Losing the Trail


by guest blogger Leslea Linebarger |


I got lost in the woods the other day. Well maybe not LOST lost, but I was on an unfamiliar trail and wasn’t sure where the trail had suddenly gone. The map hadn’t indicated any forks, but this was clearly one. I hesitated, debating what to do and considered all the options, including turning back. I knew I could probably backtrack and be fine, but as long as I had wanted to hike this trail, that choice sounded disappointing. So I forged on, pushed back my anxiety along with the overgrowth, searching to see if there might be clearance ahead. I told myself what I often allude to in spiritual direction, “There is a path here somewhere. I just have to find it.”


It’s funny how much I enjoy nature treks when I know where the path leads. On trails I’ve walked before where the path is wide or at least clearly marked, I’m quite content to lose myself in the beauty of the outdoors. However when I’m not familiar with the setting or I can’t see a path, I can get a little anxious. It’s part of the culture we swim in to want to have information at our fingertips, and I’m as dependent as the next person on google maps. Whatever happened to relying on a compass to tell us the way? Where’s my sense of adventure and curiosity? Could the unexpected perhaps be a good thing if I’m willing to take a few detours?


In the book “An Altar in the World,” Barbara Brown Taylor writes about the spiritual practice of “getting lost.” She talks about the many ways that getting off the beaten path and allowing yourself to take a new route to your destination can be beneficial. She says in our daily routines we quickly fall into autopilot and don’t even notice what’s right before us. She writes about all the new things we might see if we’re willing to take detours, as well as the gift of seeing familiar things through new eyes. She speaks too about welcoming the discomfort and the “not knowing,” which can help us empathize with the stranger in our midst. Her reflections made me wonder about my addiction to finding the shortest route and never straying from the path. What’s my hurry? Why do I need the illusion of certainty following me everywhere I go? What if I slow down, breathe deeply and really take time to be present? Might I then see with new eyes?


It seems it’s often in times of desperation that I remember that each of us has an inner guiding compass. My inner compass can inform me as to how others are feeling, it makes me aware of the emotional climate in a room, as well as the state of my own centeredness or lack thereof. It can help me with decision making if I remember to check in, and It can also guide me into paths of righteousness, into truth, and sometimes even lead me to the next step in the journey if I will only pause, ask and listen for an answer.


As I hesitated on the trail, I remembered a scripture I’d read just the week before: “Whether you turn to the right or the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’ “ Jesus has told me he’s left his Spirit with me, and that Spirit within is my inner compass. I take a deep breath, pause for a moment to ask for his peace and, feeling a cooling breeze on my face, take a step forward.


Questions to ponder:

When your path doesn’t go as you expected, how do you manage it? Are you comfortable with holding things loosely or do you feel anxious about uncertainty? How does it feel to refer to that certainty as an illusion? Can you remember a time when you sensed the Spirit’s presence guiding you? Is it your habit to ask for that help or do you tend to forget it’s available? What might help you remember?


Leslea Linebarger lives in Southborough, MA. She offers spiritual direction at St. Mark's Episcopal Church where she leads a weekly women's discussion group. She enjoys hiking, biking and doing anything or nothing with her grandson Jesse.

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