I was hiking in the Pisgah National Forest on a trail which was new to me. I had an old trail guide, and, after I had been walking for a long while, I realized that that map didn’t match the territory. Markers on the trail were scarce, and they weren’t as clear as I needed them to be. I was deep in the woods and lost. What was supposed to have been about an hour’s walk in the early afternoon turned into several hours of my racing against the setting sun. At one point, to my great frustration, I realized I was walking in wide circles and that I wasn’t making any progress at all.
I’d always heard that people who are lost tend to walk in circles. Researchers Jan Souman and Marc Ernst, of the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, used GPS tracking technology to prove that it is true. They observed the trajectories of people who trekked n the Saharan Desert in Tunisia and in the Bienwald Forest in Germany, and they proved that, without maps or a compass or the ability to get one’s bearings from the sun or moon or a prominent landmark, people were very likely to walk in circles.
I think it’s true even when we’re not in the desert or the woods. I can get “lost” to myself and to what matters most, even when I know exactly where I am. There are thickets of confusion and detours of distraction and pathless stretches of difficulty.
There are some journeys which are much harder if we try to make them alone. We could keep ourselves from a lot of stumbling around and struggling in the shadows, if we’d consult a dependable guide, a reliable map, a working compass, a settled sense of our own true north, or the steady sun and stars in the sky. We need the wisdom of a friend or a counselor, the perspective of a more-seasoned traveler, the experience of others who’ve been on the trail, the voice of the Spirit, and the direction of proven truth.
On that day I was lost, I finally heard voices and the closing of a car door. I moved in the direction of those sounds and, eventually, came to a road I recognized. I’m grateful for the voices and the Voice which find us and set us moving in the right direction again.