When I was 10 years old I went on a cross-country trip with my grandparents to visit my Uncle in Southern CA. It was during the summer of 1973, and he lived just outside of LA. This trip was a truly an adventure for me. Not only did I get to spend some time with my beloved grandma Bessie on the drive there, but I got to experience the wonder and excitement of my first visit to the California coast. My uncle was working as a bartender, living with several other single guys in a small apartment. During our visit my uncle invited me to spend the day with him at Disneyland. Wow! I thought. My dreams had come true. I was going to visit the land of Mickey Mouse…home to the Matterhorn, the Haunted Mansion, Animatronics shows like the Tiki Tiki Room, and probably my favorite the Country Bear Jamboree, It’s a Small World and the Hall of Presidents. I couldn’t wait to ride on Tomorrowland’s Circle of Progress and experience the unforgettable Main Street Electrical Parade with more than a million twinkling lights on various floats rolling through Disneyland.
Now these were attractions I had read about, seen on TV and couldn’t wait to experience for myself. Unfortunately, I got separated from my uncle just an hour after we entered the park together. Now to a 10 year old these days, getting lost at Disneyland might not have been such a traumatic experience. In the present day Disney parks there are people specifically hired on staff to care for lost children. They are trained to follow strict protocol, equipped with walkie talkies to sound the alarm for every employee in the area. In fact, these employees are released from their regular duties until the child is reunited. But alas, in the 1970s this level of security had not yet been instituted. So…I don’t know how I had the sense to do this, but I wandered through the crowds of people twice my size (I was a rather petite 10 year old) and finally found my way to a “Lost Parents” depot and checked myself in. I figured that would be my uncle’s first response as well. However, 6 hours later I was still sitting in the land of the lost.
I couldn’t quite understand it at the time. Why hadn’t my uncle tried to find me? I had wasted the entire day at Disneyland, the most wonderful place on earth…sitting by myself in a tiny room with nothing to do. It was heartbreaking. As evening neared and dusk began to settle on Main Street I heard the sounds of the electric light parade in the distance and asked the staff member stationed at the depot if I could go outside and watch the parade. “I guess that would be okay,” she said. “Just don’t go any further than the bench outside.” So I sat down as twilight arrived, and waited for the parade to pass. It was getting dark and my frustration turned to anxiety…and then anger. “He doesn’t even care about me.” My thoughts about my uncle got increasingly darker.
I can imagine that the Apostle Paul struggled also with some dark thoughts in his ministry. He struggled with a theology of Christ amidst the painful differences between who he believed God created him to be, and who he was physically. And he was often at odds with the Christian community. In much of his second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul defends his ministry against critics who questioned his integrity, motives, and his fitness for ministry. For many of these Corinthian Christians there was concern about his lack of credentials. Some accused him of being a "peddler of God's word" and practicing cunning and deceit. Others claimed that while Paul's letters to them were bold and strong, his physical presence was weak and his speech unimpressive, even "contemptible.”
So there is a consistent theme in Paul’s letter of insisting that his ministry was to be judged by God and not by human standards. Paul's critics looked at his physical weakness—his old, beat up, scarred body and his weak rhetorical skills—and they found no evidence of the glory of Christ that he proclaimed. Now in the ancient Hellenistic world, bodily scars from beatings and lashings were considered a sign of shame and dishonor. Yet Paul argues that these scars authenticated his ministry, for they were a sign of his participation in Christ's suffering and death in order to bring life to others. Paul draws a contrast between the outer nature that is wasting away and the inner nature that is being renewed daily. He emphasized the importance of looking "not at what can be seen, but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”
In Paul’s letter read this morning, he continues in this vein by insisting that looking for what cannot be seen means that "we walk by faith and not by sight.” When Paul says "while we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord," he does not mean that the Lord is not with us in this life. Rather, we experience Jesus’ presence by faith and not by sight. He says that we still await the time when we will be fully "at home with the Lord.” Meanwhile we make it our aim to please the Lord, remembering that "each of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.” In other words, Paul reminds the Corinthians that human opinions of his person and ministry, based on external appearances and earthly standards, do not matter. It is Christ who will judge Paul and each of us according to what we have done.
In our culture we are obsessed with externals—with youth and beauty, accomplishments and credentials, productivity and profit. We are constantly tempted to judge our own worth and that of others according to "a human point of view." We are tempted to view worldly success as a sign of God's favor, and weakness and suffering as a sign of God's absence or even punishment. Paul reminds us that human standards of judgment count for nothing in God's eyes. The scandal of the cross is that God chooses vulnerability, weakness, suffering, and death in order to bring new life. In Christ we are a new creation, even in our weakness and vulnerability. We are reconciled to God and entrusted to be agents of God's reconciling love for the world.
But living in this kind of world—when what we see is at odds with what we hope for—can bring us to the crossroads of some very uncertain places. Places where we feel lost and forgotten. Yet the unexpected gift of the Spirit, the "Gift of Getting Lost," reminds us that people who find and live into their calling in life rarely do so without getting lost first, mainly because our journey through life is never a straight one. The path zigzags. And at each point where our journey needs to make a turn, we start to feel increasingly lost. This feeling of being lost prompts us to pay more attention to the signals that the Holy Spirits is sending us. Sometimes these signals may seem supernatural in experience, but more often they will come in subtle ways; through gut hunches, intuitions, moments of silence, shifts in awareness, multiple coincidences, even promptings from friends that we disregard. We will catch onto them—provided that we're paying attention.
