Get lost! The practice of the wilderness


Popular religion focuses so hard on spiritual success that most of us do not know the first thing about the spiritual fruits of failure.


. . . It is hard to shake the shame of getting lost in our lives. And yet if someone asked us to pinpoint the times in our lives that changed us for the better, a lot of those times would be wilderness times.
   – Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World

We were going the wrong way. Again. (I hate going the wrong way—it’s so inefficient, yes?)

NYC_subway_appNavigating the New York City subway system was an art we hadn’t mastered. So when I decided *I* would take the navigational reins myself, I laid our directional weight completely on a NYC subway app I’d downloaded on my iPhone.

And I got frustrated.
And humbled.
And lost.

Because what I didn’t realize was that to head uptown, it’d first suggest we go a short distance on a downtown train, which could then connect us to the right line up to Manhattan.

Go backwards to go forward? It wasn’t clear.

It’s counterintuitive.

I pray differently when I’m lost.
When I see I’m vulnerable.
When I’m desperate for help. Help!

But has Jesus ever routed you, too, through the forest before he showed you the interstate? (Don’t even get me started on our journey in a New Jersey neighborhood.  Was I ever glad to see the road to the airport!)

This month’s spiritual discipline I’m *considering* is “Wilderness: The Practice of Getting Lost.”  Barbara Brown Taylor recommends it as a way to wake us from our unconsciousness, reminding us that God does some of his best work with us in the wilderness. She says that by leaving our regular paths,

You agree to become aware of each step you take, tuning all of your senses to exactly where you are and exactly what you are doing.

I’m not comfortable with the idea just yet. And I certainly won’t intentionally get lost.

But I have switched my music to shuffle and turned off my GPS a time or two and taken a few back roads that I ordinarily wouldn’t. Small physical changes to prime the pump for spiritual openings, leaving the familiar beaten paths.

Because I want to be reminded that:

  • Who I’m with on the journey is more important than how I’m getting there
  • If I’m to follow Jesus wherever he leads, I can’t have the trip already planned out
  • Relying less on my resources leads me to depend more on his

If the journey is about loving deeper and wider—and I believe it is—I want to submit to riding backwards (or so it might seem) on an unplanned train if it will strengthen me to more closely cling to the one leading the way.

Sometimes we’re most lost when we’re most sure we know exactly where we are.

And most secure when we’re clueless about where we are, but we’re with the one who always knows.

* * *

Have you ever gotten lost? What did you learn from it?


31 thoughts on “Get lost! The practice of the wilderness

  1. Mary

    God has certainly used my wilderness and lost times to do some of his best work in my life! This is such a thought provoking post, Lisa….thank you.
    AND…you were in NYC???? I live about an hour from there. I so wish I’d known and maybe we could have connected for real!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      He’s used my wilderness time to his advantage too. Last year began as one of those wanderings, but I really felt set free from a lot of bondage through it all and now I praise him for what he allowed to happen!

      I didn’t know you were that close to NYC. How fun it would have been to have met in person! If I’m ever up that way again or you come down south, we’ll have to connect. 🙂

  2. Beth

    This reminds me of my Bible reading yesterday. King David was running from his son, Absalom, who was trying to take over his kingdom. He and his men passed by one of (former) King Saul’s relatives and the guy started pelting them with rocks, dirt and curse words, but David accepted it as God’s discipline and judgment. To me that is like a prime example of at least feeling like you’re moving “backwards” or getting no where fast, Lisa! But yet God had a plan in all of that to get David where he needed to be–with the right heart at the right time. I need to learn to accept these “lost” times as good for me. It’s not easy for me but I’m learning that God is always in control! Great thoughts, my friend!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      What a great example, Beth. It certainly didn’t look like David was the anointed King for a lot of years! Yet God did have a plan. Love that you shared this. Thanks!

  3. Lynn Severance

    Lisa, first of all, I loved reading that you were in NYC. Whenever I see images of it ( mostly when watching TV), I long to be there for a visit. I have treasured memories of times I was able to be in that city. I never got lost there but I totally understand your message.

    Jesus, himself, spent time in the wilderness as did so many of our Biblical heroes. It seems a given when we are journeying with Him, a means for Him to strip away everything so we can be alone with Him. I wish we knew more of the specifics of his time during those 40 days but we can assume they were preparation times for the road ahead.

    Your post reminds me of the classic book by Hannah Hurnard, “Hinds Feet on High Places”. I’ve worn out one copy of that book and return to it ( a newer copy) so often. I need its inspiration over and over again.

    Thanks for all that you share with us!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You never got lost in NYC? You’re a true city girl, Lynn. 🙂 It is definitely a fascinating place to be. We saw so many wonderful sites and such a wide variety of people. Never a dull moment.

      I also wish we had more about Jesus’s time in the wilderness. We can only assume they were necessary and important, and maybe that can add to our security during our own times of the wilderness.

