Sunday, December 6, 2009

Prayer when feeling lost

There are many different ways in which we can feel lost. We can feel confused about where we are going in life. Where am I headed? Where should I be headed? Why can't I get to where I want to be? We can also feel lost when whomever (or whatever) helped us feel anchored in life now is or feels inaccessible to us. I feel lost without this person I loved. I feel lost without my job or career. We may find ourselves feeling lost when important parts of our own selves no long feel under our control, because of physical or mental illness or injury. I can't relax. I'm in so much pain I can't get myself to do anything. My memory is so bad I can't remember anything anymore. In addition to all of these kinds of being lost (or perhaps because of them), we can also find ourselves "existentially" or spiritually lost: no longer knowing what we believe about the most important questions in our lives, the answers to which give us the strength to continue on through the struggles of our daily existence.

To feel lost can be frightening. I remember a number of times when I have taken walks in the woods or other unfamiliar areas and had moments where I wasn't sure I knew how to get back. As it started to get dark, my dilemma became more and more disturbing. There was always a great sense of relief when I saw something familiar, something that helped me get my bearings again. It strikes me that one of the most frightening parts of feeling lost is that often we feel alone at the same time. Notice that I refer to feeling lost and feeling alone as opposed to being lost or alone. It is the feeling of being lost and alone that overwhelms us, regardless of where we are geographically or how many people there may be in the room with us. In fact, sometimes one of the things that seems to most feed the 'lost and alone' feeling is the perception that everyone else seems to know where they are going. They have somebody with them. Things work out for them. One of the beauties of group therapy, 12 step groups and the like is that they help us get our bearings, to know that regardless of what we are experiencing, someone else has experienced something very similar. We are not alone. And if we are not alone, we don't feel quite so lost because others have been on this path ahead of us and they have found a way. If any of my patients are reading this and thinking, "OMG, she's writing about me!", rest assured that I am writing about what many people have told me and what I myself have felt at certain times in my life. These feelings are part of the human condition and, as unwelcome as they are, they can lead us to a new personal growth that right now we may not be able to imagine.

So now, the promised prayer (for those who might like a prayer), written by Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk who was also a highly esteemed writer (yes, even he had these feelings):

"My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone."