Despite how often I make fun of the frequency with which I seem to get lost, it has always been one of my most paralyzing fears. Some days, when I’m only slightly turned around, it’s just a shiver I can laugh off (or blog about later). Other times, when I’m late to an appointment or at the end of a long day, it’s a frustrating anxiety that clouds my ability to process thoughts and emotions clearly (it is, unfortunately, pretty easy to tell when I’m having one of those days).
And then some days, like the one three weeks ago, it is sinister figure who chokes the breath from my lungs and punches tears into my eyes. The encounter leaves me weak and weary, and even as I see the safety of friends or familiar places, I feel smaller and more fragile.
The day was cloudy and our team of roughly 40 American and Czech young people was making its way down steep slopes and windy mountain-town streets. We were on our way to the bus that would take us home after a long week of hiking through the forest glades and quaint villages of Krkonoše, the tallest mountain range in the Czech Republic.
The path was narrow and our group was spread along it pretty widely. By the time we reached the town below I could just barely see the trekkers ahead of me and the pair of stragglers behind me.
Jared wasn’t around to insist on our Jurassic Park call (where one team member imitates a dinosaur shriek to identify the location of everyone else) and I was too lazy to catch up with the group in front of me. Slowing down and waiting for the people behind me is never an option. I’m much too competitive for that.
So I continued down the broken sidewalk along the river for about twenty minutes. I don’t recall there being any turns in the road. I do remember passing a toy shop. The door was open and a woman was sweeping a red-tile floor. An old Czech folk artist was singing on a crackly radio. In the dusty window was a little puppet with a crown. A toy king. The very idea sounds ironic.
I don’t know when I realized that I was alone. I do remember thinking, “If I just keep walking I’ll find them.” I also remember when that shiver ran cold down my spine and my throat clenched as I began to realize that I was not where I was supposed to be. Leave it to me to get lost on a straight road.
We had a bus to catch in forty minutes and I had no idea where I was or where the team was or how to get to the bus stop. Tears welled up in my eyes because that is my first reaction to almost everything. Cry it out.
But crying doesn’t make you unlost, and neither, I’ve discovered through fiery trial, does panicking.
My Dad’s advice in these situations is always to find landmarks. In college I used to call him once a week, sobbing in some parking lot in San Diego.
“Dad, I’m lost again!” I’d wail, as if he couldn’t already tell. He’d put his work on hold and ask if I had a map. I’d say ‘of course not!’ and he’d gently say, ‘calm down.’ That usually just made me cry harder. Then he’d ask if I could see the mountains or the ships masts in the bay. Were there street signs or highways nearby? Where was the sun in relation to my location? Pssh. I couldn’t follow directions out of a paper bag, but usually just hearing his voice made me feel better.
All I could hear now was someone riding a bike down a nearby alley and the soft melody of the river flowing on the other side of the houses I was standing by. Using all my reserves of mental-collectedness, I thought about my options.
I hate turning around and retracing my steps. There is something so irrefutably pathetic in it – you messed up, you were wrong, now you have to complete the walk of shame. At least there was no one there to witness it. Twice this summer I’ve had to turn groups of six or ten people around because I made a mistake. There is no greater humiliation…
In order to stay calm, I started to sing hymns. We had a very musical team from the States this year and it was so nice to sing cherished hymns from my childhood in English. Taking a deep breath, I started with one of my new-found favorites: “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”
Pardon for sin, and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside
Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning, new mercies I see
All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.
Let me take a moment to be honest again. Getting lost, for me, is not just a fear of not knowing where I am or where I am going geographically. It is a fear of an unknown, uncharted future. I have always, always been a planner. I had a six-year plan fully developed in ninth grade. In God’s providence, very little of it came to pass – but richer, fuller blessings have been mine.
This summer I’ve been feeling lost. I feel like I’m standing at a fork in the road and I don’t know which path to choose. I worry about big decisions – life-changing decisions. I see the road and am anxious, breathless, fearful.
So the words to this hymn, as they fell from my lips in the chill of my lost wanderings through re-traced steps, seemed new and hopeful. And each new hymn was a fountain of strength. Each one surprised me by how well I knew it, despite having left them unsung for so many years. Songs that I sang as a little girl every Sunday evening suddenly welled up in my heart, like unspoken prayers that had been sleeping, like soldiers that had been waiting patiently at their post. And suddenly, in the middle of my worries – about the bus, about the way home, about my future in the Czech Republic – God’s great wing fell over my troubled spirit and I felt a peace that passes understanding.
I did find the group. Still rather shaken, thankfully not crying. But the walk with God was one I needed to take. I am so often sure of where I’m going that I fail to take notice of my Ever-Present Companion. It’s good to be still and hear the voice of my Heavenly Father, even as I am so far away from the comfort of my earthly one.
We are toy kings.
We set ourselves up with fake kingdoms under the guise of a pseudo-control, a power we think we have. But we are really just walking alone in the forest, our palaces imagined and our crowns made of wood.
I am learning that it is more important to know the guide than to know the path.
It’s an exercise in faith: trusting that God’s plan for your life is perfect, even though we cannot imagine all the twists and turns which may include great joys and devastating heartbreaks.
But when the dark figure appears to press the breath from my lungs and the hope from my spirit, the Lord is with me. His rod and his staff, they comfort me.