      Oh, “Hinds Feet on High Places” is such a treasure to me, too. I relate so to Much-Afraid. And also to her renaming. The Lord is good to be transforming us when we think we’re only wandering. Love you, Lynn!

  4. Lyli @3-D Lessons for Life

    I am thinking back to a wilderness season from my days as a single gal… I struggled to make it.. it was such a dark time.

    Looking back now though, I see how God drew me to Himself in that dry time. My intimacy with Him grew. I am much closer to Him now than I was before…

    Sometimes, the wilderness has a pool of water in it, and it’s worth traveling there….

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I love your imagery of a pool of water in our wilderness, an oasis. He may let us wander, but he’ll never leave us without provisions.

      You were wise to use your dry times to grow in intimacy with him. Even when we can’t see it at the time, he is shaping us through the fire if we’ll be open to him. Thanks for sharing, Lyli.

  5. David Rupert

    “I pray differently when I’m lost” Wow. That’s a great one! I’m a dude who is always taking the cow trail, the different path, the new experience. And sometimes I end up — nowhere. Unfortunatley, my family has suffered due to my wanderlust! But the prayers to turn from praise to “get me out of here!”

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’ve been warned about people like you, David. ha. People like me who like things neat and properly executed get nervous around you wanderlust types. But you’re often the ones God puts in our lives to kick us out of our ruts to discover him in new ways. So in the end I thank God for your type. Even if you end up “nowhere,” you come away with a story to tell about it so that makes the trip worthwhile.

  6. Jody Collins

    Lisa, we’ve been on the NYC subway several times. Not lost yet, but that was because we had the natives (aka my nephew who lives there) with us.

    However, I DID get lost going the wrong way in Taipei Taiwan. Talk about scary—I’m thankful I realized it in time and even more thankful there was a Bank of America across the street from where I got off. And people who spoke English. Yay. What did I learn? It’s always easier to get directions from someone who lives where you are and speaks the language…I think there’s a spiritual metaphor there. This sounds like an intriguing book, by the way. I look forward to reading more of what you find.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Well, if you were to ask Jeff, he might say I’m misusing the term “lost”. 😉 But when I don’t know where I am, I consider that lost. ha. I can imagine it would be scary to get lost in Taiwan–what a blessing to be across from a Bank of America. 🙂 Jeff and I got lost in El Salvador last summer when he was driving the truck from the church building to the hotel. We ended up in a neighborhood that I’m sure we did NOT need to be in, and knowing that our Spanish and their English would NOT be sufficient to communicate, I was pretty scared. I prayed for some serious help that time–and thankfully God rescued us.

      The book is indeed very good. Every chapter is enlightening. I think you’d like it too.

  7. floyd

    Excellent post, Lisa. I can’t begin to number the times I’ve ran out of the protection and shade of my Father’s hand just to run into danger and peril of my own doing. When we’re in His hands the path doesn’t matter… He has the cosmos in His hands and always knows the way Home. And yes, the most blessed times were always the most difficult and the times when I gained the most wisdom… and yet I avoid them like the boogy man…

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      “He always knows the way Home.”

      Oh, I love the way you word that, Floyd. That sticks. And gives me a lot of comfort. I’ll use it. Thanks, brother.

  8. Jen Ferguson

    I love how God gives me confirmation of things I think I am hearing Him say. I don’t know if I’m headed for wilderness for say, but for sure a season of letting go. I’m gonna get lost in focusing on Him.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      That’s great, Jen–get lost in focusing on Him. Sounds like a great way to be found! Letting go is rarely easy for me; may God bless you in this season, friend.

  9. Betty Draper

    Who I’m with on the journey is more important than how I’m getting there
    If I’m to follow Jesus wherever he leads, I can’t have the trip already planned out
    Relying less on my resources leads me to depend more on his –

    I must pen this in my journal, such good points to put into practice. Great post.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Betty. It’s nice to hear someone still puts “pen to journal.” 🙂 Even though I keep most things on my computer now, I still keep journals by hand.

  10. Dolly@Soulstops

    You made me chuckle when you said getting lost was inefficient…I can relate. God has definitely taught me to depend on Him, and to enjoy greater intimacy with Him during my wilderness times…and you said it well, it is who we are with that makes all the difference.
    Blessings to you,

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Finding that “greater intimacy during wilderness times” – that makes them all worthwhile, yes? Thanks, Dolly. Glad we are both on this same journey!

  11. laura

    While we were on vacation last week I read Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild. Wow, it gave me a new perspective on wilderness. One thing it made me aware of? The value of water. This post makes me think of Living Water. Need that in the wilderness, for sure 🙂

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  13. Kari Scare

    Found you via a link at Planned Peasanthood. The idea of getting lost & wilderness caught my eye since we just spent a week in the Smoky Mtns., and I so badle want to be back in the wilderness. Do you know where I can get Taylor’s book? Didn’t see it in Amazon.

    1. Kari Scare

      Also, the line about beinmore l lost when we think we know exactly where we are is a powerful one. I get that for sure!

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