Every year we hear another story of a person or a few persons lost out in the woods. In February of this year, 3 mushroom pickers were lost in the woods south of Portland, Oregon for six days. The Connes family spent the first night in the rain before locating a large, hollow log that they could all fit into. With no lighters or matches to start a fire and a wet forest surrounding them, they shivered in the dark praying that rescuers would find them. As the days went on and they could not find their way out, nor did help come, the Connes considered eating their beloved dog, Jesse, such was their hunger.
Can you imagine that? Being lost, afraid, desperate, and thinking to yourself, “How are we ever going to get out of here? How are we ever going to make it? Who will rescue us?”
In truth, many of us ask those exact questions even if we aren’t lost in a thick forest. The concrete jungle that is New York City can be a scary place to navigate and an overwhelming place to live. Fear and trepidation can creep in on even the most secure and able of us. They wouldn’t say, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” if this weren’t a challenging place to live.
And there are other jungles in our lives if you will: divorce, moving, job loss, sickness, financial troubles.
I recall speaking with one young woman who had recently moved to New York from Texas, and she was beginning to have panic attacks. She told me that it all just felt like too much: being in a new place that was so intense, trying to make it in the early stages of her career, being away from the friends and family who kept her grounded and made her feel safe back home. Only 4 months or so after moving to New York City, this young woman headed back to Texas. She simply could not see how it would all work out for her here. She too was asking the questions, how am I ever going to make it? How is this ever going to work?
We have to remember that growing up is hard on the young. It’s hard on the old too. We are all always growing.
When this young woman and I were talking, she was struggling to rely on her faith. She repeated aloud to me what we have all heard in church and read in the Bible. That God is faithful. That God is our Shepherd when we are lost, our strength when we are weak, our courage when we are afraid. But for some reason, she could not get those words to sink in and believe in them fully. Her faith was such that it did not translate into peace of mind and perseverance, so she went home.
Have you ever felt so lost, so overwhelmed by the present and afraid of the future, that your faith was seriously shaken? A time when you didn’t know what you believed anymore. A time when you couldn’t see God working in your life. I’d venture we all have. We don’t see how God will get us through.
That’s because God works in different ways than we work. The way we think about things, the way we understand, is different from God’s infinite wisdom. If we want to get from point A to point B and back to A again, we figure we will just walk in a straight line between those places, but God might take us up, then down, and all around so as to get us where we belong. It’s all about the journey after all. So, no, we cannot fully comprehend how God works.
Maybe, the young woman from Texas was supposed to go home. Maybe, this wasn’t the place for her, and God had other plans. Or maybe, she gave up too soon. I don’t know, and only in hindsight may she even know what was the right thing to do.
Or maybe, there was no right thing to do. There was a just a choice. In the young woman’s case, the choice to stay or leave. In your life, there are choices you make every day. Choices to talk it through or walk away. Choices to argue or listen. Choices to carry on or quit. Maybe life is just a series of choices that lead to different ends, and we have to pick the choice that we think will get us to our desired end.
Life develops as a combination of our choices mixed with God’s ways.
This is why the words from Isaiah ring so true to so many of us. The Lord says through the prophet’s mouth, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55: 8-9).
God’s ways are higher than our ways; God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, which explains why we often don’t understand exactly what is going on in our lives. Because ultimately our lives are God’s creation. That’s what God does. Create. And the mind of God is higher and deeper and wider than we can even imagine. We simply have to trust that the way God is working is in our best interest and will lead to a desired end.
The Scripture continues, “For as the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55: 10-11).
God’s word, God’s decree, what God intends to happen always happens. It succeeds. The good that God has in mind for us will come to fruition, but we just might not be able to see it happening when we are in the thick of it.
I believe that the young woman who went back to Texas is 100% still embraced in God’s larger plan for her life. She may have taken a detour here or there, but God will not be defeated. That’s the message of the Cross, that sin and death will not have the last word. As Paul says, “where o death is your victory? Where o death is your sting? But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” No one could have imagined the way up from the grave, and yet, Jesus rose to new life and stood before his disciples. Life and love have the final victory, both now and forever, declares our God. We would be wise to remember that when we are lost and afraid, wondering, “How is my life ever going to work out?!”
It just will. Life just does work out. People worry about the future all the time, and it’s like poison to the soul. Why? Because we can’t face our future fears in the present moment. They aren’t here yet; they aren’t real.
What we can do though is realize that the present moment creates the future. How we act today, those choices that we make, will affect what our lives become. So it is wise to invest all our energy into this moment, instead of worrying about something that probably won’t happen in the next. Just be here, now.
And let us remember that God always accomplishes what God sets out to do.
In today’s gospel, Jesus knows the disciples are worried and at their wits end. There’s never going to be enough food for all these people, they say. But Jesus isn’t overcome. He is secure and assured in the grace of God, that there will always be enough.
So Jesus gathers the loaves, gives thanks for what they have (instead of worrying about what they don’t have) and begins giving the bread and fish away, as much as people want. In a moment where it seemed like it would never work out, Jesus made a way. He found a way so everyone could eat and be satisfied.
Can you trust that the Living God, that Jesus Christ, is still working in this world and in our lives making a way? That when you are crying, “How is this ever going to work out?” God is right there devising a plan for everything to work out perfectly. I hope you can. I pray you do. Because the alternative is panic attacks and decisions made out of fear. The alternative is being lost in the world without hope.
Remember the Connes family who was lost in the woods for six days and about to eat their dog? Rescuers found them, and their beloved dog Jesse. The family used the screen of a dead cell phone and a knife to reflect the sun off of, and finally, a helicopter pilot noticed them down there in that thick forest and got them safely home, minus some hypothermia and dehydration.
How is it ever going to work out? We wonder. It just does. By the grace of God, it always does.