The Practice of Getting Lost

I don’t like being lost. I get agitated when my GPS malfunctions and end up miles from where I hoped to be. Most of us like life when it is predictable and safe. We like to be in control. We don’t look for opportunities to get lost.

But sometimes that is precisely what happens. Due to circumstances beyond our control we find ourselves lost and vulnerable: A suspicious lump needs to be biopsied, our job is downsized, our marriage goes south, a trust is broken.

Just when we think we are in control we are confronted by the reality that we don’t know what the future holds. We don’t know what is around the next bend literally or metaphorically. Barbara Brown Taylor in her book ‘An Altar in the World’, suggests that such uncomfortable, unsettled moments can hold gifts. She writes: “I have found things while I was lost that I might never have discovered if I had stayed on the familiar path”.

This is not to minimize or romanticize how frightening it can be when lost. Yet the author reminds us that some lessons can only be found when lost.

Several years ago my physician informed me I had prostate cancer. I remember the fear that welled up in me at the sound of that one word, cancer. I felt lost as I struggled to navigate the medical wilderness. What was the right treatment plan? Anyone who has had a difficult diagnosis knows what I’m talking about.

Being lost

It has been eight years since cancer became part of my story and fortunately annual tests show me to be cancer free. Yet I resonate with the story of Jacob in the Bible who wrestled with a stranger throughout the night. In the end Jacob survived and was blessed with a new name ‘Israel’ which means ‘he who perseveres’. Jacob, now Israel, received a new name and was also left with a limp, a reminder of how fragile life is.

I have been lost many times. So have you. My time in the wilderness called cancer has taken some things from me and also given me gifts I otherwise would not have. One gift is the memory of being held, comforted by a presence that I call God. I can’t measure or quantify this but I know this to be true. Another is the reminder that life is a gift to be savored, relished, lived as fully and joyfully as possible. Another is gratitude for friends, loved ones and strangers who graced my life in life-giving and often surprising ways.

I’m not sure I would have found or fully understood the depth of such gifts if I hadn’t gotten lost. Barbara Brown Taylor suggests that we each add ‘getting lost’ to our list of ‘spiritual practices’. She isn’t trying to minimize the discomfort that comes in being lost. Yet paradoxically she knows that some gifts are found precisely when we are lost.

Beyond Pessimism: The Gift of Thanksgiving

“Hi my name is Kent and I’m a recovering pessimist.” If there were a recovery group for pessimists I’d be there. I grew up in a family that was always waiting for the other shoe to drop, always ready for the ‘sh*t to hit the fan’. Perhaps this type of doomsday thinking came from my parent’s growing up as children in the Great Depression.

Regardless of its source this type of pessimistic thinking was part of my childhood. I remember however as a child in later elementary school thinking that this was no way to live. I intentionally sought refuge in the homes of friends whose parents had a more sunny disposition and hopeful way of looking at the world.

As I grew older I came to realize that being optimistic, hopeful was a choice. Later as a recovering pessimist I read a book by Tim Hansel entitled ‘You Gotta Keep Dancing’. The book is Hansel’s story of living with chronic pain after shattering his back in a mountaineering accident.

Some years ago I met Hansel and heard him speak about his journey with pain. As he spoke spasms of pain washed over him. This is what he said: “Joy is a choice. It is based upon the deep seated belief that whatever happens in life, good or bad, that I’m not alone. It is the belief that whatever happens that I am loved and cherished by God. And my joy comes in knowing that this love is always with me.”

He went on to say: “Joy is different than happiness. Happiness is based on the root word happening. Happiness comes when good things are happening to us. But joy is a choice. Joy transcends circumstances.”

I want that joy that Hansel speaks of. As an adult I’ve had my share of challenges and heartache but I’ve learned to lean into my faith and place my trust in the God that Tim Hansel speaks of and in that relationship I’ve been graced at times with joy.

But I know myself pretty well. I understand my capacity to look at the world as a glass half empty. And so I say: “Hi, my name is Kent I’m a recovering pessimist.” In doing so that pessimistic part of me loses much of its power and I can once again make that choice to be hopeful, even joyful.

I write this on the eve of Thanksgiving. This day invites us to focus on what we have rather than what we don’t. Thanksgiving invites us to count our blessings. For pessimists this day is like oxygen, inviting us to reorient our way of thinking and being.

Whether you be an optimist or a recovering pessimist, I wishphoto of charlie brown and thanksgiving you a Thanksgiving where your glass is half full even to overflowing. May joy be yours.