We Don’t Really Need to Practice Getting Lost, Do We? {Book Club}

I starred ***** and underlined and !!!! quite of bit in this chapter from An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown TaylorI like the practice of getting lost when I’m not really lost. Wandering when I have time or when it’s more of a exploration than an actual getting lost. But actual getting lost? Being out of control? Not such a fan.

My dad preferred vectoring to coming to complete stops. His was of saying moving in the right direction, even if not the most direct path, is better than no movement. So as long as I’m going in the general direction, I’m OK.

But that’s the word that stood out to me as I read.

Wilderness. (Odd to emphasize in a week of Celebration, but stick with me.)

“These stories are big [exiles in Babylon, literal wilderness of Sinai, and Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness], but all you really need is a flat tire to find yourself thrust suddenly into the wilderness.” (Emphasis mine)

Sometimes it’s the smallest things that can send us into the wilderness. I was on a trip providing member care trip and checked my email before doing a classroom observation. Big mistake. But who knew. A simple email sent me into an unexpected wilderness. Again.

(To this day I feel bad for the person I was observing and supposed to be helping. I sat in the back texting a coworker in Beijing. I was worse than no help, I was in shock and in need of help myself.)

So, yes, wilderness can come in the big. Broken hearts, broken dreams, infertility, children with challenges, medical situations. But they can also come in the small. A cancelled flight, an email, a comment.

Thrust. That get’s right to the heart of it, doesn’t it?

I want to second what Barbara wrote about wilderness brining you into contact with people you might not other wise have encountered. Right now I’m reading a memoir called Resurrection Year: turning broken dreams into new beginnings — Sheridan and his wife Merryn found themselves in a ten year wilderness of infertility. They came to a point where they had tried everything and knew children were not going to be an option for them. How do you move on when your dream is shattered? Thus the title. Through this experience, they met people they would not otherwise have encountered.

I bet you’ve experienced this too. I wrote a post that went viral several years ago. Since I’m not a mom and have never been pregnant, it would seem unlikely I’d have much to do with those who have had miscarriages or wrestle with infertility. But my wilderness experience (of feeling stupid on Mother’s Day when others around me stood because they were moms) has opened a new world and relationships to me.

The last idea from this chapter I’d like to touch on before joining you in the comments is the idea of intentionally getting lost. “These are benign forms of getting lost, I know, but you have to start somewhere. If you do not start choosing to get lost in some fairly low-risk ways then how will you ever manage when one of life’s big winds knocks you clean off your course?”

I’d love to hear ways you’ve “gotten lost” in your country and how that’s prepared you for bigger forms. I’ve mentioned before when I moved to China I only knew a few words of Chinese: hello, good-bye, thanks, and watermelon. Oh the poor meat vendor who had to deal with me pointing at meat on his table and mooing and shrugging my shoulders and then oinking. I now know the difference between beef and pork (and know that the chance of it being beef, pretty slim.) But at that time it was all I could come up with as I swished the flies away and just wanted meat for my taco spice pack from home.

Little could I have predicted the ways practicing getting lost would help me when the stakes were higher. “Oh course I’d have my wife have an abortion if there was a child defect.” Six married men taking an Oral English final. What? And I can think of is my friend Carol Lynn who has Down’s Syndrome.

Or the silent tears that ran down my cheeks after a medical procedure I have called akin to being raped. It was all so stunning, so foreign, yet necessary and done in the name of medicine. Did that really just happen to me? It was horrifying.

From Resurrection Year: “But while the wilderness is a place of struggle and pain, it is more than this, I find. While a place of trial, it is also a place of provision; while a pale of doubt, it is also a place of discovery; while a pale of restlessness, it is also a place of change. Because the wilderness, for the Jews, was a a place of manna and quail coming down from heaven and clothes that never wore out. It was the place where they discovered their identity as Israel  the children of God, and that place where God changed their gambling, wayward hearts.”

