a few words for when you feel lost


So many people I know, especially those in their twenties and thirties, speak of feeling lost sometimes. Partly it’s that we had a plan or expectation of what life would be by now and it hasn’t worked out that way. Or it has, but it’s not what we thought it would be. Partly, it’s that hard things have happened and we feel dispirited or changed. Partly, it’s that our culture, on and off line, encourages a relentless barrage of comparison and consumerism and wanting, and because of that, we find ourselves wanting.

To those who feel lost (and of course I am writing as much to myself as to anyone),

I know it feels hard now. You’re lost and looking but you don’t know what for. You just know you’re looking.

You’re looking for old times and old feelings and people and places that are lost to you. You’re looking for your childhood self and your adolescent self and your twenty something self, the you full of energy and dreams and ideas, the one with the resolute beliefs and passion. You’re looking for the life you thought you’d have, that career or relationship or lifestyle. You’re looking for validation, affirmation, meaning. You’re looking for love, acceptance, rest.

Try staying still. Try looking right where you are.

Try stepping outside into the air and breathing deeply and watching the life around you. The birds as they come and go, people on a street, the colours of the sky. Feel a breeze, hear a birdsong, listen to voices or music. The other day, I saw a bright ladybird making her way up a green stem in the middle of a bank of wildflowers. I could have missed her, so small in the tangle of grasses and weeds. She was doing exactly what she was meant to be, and that gave me peace.

Try letting yourself feel what you need to feel: life is a constant flow of emotion and growth. Be sad if you need to. Let someone hold your hand. Notice those who, in fumbling, flawed ways, stand by you. Those who love you, or seek your love.

Try doing something you love. Not for the sake of earning or recognition, just do it for love. Write or walk or crochet. Play cricket or a board game or the violin. Cook or salsa or surf.

Try being a friend. Not in a showy way, not selfies and big experiences and grand gestures. Just walk together, literally and metaphorically. Talk and listen and help and encourage. Laugh and eat together. Pray for each other.

Stop telling yourself you’re not good enough, haven’t done enough, haven’t earned enough. Who else would you speak to that way? Stand still and feel your natural, unique enoughness, your innate worth. Know you are loved.

There is plenty of hardship in the world, plenty of disappointment, plenty of fear and hate, it’s true. But love and life are there to be found, usually right there, where you are, right in front of you, in the stillness of your ordinary, glorious life.

(And if you’re not sure you believe me, or perhaps you long for more words to speak into your lostness, read Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver, or I Guess I Haven’t Learned that Yet, by Shauna Niequist, or ask me to tell you the Bible stories of Ruth and Peter and Jesus.)

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