As we talked about the lost/found image in the Bible tonight at church, three things came to mind:
1). Being a young child and getting lost in a department store.
This was not because my mom chose to leave me, but because I was hiding in the midst of a rack of clothes or because I wandered away to look at some display (likely involving toys or candy). My mom, sooner or later (she might not have realized as soon as I did my lostness), would look for me.
2). The common getting-lost-while-driving event. I grew up in Iowa where the roads tend to follow north-south and east-west grids. Getting from my grandma's house in Des Moines to my parents' house three hours northwest of there, I knew I had to stay within the parameters of Highway 3 to the north, Interstate 35 to the east, Interstate 80 to the south, and Highway 71 to the west. I could pretty much take any road within those boundaries and, as long as I was heading north or west, end up at home. Once, though, I got on an unfamiliar road in the dark (before cars came with compasses on the rear-view mirrors). It curved a few times and I eventually found that I had gone in a loop. This happens more commonly for me in Minnesota or Wisconsin where the roads don't follow straight lines at all. One road could go for miles and miles just to loop back to a spot two miles down the road from where you first turned off. Men are known for not liking to ask directions. I fall into this category. But I know when things start getting unfamiliar its because I've taken a wrong turn and need to look at the map (or my phone's GPS).
3). Blazing a trail through the woods and not being sure where it will end up. Occasionally I like to slip away from the designated trails in places and explore new territory. I will generally only do this if I have a sense of boundaries and destination. Like if I'm at the top of a ridge and know there's a river that runs through the park. Then I know I need to head downhill until I hear running water. Sometimes though, I get a sense that I may not be headed in the right direction; that I could just be looping around and walking for hours. Then I breathe a sigh of relief when I see a landmark that tells me I'm where I need to be.
These images made me realized that being lost is a choice. One doesn't simply just find themselves lost. You take a wrong turn. You choose to go off the marked trail. You let go of your parent's hand. You get arrogant and prideful and think you can find the way without any help.
I was also reminded of canoeing across countless lakes in the Boundary Waters. There are times when I have looked at the map and think I've gotten landmarks figured out, only to canoe to my destination and discover that it's not actually my destination. What I thought was a peninsula was actually an island, or where I thought was the mouth of a river was just a bend in the shoreline.
Frustration rises after spending time and energy into going the wrong direction. The same happens in life. I regret wasting years not being where I was supposed to be (whether physically or spiritually). I don't always make the right decision. Sometimes I like to blaze my own trail rather than stay on the path where I'm supposed to be. Sometimes I'm just cocky and want to prove I can get where I'm going on my own without asking for help.
God never gives up on the lost. I remember the first time as a parent when my oldest son was little and wandered away from me in a toy store. I panicked. While trying to look composed, I quickly walked, scanning up and down each isle, searching for him. My mind raced to those "what if..." places that aren't good. I did all I could to find him (thankfully an experienced employee must have been familiar with the focused look on my face and pointed me to where he had wandered).
Being lost does not need to be a permanent condition. Unfortunately I don't often realize that I'm getting myself lost by the decisions I'm making until it's too late and I get myself into a panicky place. Fortunately, there is grace.
And I guess the take home lesson for me from tonight's passage is that I need to always check myself and make sure I'm staying on the path and making the right choices.
When hiking and canoeing I've learned to look behind me every so often. We tend to be focused on the path ahead of us, but the path going back looks completely different. So if I'm planning on returning via the same route or just in case I get lost, I try and take mental snapshots of how the path looks going in the reverse direction. Sometimes we need to look back so that we can move forward properly.