Thus getting lost can also be a door way to celebration. It may not be obvious, balloons and party hat celebrating, but in the corners of your heart and the fruit of your life see the way getting lost can also be “a place of provision.”

Over to you :). How have you gotten lost? What thoughts stirred in you as you read, underlined, and starred. Any points you disagree with? Disagreements welcome too!


P.S. Next week we’ll looking at the Practice of Encountering Others.

Disclosure : Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Photo Credit : Unsplash


  1. Elizabeth November 11, 2014

    I love how she went through a bunch of Bible stories and said that it reminds her that God does some of his “best work with people who are truly, seriously lost.” I love that the Bible is a collection of stories of people who messed up, like, big time, yet God still worked with them and through them and in them. Love love love it.

    “Popular religion focuses so hard on spiritual success that most of us do not know the first thing about the spiritual fruits of failure” also caught my attention. I have noticed in my own life, and also shared with the girl I mentor, that God does some of His best work in our disappointments. Seriously. They do not seem like a good thing at the time — not until later. Usually much later.

    She also said, “This rock-bottom trust seems to come naturally to some people, while it takes disciplined practice for others.” I so relate to this. I do not think it comes naturally for me! It has taken time, and the practice of looking back at the ways He has provided for me or taught me or shown His love, for me to trust. Trust is NOT my first response. Panic is. At least in my adult life. I think as a teenager I exhibited more childlike trust in God. And when I hear other people in crises who say things like “God’s got this all under control” I wonder if they are just doing the whole “fake it till you make it” thing. NOT that it’s bad to do that!! I have to do that too — I am only admitting that I personally panic first, and trust later.

    I laughed at her story of her and her husband’s trip to Mexico where they paid large fines to policemen who stopped them for road violations they never understood, though they did understand that if they gave them money, they would not have to go to jail. Cracked.me.up. Living overseas is the same in that regard.

    And then, at her story that you have to be willing to recognize God in your neighbor, I cried. “God drove a bus in the Bronx that day.” Beautiful and true and tear-inducing! And reminding us of the many variations in the Torah to love the stranger, for we know what it is like to be the stranger, so important. I think that’s why expats can be so welcoming to new expats — we all know what it’s like to be the stranger.

    I love her idea that short trips overseas causes students to come back “both stronger at the edges and softer at the center.” I tend to be derisive of some types of short term trips, so I appreciated her hopeful outlook on it. May life overseas, whether short term or long, cause us — and me especially — “to become both stronger at the edges and softer in the center.”

    1. Amy Young November 11, 2014

      Ah, the “spiritual fruits of failure” — let’s talk about that (open to anyone!). I’ve read several places, but of course none of them are coming to me now, that modern western culture is so taking with leadership and advancing, but Jesus and the Bible focus more on following and being hidden. What might some of the fruits of failure look like?

      1. Elizabeth November 11, 2014

        I think the two biggest fruits of failure are wisdom and humility. When I’ve wanted something, and  didn’t get it (because someone else was better at something than I was), then I have learned humility and acceptance. Because at first, my pride was hurt. Then I had to deal with that, though I wasn’t very happy about having to learn it in that way. LOL.

        And mistakes — especially mistakes in ministry — have taught me so much. When we did things the wrong way, we learned a whole lot about ourselves and about the people we were trying unsuccessfully to serve. And we learned not to do things that way again, and gained some wisdom. I won’t go into the embarrassing details of either of those fruits of failure, but I have several stories I could share. . .

        1. Amy Young November 13, 2014

          Here here! I wrote below, so won’t repeat myself (too much) but I’ve learned more about what to do and not do as a leader from failure than from, what I’ll call, average success.

