I got lost once, and I was scared. It was night. It was dark. It was clear with no moon. I was alone.
I was driving across the desert in Arizona on my way from one interstate highway to another. The trusted GPS on my phone told me to go right. I turned right. It told me to turn left. I turned left. After several miles, it directed me onto another road. Then the signal was lost. I turned again and came to a dead-end, in the desert, in the pitch-black dark of night. No more signal. No other cars or trucks. No landmarks, no nothing; just dark, dusty road. I started trying to retrace my path but couldn’t find my way out of the GPS maze, still no signal.
I stopped, got out of the car, tried to catch my breath. I had some survival gear and thought, well, I may need that emergency kit this time. Then a blessing of twin lights approached, a man in an old pickup heading home.
Thankfully, he stopped, and we talked.
“Lost?” he said. “Yes, I guess so. Where am I?” “Pretty much in the middle of nowhere,” he replied. “That’s what happens when people don’t respect the desert and get off the main roads.” Sheepishly, I asked for directions to make it on my own. “Won’t help,” he said, “you’ll need to follow me. I’ll get you back where you belong.”
Once we got to a winding but paved and clearly marked road, he stopped. As I drove around, he told me to follow it over the next hill, and then he took his leave of me to return home. As I crested the small summit, I could see in the distance the straight and narrow path of the interstate crossing the desert floor. It was just a matter of time that I entered the onramp and joined the lights of cars and trucks, assured of arriving at our destinations.
It’s easy to get lost. Whether we get lost or make it to our destination mostly depends upon who we trust and who we follow. Getting lost spiritually is what happens when we don’t respect life, don’t listen to the Holy Spirit, and don’t follow the Bible’s pathways, the Ten Commandments, the beatitudes, the Gospel, and the teachings of the Church. Picking and choosing, and not accepting the whole truth of God’s revelation in love gets us off the straight and narrow path, and we start wandering in the desert, worshipping the worst idols of all, ourselves. As Catholics, we trust in God by following our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, on your own intelligence do not rely; In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Two of my favorite scripture passages from the Gospel describe encounters Jesus has with two men whose lives are forever changed. One is a blind man, Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52), who is given sight, and the other is Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), the public sinner whose soul is healed and saved after he pledges restitution. Both reached out to the Lord, one by crying out “Son of David, have pity on me,” and “Master, I want to see,” and the other by climbing a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus as he passes. After Bartimaeus is given sight, he uses his sight to follow Jesus “on the way.” (Mark 10:52) At Jesus’ command, Zacchaeus hosts Jesus in his own home, much to the disgust of the self-righteous. Jesus reminded them and reminds all of us: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10) This is something we forget too often.
As the season of Lent approaches, we have the opportunity to encounter Jesus in the desert of our souls. In the private solitude of our prayer, perhaps we will cry out, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me” and “Master, I want to see.” Or maybe we will climb a tree, or crest a hill, do whatever it takes to catch a glimpse of the Lord and the pathway to salvation. Perhaps Jesus will ask us if we are lost, and maybe we will have the humility to admit that at times we are lost and need to be saved. Hopefully, we don’t find ourselves “pretty much in the middle of nowhere,” but it does happen. Thankfully, Jesus is always with us, and all we need to do is listen to his voice and follow him “on the way.”