I've been so lost. Not the kind of lost I'm used to either. Normally when I am lost in my interior life, I have complete confidence that I'm in a temporary state. Even without knowing how I will be found, I have no doubt that I will in fact be found. The assurance that I will eventually turn up and be set on the right path again affords me great freedom. So when I am lost, in my typical sort of lost I tend to enjoy the journey. I look around, I take it all in and I'm in no hurry to get back. Normally my lost tends to be the most pleasant and unexpected of detours.
This happens to me in my physical life as well as my interior life. Many of the most wonderful afternoons my husband and I have had were because we went on a drive, got lost, found great shops, good food and spent carefree timelessness with one another (as Matthew Kelly calls it).
Having the state of lost be a positive experience in the past left me wholly unprepared for the brand of lost I have experienced this last year. This lost is not highlighted with random inspirations or recoveries and healing. It is not entertaining not in the least. I've spent at least 10 months lost. This has been awful.
All I can do is think of those I love and those I don't even know who are lost in this way. I cannot fathom the depths of the despair they must be feeling to waste away in this space for years, decades even.
In most my other "losts", I recognize pretty quickly that I am not on a familiar path. It's been a great gift to me and one I took for granted. Now I realize it was a priceless gift, a grace to have the presence of mind, the clarity of perception to simply see when I was lost. Not this time and what a sobering reality it has been.
The most lost I ever got lost while driving was when I was certain I knew where I was going and where I was, only to learn I was entirely mistaken.
What happens when you do not recognize you've taken a wrong turn and you instead proceed with confidence is that you get farther from the correct path. Whereas proceeding with caution and seeing quickly that you've lost your way allows you to return to what was familiar and begin again, with new information if for nothing else but knowing what direction NOT to go.
This lost journey I never saw coming. I was easily 3 months into it before I looked up and started asking where am I? My interior life began to spiral and not having solid footing in my own spirit left me vulnerable to so many pitfalls. The enemy attacks when you are weakest and when you have drifted from the Shepherd.
When you are lost driving or hiking, you need your wits about you to find your way. You need to be able to retrace your steps, look for landmarks, find something familiar. You need the presence of mind not to panic or give way to anxiety. But if you are lost and simultaneously experiencing an emergency, someone is hurt and needs urgent medical intervention for example, it can be paralyzing and next to impossible to calm your mind and regroup.
About 3 months into my unintentional, spiritual walkabout symptoms and complications with my health took a serious turn. Over the course of a few weeks I spiraled slowly into very poor health and was ultimately hospitalized with severe breathing obstruction. The treatment to resolve the breathing issues caused a negative domino-style effect causing intestinal bleeding and other issues.
As I think back on it I see myself trying at every turn to behave like I was accustomed to behaving when I was lost. I didn't surrender to it, I didn't think I was very lost at all. I saw it as temporary and I dismissed it without pondering the reality at all. There was so much on my plate, so much to sort through and my resources were limited by my physical health. I didn't see that there was a perfect storm brewing and I was about to get a tossing.
I pride myself on being strong. Not physically strong, mentally strong. Not some false bravado of strength but the kind of strength that is borne out of having been tested. Harmed, violated, betrayed, abandoned kind of tested. Most of the time, I can handle mental challenges. I'm afraid that pride was my downfall.
So adept at relying on my own strength of mind to carry me through difficult times I was too prideful to recognize that the reason I continued to be lost and the reason I was becoming even more lost at every turn was because I was leaning on my own understanding. I was not calling out God to save me. I wasn't a babe in the woods shouting from a desperate place in my soul for Him to rescue me.
Nope. Rather I looked around and thought, I've got this. I've always got this. I don't need to stop and ask for directions.
My internal fortitude, my mental competence or whatever you want to call it, is not a product of anything at all that I have done. It is a Grace. I've always know this and always considered it such. I've never lost sight of where it came from. Without Grace I would be dead. No doubt in my mind, I walked up to that cliff and walked back. I would be dead without the Grace of Jesus Christ in my life.
But somewhere along the line last year, I guess I figured Jesus needed a break. Basically I think in some way last year when times got challenging, I said Jesus let me take the wheel and you take a nap. And well we know how that turned out. Lost and more lost.
When I was in the hospital my husband and family were there almost the entire time with me. I'm so grateful and blessed by them. But during the second hospitalization I found myself craving alone time. I needed to pray and I needed to cry. I needed to be vulnerable in a raw and painful way and I needed some privacy to do it. Trying to shake my husband for a few minutes is almost impossible. Let me tell you that fella is dug in like an Alabama tick. When gentler attempts failed to shake him, I became testy and upset.
You don't know this about me but I'm not someone who welcomes public displays of painful emotions. Happy cries, yes. Ugly cries no.no.no. I don't like to cry in front of anyone. any.one. When I am upset. It's a vulnerability that I share with very few people. I could feel myself reaching a breaking point and I was finally able to send my husband on an errand and get the moments that I needed to break down.
<insert ugly cry and pleas to God to help me>
The emotional release helped some in the moment but I didn't feel any less lost. So weird. Usually that helps more. I was discharged and began recovery. Still lost. Recovery gave way to a realization that I had crossed into a new low in my health. Normal had been reset and it wasn't good. It was baaaaaaad. I was drifting from moments of feeling depressed, to feeling unaffected by everything around me, as if little mattered. I began putting on a false front hoping I could resolve the issue before people noticed it was a sham and how very sad I was about my reality. Then for a few weeks it seemed to compound and compress. Compress. Like have you ever had one of those Space Saver vacuum bags? You keep adding things and adding them and suck out the air and then it compresses in on itself. It was like that. Add and compress.
Everything around me began to look as broken as I was feeling. The world is broken, relationships are broken, Mass is pointless, praying is pointless, trying is pointless, everything is stupid, I hate everything (except that I don't).
While those feelings seemed to take up most of the space in my head, there remained in my soul that little light. It was hope. It didn't come from me. My hope wasn't extinguished. It came from Christ. Even as the thoughts and fears assaulted me His still small voice reminded me that it was a lie. But I was too weary to fight. I was exhausted physically and mentally. My tank was empty. I surrendered to a phrase I just hate, "It is, what it is." It's the equivalent of "whatever". It's the anti-thesis of how I live my faith and my life.
Christmas had passed a few weeks before and I was too sick to be uplifted or enjoy it much.
Lent was coming at me quickly and I realized God was giving me landmark.
In the midst of this turmoil a lamp, a sign, something familiar appeared on the horizon - Lent, a new season in the Church and I hoped it would lead me home.
(continued in the post Choosing to be Found)