      2. Stacey November 13, 2014

        Some of the spiritual fruits of failure in my life:

        Deepens my trust that Father is good, loving, and wise beyond the craziest of my crazy fears. “We spend so much of our time protecting ourselves from this exposure that a weird kind of relief can result when we fail. To lie flat on the ground with the breath knocked out of you is to find a solid resting place. This is as low as you can go. You told yourself you would die if it ever came to this, but here you are. You cannot help yourself and yet you live.” (p 78/Loc 1200)
        Piggy-backing off of Elizabeth’s comment about wisdom: a bit of the shadow is lifted and we begin to see a little less dimly. My sense of reality is always skewed by my experiences and my personality. When I choose a certain plan or response, it’s because I think it’s the most realistic candidate for success based on my narrow point of view. My sin and my finite scope of perception and comprehension = truly a gal stumbling around in the shadows. But when I fail, or my plan fails, or when other people fail and it affects me, often God uses it to guide me to a more complete picture of reality. And this in turn is often used to help others awaken to more; after all, we learn from each other’s mistakes! The Light shines in the darkness.
        A fruit of those fruits, as we grow in Grace, is that we worry less about perfection. It is unattainable, but for the Grace of God. I will walk forward with the Light that’s been given to me. I will trust that for now I only see dimly and that someday it will all be clear.  I will expect my heart and your heart to simultaneously yearn for truth and freedom while we also hold on to the “cow path” of slavery to deceit and distrust, because I know that His work in us is both finished and not yet finished. So I can be real about my struggles and victories, because both point us back to the Glory and Mercies of God. I can fellowship with you in your struggles and victories, without being dismayed or envious, because both point me back to what He is doing. All because we fail, we get to taste a little bit of the reality of what that forbidden fruit in the garden really tastes like. It doesn’t taste like life, which was the fruit God offered in the first place. And yet He’s offered us life again anyway. So there grows in me an expectation that my flesh (sorry, I know I’m on a different page than the chapter about flesh in this book…) will sometimes cloud my vision of truth, or listen to lies, or believe the shadows instead of the Light. And there grows in me an expectation that God has led me to this point on the path, and He’s given me a certain amount of Light with which to see some bits clearly, and He’s always with me, redeeming. So I don’t need to stop walking for fear of failure – and I don’t need to stop using the clarity that I do have. Because He’s got this, and He’s teaching me and us as we go along. There is a lot of freedom to be had in the fruits of failure.

        1. Amy Young November 13, 2014

          Stacey, two thoughts came to mind as I read your thoughts 🙂 …

          1. One fruit of failure (and mostly if it’s cultural or not too big)) is “whew, got that out of the way.” There IS freedom when we fail and have thrown off the illusion of perfection.

          2. The second is: I have learned so much more about leadership under some bad leaders than under good. Well, in all fairness, I’ve had one really, really good leader and learned MUCH from that person. Many average, good enough, leaders. And just a few situations where it was really poor leadership. It’s the really good and the horrible that have taught me the most 🙂


          1. Elizabeth November 13, 2014

            Interesting that you’ve learned the most from really good leaders and from bad leaders. I think it is the same for me and my husband.

    2. Amy Young November 11, 2014

      And yes! The trip to Mexico and having to pay for not so sure what … funny!

      Amen to the desire to be stronger on the outside and softer on the inside 🙂

  2. Ruth November 11, 2014

    As I was reading this chapter, I was thinking *this is the chapter we’re good at.*  At least for me, living overseas is a little like being lost all the time–even if we know exactly where we are and where we’re going.

    But, in an effort to combine practices from this chapter and the last chapter, on Saturday I went for a photo walk through my neighborhood.  I let myself stop and take photos of interesting thing and explore shops and alleys I hadn’t been to yet.  (photos and thoughts are on my blog)  And you know, it was celebratory.  I discovered things and was joyful in discovering every day beauty around me.

    1. Amy Young November 11, 2014

      Ruth I love this! Would you mind sharing your blog address so we can look?

      What a great idea to combine the two 🙂

      1. Ruth November 11, 2014

        Sorry–I thought I had listed it under “website” and it would show up as a link, but it didn’t.  http://www.rel2inchina.com/2014/11/10/photographing-the-neighborhood-an-altar-in-the-world/

        1. Amy Young November 13, 2014

          Odd and now that you mention it, it SHOULD have. Hmm. Somethings going on so I’ll need to check on that (and by that I mean get someone else to check on it :)). Thanks for linking up. I loved seeing the ways you captured moments or things in daily life that are easily missed. And I’ve now added you to my feedly reader :)!

