to put them, a little money in the bank, food on the table, a number of friends, and my health. Life has been good to me in those ways.

I’m not naive. I work as a hospice chaplain, for heaven’s sake. It could all change tomorrow. God could say to me, “Hey Mike, get lost.” And before you know it, I’d be tramping some trackless waste looking for a puddle from which to quench my thirst.

I know there are “lonesome valleys” that I will have to walk “all by myself.” No one makes it through life without getting lost a few times. Some, unfortunately, have to learn to make a more or less permanent home in the wilderness, where resources are scarce and there’s danger all around. Maybe that’s been life for some of you.

Perhaps we can find a bit of encouragement from Barbara Brown Taylor, as she reflects on the long tradition of people lost and found, and says,

However it happens [getting lost], take heart. Others before you have found a way in the wilderness, where there are as many angels as there are wild beasts, and plenty of other lost people too. All it takes is one of them to find you. All it takes is you to find one of them. However it happens, you could do worse than to kneel down and ask a blessing, remembering how many knees have touched this altar before you.


  1. I feel like I am lost, about half of the time.

  2. You could have titled this post “The antidote to triumphalism” and still be on the money!


  3. Just a picky: Moses was in the desert in Midian for forty years, not eighty. He was eighty years old when the Exodus occurred.

  4. I think I might be lost in a place between restlessness and tiredness as I work on the story I have chosen to write before university starts again. When I don’t write, I feel frustrated. When I do, its exhausting. It constantly drains one’s energy and creativity and will to write, and the next day often does not bring the renewal of energy necessary.

    This is one kind of wilderness. I pray that I will not give it up.

  5. Steve Newell says

    In Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the Pharisee had the religious good works of his busy “spiritual” life while the tax collector just cried out for mercy as a poor miserable sinner. Who did Jesus call justified?

    Our lives to be lived in quiet righteousness and humility.

  6. I must learn to have kleenex next to me when I enter into the sacred place of IM. This brought tears. Wow! Thanks. Again.

  7. My husband was a physician. We had a lovely home, nice cars and a very comfortable income. Although we had problems as all do, we had a good life. Then it was gone. In the course of a few days a minor illness developed into a catastrophic series of failures that left my husband brain damaged.

    In the ensuing years the bones of our life have been bleached and picked quite clean. Now in our 60’s we live in a duplex in a state far from everyone we ever knew before. We live on our Social Security which amounts to little more than our monthly tithe once was.

    For me–and I am only speaking for myself here–this journey in the wilderness has not had anything to do with finding some other lost person nor having one of them find me. Rather it has been about finding God. I have been a Christian for 40 years but I did not know the One I serve until there was no one and nothing else but He and me.

    • I love the genuineness of your words Abao! Thank you for sharing!

      “…..this journey in the wilderness has not had anything to do with finding some other lost person nor having one of them find me. Rather it has been about finding God.”

      And there you have it folks!!! Wheweee!!

    • “I have been a Christian for 40 years but I did not know the One I serve until there was no one and nothing else but He and me.”

      Amen Sister.

  8. Wish I had time to affirm how your post resonates by telling my story, but I’ll save everyone the woe-is-me details and just say, Spot on, Chaplain Mike!

  9. When God drives you into the wilderness it is always for your own good, whether you believe it or not.

    I had a wilderness experience a few years ago that ultimately ended up being of great benefit to me, but at the time it was awful and I complained and yelled at God most days. Now though I am glad that God brought me to the wilderness and led me through it because it was in the wilderness that I finally got a clear picture (or the clearest thus far in my 26 years) of who God is. Seeing that clear picture of God has done wonders for my faith. He proved himself faithful and trustworthy by always sustaining me through the wilderness, even though it took me a while to realize that He was indeed doing this and teaching me this (His faithfulness and trustworthiness).

  10. during times of trial and uncertainty the one thing that carries us through is “faith and prayer” at times I admit that I have questioned God “what is my journey” I’m learning to draw him closer daily, and remember to give praise to him for the Blessings I have, these are not about cars, houses, handbags, but love his love for me and his suffering for my sins, I enjoyed this article also that affirms this!

  11. After several years of feeling really close to God and Jesus, I’ve found myself the last several days feeling very much apart. And while I fear “spiritual deserts” much less than I used to fear them, this post was very well timed for me!!! I will allow myself to “get lost” and trust that God knows where He’s taking me.

    Thanks, CM, for your leading of the spirit in writing this and posting it for other brothers and sisters in Christ to read.

  12. Are you telling me my fall from evangelicalism, hanging out with skeptics and atheists (which I no longer do BTW….) and being confused and wondering will make sense in the end?

    Man that gives me chills….. Being lost has been painful. I lost a lot when I became lost.

    • Me too, Eagle. Me too. I recall giving my notice to the corporate job I’d hated – and this months before giving my life back to Christ – a co-worker asked me, “So, what are you going to do?” And I replied, “I don’t know. I’m going out into blind faith.” That was March 2007. Guess what? Still going out, day by day into blind faith. I’ve lost a lot, as well. And gained too. Some days though, in all honesty, I don’t know if it’s been a good balance at all. Just said to a friend the other day, “It sure feels like I’ve had a lot “taken” from me!!!” So making sense in the end I’m bankin’ on it. No pun intended. Or…….

    • Eagle…sorry if I missed an earlier post by you, but this is the first I’ve seen of you here at IM since your health scare (which I assume is in need of prayer).

      So let me just say, GOOD TO HAVE YOU BACK!

      • I’ve been back for a few days. I’m at home still on an IV receivng anti-biotics. Thanks Rick Ro, consider this a hug!! 😀

  13. First: Once again CM you do have a way with words that reach across my mind right into the center of my being…

    Next: There are so many thought provoking responses here that I wish I could thank each contributor or at least hit like.

    Last: I could have been a poster child for church lady, (I cringe as I write that) I was so busy serving on every committee, trying to be as holy as all the other stepford wives while failing miserably, yet chanting the church mantra: “everything is fine” while horror of horrors being a real b**** at home. Till it all came crashing down…
    I thought I lost so much when I fell from evangelicalism. I fell hard and I failed miserably. I have no way of knowing for sure, but methinks (now in hindsight) that the time I spent in doubt, despair, (and yes some self pity) along with a boatload of anger at God for not keeping the promises that I was indoctrinated to expect Him to fulfill has worked together for my good… I wouldn’t have dreamed that I could say this sincerely even a year ago.. So maybe falling, getting lost was a important spiritual practice bringing me to being OK with being “utterly human”.