Updated: Sep 13, 2020
At the end of John 13 and beginning of John 14, Jesus is preparing his disciples for his eventual departure. They are full of doubts, asking him where he is going and why they can’t come. Jesus replies that they should have faith, that they will be provided for.
But Thomas still asks, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
The disciples, like us, were just human beings and in them we have a model of how Jesus responds to our very human doubts and fears. Reading his responses helps me when I feel steeped in my own doubt.
Sitting in prayer, reading scripture with others, and being a part of a Christian community is a starting point to knowing if we are even standing on the path. These practices allow us to better hear God’s voice. They build our spiritual awareness.
Then at some point, we have to make a decision about what to do next. I am often overcome with doubt afterwards. I wonder if I might have made the wrong choice or if maybe I didn’t hear well enough. How can I know if I am still headed along the path that God has crafted for me?
One early spring weekend back in New England, I decided to go backpacking on the Appalachian trail for the weekend, just my dog and me. I drove to a secluded parking lot. There were no other cars or hikers in sight. I let the dog off her leash to run ahead and began climbing up the first rise.
As I hiked mile after mile, I started to notice small piles of snow. How lovely, I thought, there is still snow in the mountains. I touched some to feel the cold. My dog crunched mouthfuls in her teeth and leapt on. Gradually, the snow piles got bigger. Then, they started merging. At some point, I was walking on a solid blanket of snow. I could still see the trail blazes painted on the trees so I felt generally fine about this situation. I had picked out on the map the small wooden shelter where I would spend the night and I knew it wasn’t too far at that point. Even though it was getting late, at least I wouldn’t have to worry about pitching my tent.
(There are many red flags that experienced wilderness people might have noted up to this point. And, yes, you are right about all of them.)
In another mile or so, I was sinking in to snow up to my waist. The dog was diving in and having to launch herself up again to make any forward progress. After slogging through determinedly for a few minutes I looked up and suddenly realized I couldn’t see a blaze anywhere.
I noticed a quiet voice in my head, much later than I reasonably should have, and it said, “Erm, excuse me, I was wondering if it might be wise to consider turning back?”
I was filled with dread in that moment. Reflecting that I must have made a wrong decision, or really a string of wrong decisions, to get myself there, waist-deep in snow, the sun beginning to sink below the level of the trees.
I called to my dog and started going as fast as I could back down the mountain. I didn’t make it far before I realized that I would have to set up my tent on top of the snow. And so doing, crawled into my sleeping bag, balanced my dog on my chest, unraveled my emergency blanket from my first-aid kit (at least I had one of those) and slid it on top of the dog. Then I spent the coldest night of my life shivering and alone in the wilderness.
As soon as it was light enough to see, I put on my frozen boots and continued to head downwards, eventually, blessedly, managing to find the trail, and made it back to the car. My feet hurt for hours afterwards from the cold but otherwise, I was alive and found, returned to the realm of civilization.
I often wonder these days if I have missed the path somewhere in that same way. Have I made some error in judgement eight steps ago that has led me into a metaphorical snow drift? How will I know if I am lost? How will I know if I made a wrong turn back there? How will I know if I am being blinded by some goal that isn’t actually important?
Jesus replied to Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one come to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Sometimes, if we are paying attention, we can see the blazes that God sends to mark our way. If we are paying attention, sometimes we can hear God whispering to us to turn around already. Sometimes, if we can give up our plan that we thought was perfect, we can realize how lost we are and find our way back.
If we can come to know Jesus, then we know the way, because Jesus is the way. So we pray and read scripture and listen well and live in community. Each time we aren’t sure what we should do next and each time we are wondering if we are headed in the right direction, we can stop and listen and let go of our plans and worries and turn to God. We can share our doubts and questions and ask God to hold those for us. And we can know that if we keep returning to God with each and every step, God will provide for us and walk with us along this path that we are meant to travel, this path that we are journeying on our whole lives long.
by Dianne Garcia, Pastor of Family Ministry
This week, I wanted to add some questions for everyone to reflect on and share. At some point I would like to figure out how we can share comments on this blog but for now, hopefully, we can share with one another in small groups and individually.
Have you ever felt completely lost? When and how did you recognize that you were lost? How did you find your way back to the path?
What doubts do you harbor about the direction you are headed in right now? How do you feel like you can keep the conversation going with God about your doubts and fears?