  3. Jenny November 12, 2014

    Ruth, thanks for sharing your blog and the outworking of these practices, that is encouraging!

    I loved this chapter, resonating with what has already been shared, and this quote took my breath away, “Even those of us who are ministered to by brave friends can find it hard to shake the shame of getting lost in our lives.”  This has been too true for me.  Some meandering is okay but when I’ve really been lost in my life it exposes the lies I still believe linked to shame…that to not know the way forward suggests there is some defect in who I am.  It is an opportunity to further hide my true self or walk into exposure that I really don’t have it together and I need Jesus.

    In light my recent illness and hospitalization I identified with a lot of what she shared about her accident and being cared for by others, especially this: “Since I have made a point all my life of being the one who brings the food, not the one who needs it, this reversal did wonders for me.  To receive the hospitality of stranger changed me far more than providing it ever did.”  That is my story.  Even today, here in rural Virginia, a friend lavishly loved me by googling a recipe for Indian lentils and brought them for our dinner.

    For too many years of my life I thought the meaning was to be strong and help others instead of being weak and receiving help for myself.  This time of lostness has opened my heart to know love in ways that strength and clear direction never could.

    1. Stacey November 13, 2014

      “This time of lostness has opened my heart to know love in ways that strength and clear direction never could.”

      Jenny, I am so happy for you, even while grieving with you over your losses and pain. You’ve provided some really encouraging examples of how lostness has actually helped you be found.

    2. Amy Young November 13, 2014

      Jenny, I think many of us can relate to what you’ve shared. It’s hard to be the one needing help! As I watch my parents age and their friends age — they are entering a season of loss. A season where they used to DO for others and now other are beginning to DO for them. And it will only increase, it will not decrease. I feel sad writing this and again am grieved by the brokenness we live in BUT am so thankful this is not our permanent state!!!

  4. Stacey November 13, 2014

    This chapter is an ironic one for me. I have to laugh at the idea of “The Practice of Getting Lost” – though please don’t misinterpret that I am scoffing at the principles. It’s just that my natural state of being is lost. 

    In a practical sense, I think I might have the world’s worst internal navigation system. Even with intense concentration while traveling on paths/roads that aren’t new to me, I can get lost. I have no idea how, but it has happened all my life. By the grace of God I have always wandered back to a place familiar enough to get back, or had a cell phone that worked, or had a map or a person to consult. This is not continent specific; it happens to me everywhere.

    In a more philosophical sense, I question and wonder about everything. It is how I am wired. I can not ever question that I am saved by Grace through Faith, as the 13 year old crying on her bed, wondering if all the stuff in Sunday School was real or if there really wasn’t any hope for the world after all, could not have reasoned her way out of those questions. I was stumbling in the darkness, crying out to a God who I desperately hoped was there, and He gave me some Light. I knew He was there, and I knew it was His Light that was shining in the darkness. I knew there was no hope outside Him. I was a lost 13 year-old needing Someone to make my paths level and straight, and I still am.

    I fully concur with all of the benefits and wonders and relief and growth that happen when we get lost. Before I was mature enough to think too far ahead about all the what-ifs, I enjoyed  strolls through the woods where I just “had” to stay and watch the sun set over the meadow, despite the fact that deep down I knew it would mean getting lost on the way back as I tried to follow the barely-worn path back through the woods. The sense of awe, the sense of being small, the sense of danger, the sense of beauty, the deep lessons that imprint on the soul that can’t be articulated: all true. Same with my seasons of deep questions and grief. Being lost has produced so much fruit in my life.