Whether you’ve lost yourself in your job, your relationship, your role as a parent or simply feel lost in life in general, you are not alone. It doesn’t mean your life is doomed and that you will never find yourself again. It simply means you are going through an incubation period and transformation. The key is not to get stuck in your current lost state and the best way forward will most likely be found if you just stand still, and let the unexpected love of God find you. Most of the time we only focus on life’s practicalities—getting good grades, finding a good job, earning money to meet the next rent or mortgage payment, and using what’s left over to provide safety and comfort for ourselves and those we care about. But this is not what your life is about. There is a realm of the Spirit—what Jesus called the Kingdom of God—that intersects our world, and sometimes infuses it. If this is true, it is the most exciting—most meaningful thing we can know in the universe. If there is not contact with the Holy Spirit, then all religion is a sham. But if there is contact, it is the most important thing we will every do.
Here are 7 ways to become at ease with this lost state, and remind you of the presence of the Spirit will lead you to what’s next.
1. Remember what you love to do and go do it! Do you remember the last time you had fun in your life? Do you remember when things felt easy and in the flow? It was likely because you were fully engrossed in the fun of the moment. As we grow up, we lose sight of how amazing life can be because we feel burdened by the responsibilities and mundane parts of life. It’s time to reconnect with what you love and to take action on it. No more excuses about not having the time, money, resources, babysitter etc. Make a commitment to do what you love and watch your life change before your very eyes.
2. Go on an adventure. Whether it’s a day trip, a solitary retreat, or a long drive to somewhere new, go out and explore the world. Take this his will not only allow you to tap into the flow, but it will also give this time to focus and really reconnect with yourself again. You’ll be away from the noise of your regular life and will be able to see and experience the world with fresh eyes. I promise, when you come back you will have far more clarity about where you are going than you had when you started.
3. Reconnect with your dreams and dream BIG. What kinds of dreams did you have for your life before you lost yourself in the busy-ness of life? What have you since deemed impossible or improbable because of where you are today? Grab a journal and reconnect with the dreams you once had and better yet, come up with some new dreams. In a perfect world, what would you love to be, have, or do? What is your soul aching for? Once you reconnect with your dreams, you’ll have the desire and inspiration to begin to take action and suddenly you will have found yourself again.
4. Expand your comfort zone regularly. It’s time to get uncomfortable by trying new things and meeting new people. Growth doesn’t happen by staying in your bubble of comfort where everything is familiar. Challenge yourself to do something that is slightly terrifying, yet invigorating. That is what I like to call the zone. It’s the space where you are stretching yourself just enough to continue to grow and evolve. What’s the first thing that came to mind for you? Go do that!
5. Pay attention. Everyday there are signs, messages, and guideposts that will inspire you to act, but you only notice them if you are open. With all the mind chatter and busy-ness we have these days it can be difficult to recognize the signs that are all around, so it’s important to get quiet and listen. Pay attention to the signs on the road, songs on the radio, and the people you meet in the street. There are messengers all around with Divine guidance to help you move forward on your path. Your key to finding yourself may very well be on a billboard or come to you as a thought in the shower. Listen up, pay attention, and then follow through on your inspired action.
6. Focus on the beauty. Sometimes the feeling of being lost is all-consuming and you forget that you get to choose what you think and how you feel. You are given a great amount of power to create the life you desire and get the answers you are looking for. Whether you use affirmations, mantras, meditation, yoga, journaling or something else, it’s important to focus on the beauty and joy around you. When you do that, the God sends you more of the same, including the answers you are seeking.
7. Ask for help. There are so many people in the world whose purpose it is to help people like you. Reach out and ask for help. You don’t have to figure this out all on your own and sometimes simply having a chat with someone can provide the insight you need to move forward with ease. Whether it’s a life coach, mentor, friend, counselor, or the Divine, ask for help and be open to the guidance and tools that come your way.
Paul tells us that God’s faithfulness is more potent than human unfaithfulness. We can be mediators of the Spirit’s voice to others even when we haven’t done such a great job of following it ourselves. We can experience the Spirit’s call even through the most imperfect people. Those who are lost themselves can be gift-bearers to others seeking their way in the dark. Paul reminds us that we walk by faith, not by sight. And without faith, life can become so lost that we never find our way back.
My uncle did finally find me in Disneyland on that summer night in 1973. Just as the electric light parade was ending he emerged from the crowd and approached the bench I was sitting on. “There you are!” He exclaimed, as if he had been searching for me all day. “It’s been 6 hours!” I screamed. “Where have you been?” “Where have I been? Where have you been?” he replied in a surprised tone. “I’ve been waiting here for you to find me…for six hours” I cried, choking up with a mixture of anger and a sense of relief. “6 hours!” He laughed. “Well that’s a wasted day. I thought you were having a good time on your own. Let’s go get some ice cream.” And with that, we never spoke about it again. Seems like I was more worried about being lost then he was about losing me. We did spend the last few open hours riding the Matterhorn, and some of those rides I had longed to experience. But on that day I realized something about myself I didn’t know. I was only going to be lost if I wanted to be.
Friends, being lost is just fine. But if you want to be found, then be found. Start by finding yourself wherever you are right now. For the trees ahead and bushes beside you are not lost. And wherever you are is called Here. Amen!