Here’s a parable an orthodox priest told me today (the origin is unknown to me):
A man found himself lost in the woods and he became lost for many years. As the days turned into weeks, the weeks into months and the months into years, the man became more aware of his lostness but at the same time more at one with the woods. One day he stumbled upon a group of hikers who were also lost but just for a few hours. They asked him, ‘we’re lost, can you help us find our way out of here?’ He replied, ‘I cannot, but I can help you be less lost.’
I’m beginning to consider how foreign the way of Jesus might actually be to our world. As I have only just begun my journey of solitude and contemplation, my awareness of the difference between this world and the one I seek is still blurred. But what I can see frightens me.
My thought is that the more self aware I became, the more consistent my prayer life, the more time I spend alone in contemplation and prayer, the less lost I would become. However, I believe the opposite is true.
You see, the values of our culture are so terribly ingrained in our DNA that we can’t see the forest for the trees. Following Jesus’ way of self-sacrificial, communal, neighbor oriented love isn’t the same values as our Americana.
We live in a very individualized world. Our values for the most part are concerned with MY (or even MY family’s) safety and security, MY dreams, MY salvation.
As I watch the circus of this current political season I see politicians promising safety, security and prosperity in exchange for your loyalty. If all things belong to God, I'm not sure those things are theirs to give. As I watch commercials on television, their products promise an identity. Buying one product against another defines you as a consumer. But isn’t my identity in Jesus? All of this to say, I wonder if any of my innermost desires, those things I think to myself, ‘if I just had ____, I would be happy/centered/satisfied,‘ are actually for God and what God has promised to give?
Think about it...this is what God has actually promised to God’s people: Eternal life, oneness, healing, joy, peace, and rest.
This is exactly what I’m afraid of. I realize, in total honesty with myself, I never really wanted any of those things. I want people to like me. God promises people probably won’t. I want financial stability. Jesus tells us, ‘blessed are the poor.’ I want a family of my own. Most of the heroes of our faith, the ones who are venerated as the truest followers (mystics and saints) lived a life of celibacy.
My point in writing this is to encourage you. If you feel disoriented, if you feel discouraged, if you are afraid of what God might ask of you, you might actually be going in the right direction. To follow the way of Jesus is like getting lost in the woods. When we suddenly deny all of those things that we used to rely on for our sense of identity, security and happiness, we will feel alone, naked, and lost. We become like infants all alone in the wilderness. The feeling is extremely vulnerable
To be honest with you, I can’t tell you why I continue to go through with it. It can be quite miserable, frustrating and lonely, staring at your darkness and allowing God into your broken soul. I see people who seem that are probably full of dysfunction and bad values, that seem to go on just fine without working ont them. I'm sure their are plenty of happy people who go their whole life without ever walking down this so-called narrow road. But I believe at my very core the way of Jesus leads to something utterly whole.
I can’t promise you that this way is thrilling, fun or even that your going to find what you’re looking for. But I can promise you that if you choose to get lost in the woods, I won’t be much for helping you find your way out but I can help you get less lost.