    But do I need to go out and truly try to get lost? I don’t think so; and I’m not really sure any of us do. Maybe, some with a deeper penchant for being orderly and predictable and on-time (characteristics I envy but don’t possess), maybe they might benefit from taking a walk without purpose and allowing themselves to “get lost” in the moment. I don’t really know since I am completely not any of those things. Maybe her prescription for getting lost in the benign ways is good for all of us, but I guess in my deepest of deeps I can’t categorize benign lostness as really and truly a form of lostness. I think of that as more of a “pleasurable afternoon stroll,” whether it be literal or philosophical. So maybe I’m just weird! 🙂

    Here’s what struck me about all the Biblical examples. Yes, great fruit came from being lost. But nobody set out to get lost. It’s like going through trials of any sort. God is in control and uses it all for His glory and our good and our refinement. That doesn’t mean we set out to find trials, of which being lost is one. The trial of being lost is scary and it is hard. I am thankful for my trials of lostness, but I am thankful when I have seasons of rest, seasons of secure knowing.

    One section that resonated with me was this: “At this advanced level, the practice of getting lost has nothing to do with wanting to go there. It is something that happens, like it or not…At this level, the advanced practice of getting lost consists of consenting to be lost, since you have no other choice. The consenting itself becomes your choice, as you explore the possibility that life is for you and not against you, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.”

    Yes. There are absolutely times when we feel lost, and submitting to the Father’s will in trust is absolutely life-giving.

    She follows it with admission that she’s a “damaged truster who hopes she has lots of time to work up to the advanced level before her own exodus comes. To that end, I keep my eyes open for opportunities to get slightly lost, so that I can gradually build the muscles necessary for radical trust.” Here is where I think that she and I might be working with a different understanding of the character of God, and the nature of trials and of His refining work in our lives. I think we are all damaged trusters. I think His Saving Grace and Refining Fire come at us in all sorts of ways, but they are always loving, kind, and good. He is a loving Father. Whatever He brings our way (or allows our way, I think our language can’t express all the sides to this in its fullness), He provides for it. He is the Light in the darkness. We find solace, direction and truth in the fellowship of the saints, the testimony of His word, the prayers of our hearts and the groanings of the Spirit. Immersing ourselves in these keeps us alive in the Truth, and I guess could be called “building muscles;” but I think that metaphor falls a little bit short of the whole Truth of it and puts a shadow on God’s infinite goodness and compassion in providing them for us in the first place.

    A Corrie Ten Boom illustration just popped in my head as a much better way of explaining what I’m thinking. Disclaimer here: I don’t have a copy of The Hiding Place here with us, so I just googled this and am pulling this quote from this blog, about which I know nothing except this post. No promises that the quote is perfect, but this is the gist as I remember it.

    Corrie ten Boom’s father to her, when she was a young girl: 
     “Corrie, when you and I go to Amsterdam, 
        when do I give you your ticket?” 

    “Why, just before we get on the train.” 

    “Exactly.  And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things too.  Don’t run out ahead of Him.  When the time of need comes, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need — just in time.”

    I don’t think “radical trust” will be more easily be found by people who try to get lost on purpose as a way of training for the big stuff. I think it is a gift that God will give to us, in His mercy, when we need it. But remember, that’s just the opinion of a person who is in a constant state of “lostness” when left to her own devices; so it’s very possible that I just can’t relate to all the more normal people who can actually navigate their ways around life without too much trouble. As always, I’m not confident that I’ve got it right, so you won’t offend me if you disagree! Just sharing the thoughts that crossed my mind as I read this chapter.

  5. Jenny November 13, 2014

    Stacey, I totally agree with you that we do not need to actively aim to get lost because God, in His sovereign goodness, ordains these situations so that we might experience it and know Him.  And you are right that even the biblical examples, none of those wanderers set out to be lost, it was just part of God’s grand plan for them and His good work in the world.  I say thanks be to God that He is powerful and loving enough to execute all this, and ‘getting lost’ is not one more thing I need to add to my ‘gotta try to be a good Christian list’ (that He is weaning me from).  He breaks us so He can bind us up and lets us experience our lostness so we can savor being found.

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