What does it mean to be lost?

Jan 15, 2024

2024 is an election year. Politics will be talked about a lot. I enjoy reading about and following politics a little. I am a big fan of discussing ideas and considering the philosophy of thought about leading a nation. At the same time, I am also a believer that it’s not always appropriate to discuss political opinions publicly. That being said, I was pondering recently on the upcoming campaigns for political office and the concerns that come up during those campaigns. One of the biggest concerns seems to be that America is losing its identity. After all, we will soon be almost 250 years old. There are probably some that would have the view that a nation whose identity is tied up in ideas that are a quarter of a century old, is already out of date and needs to be called into question. Of course that is usually the opinions of the young and the ignorant who have the preconceived idea that old ideas are generally wrong and new, fresh ideas are worth pursuing. It isn’t until they study history more and mature more on their own before they gain the insight that some of the most deadly ideas were repeated lies that spring up from time to time disguised as fresh concepts. Age also tends to bring with it the insight that some of our old, outdated ideas are really not old at all, but timeless and foundational for a healthy society.

This line of thinking got me to ponder on what it means to be lost. The way my brain works, I tend to connect everything to an analogy, so pardon me if I dive deep into an analogy to chase down the ideas of lost and found when it comes to existential thoughts of identity.

Imagine for a moment that you are wandering through the woods, or even better for this analogy, imagine that your parents or civic leaders are with you in the woods and have attempted to teach you how to navigate the wilderness. They show you a thin piece of string that runs through the woods. This is a guide string. It shows you the way to a healthy and fulfilled life. Now imagine growing up in those woods. How at first, you might hold the string as you walk the path but as you mature, perhaps you feel comfortable walking alongside the guide string. The more comfortable you are knowing that the guide is there, the farther you can stray from the guide string. Now this analogy gets me to the deeper question I want to reflect on. At what point are you lost? I think we would agree that at some point, you would turn to look where you thought the guide string was and it wouldn’t be there. You would realize that you are farther from the path than you should be. You would realize you are lost. But you were lost before you realized you were lost. For if we knew precisely when we were getting lost, we would not ever really be lost. 

If we had never stopped the habit of holding onto the guide string, sure, maybe we would miss out on seeing some more of the forest, but we would always know exactly when we were veering off the path. Because we would feel that tug on the string as we wandered away.

There was a time in America where we all had a pretty good idea of the values and ideals we claimed for ourselves. We had laid out that guide string and if you held on to it, it led to prosperity and purpose. But over time we have wandered pretty far. We could look back at our middle school civics class and maybe we remember where that guide was placed, but we willingly chose to neglect it. To go our own way. But it feels like in 2024 we are waking up to the idea that as a nation, we don’t have a single guide string anymore. People have laid out many strings going different directions. People are teaching their children which strings are important and to avoid the old yucky strings, while others are teaching their kids the dangers of new strings and trying their hardest to maintain the old paths. It’s become quite a mess. And the big question for 2024 is, are we lost? Can we get back to the proper guide string? And will enough of us agree on where it is that we can maintain a cohesive national identity?

These are not questions I have answers to. I do know that as a nation or empire, the United States is still rather young. Most world moving nations have existed for several centuries, but they often experience some of these same growing pains. I also know that Jesus teaches that the path of salvation is narrow. Much like the string in the woods, once you have been shown the way, you want to grab hold of it. The bible also teaches us that there are other paths that will look attractive, less burdensome, wide and easy to follow, and these paths lead to death. I can not tell what will happen to the United States, but we do get to choose for ourselves what path we take. I may wander from time to time, but I have tied myself to the narrow path. I know when I have wandered away from it. I feel the tug. I hope our nation can find its way. It’s never too late to look for the narrow path. But the first step is to acknowledge that you are lost. You can’t find your way until you first admit that you are lost. So that is the question I want to ponder on during this season. Are we lost? Or perhaps we are not as lost as we sometimes feel. Maybe the guide string is nearby, covered with leaves. All that is needs to happen is for someone to grab hold of that string and lead the way. Maybe we should remain hopeful, but I know for myself, it sure seems like we are pretty lost.