The Paradox of Getting Lost to be Found

When I first started reading the Bible, I remember my confusion at paradoxical statements like, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 10:39). I used to wonder why Jesus would not speak plainly and say exactly what he meant. Later on, he makes more confusing statements: to reign, we must serve (Mt. 25:21); to be exalted, we must become humble (Mt. 23:12); and to be first, we must be last (Mt. 20:16). Paul adds to the mix of paradoxical statements when he asserts that to become wise, we must become fools (I Cor. 3:18); to really live, we must die (Gal. 2:20); and to have nothing is to possess all things (2 Cor. 6:10).

I confess that I often read these statements without thinking much about them and jumped right over to narratives and verses I understood easily. After all, didn’t Mark Twain say, “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts I do understand”? Even today, there’s so much that I do understand and do not do, that it seemed silly to focus on what I didn’t. And this was my modus operandi for a long time, until I was introduced to the spiritual practice of getting lost: the labyrinth.

Do not misunderstand me; as someone who became interested in faith because of the certainty I thought it offered in a world of chaos, doubt, and instability, I was not, at first, open to the spiritual practice of getting lost. Because even in “Amazing Grace” the hymn writer celebrates that he was once lost but is now found–the joy is in being found not in being lost. How could there be a spiritual practice for getting lost?! It seemed to be another esoteric spiritual teaching I would not quite understand.

And yet, when I began to walk the labyrinth, it resonated with me in a way other practices had not. I know there are many ways to walk a labyrinth–one can do so in silent meditation, in repeating a breath prayer or in recalling and recreating a life journey, but for me, it became a way to live my own paradox: it was in getting lost in my life that I was finding it, as I co-labored and walked with God toward an uncertain future.  

It was reminiscent for me of a saying I had heard my relatives say in Spanish: “Caminante no hay camino, se hace camino al andar” (Walker, there is no path to follow, you make the path by walking). Because my life did not follow the traditional path of graduating, getting married, and having children, I often felt that tension of wanting to walk a traditional path but needing to walk a new path.

As a kind of mini pilgrimage, the labyrinth engaged me in a body prayer that symbolized the journey within: I am walking; I know the path is secure, but I do not know where it will go or end; I grow weary and frustrated at times and want to jump out of the path, but I have to walk the entire length because it leads to God–to truth, to wholeness, to healing. There is a supreme irony in finding my way in a labyrinth, but it is an exercise of faith and trust that meets me where I am.

I remember a particularly difficult season of my life toward the end of my time living in California. I was walking a labyrinth in an old convent near Santa Barbara and not feeling particularly connected to God in any way. The effort of walking the labyrinth seemed futile, as my mind was distracted and preoccupied with worries over vocation, moving across the country, and finding rest in God. Just as I was about to give up the path and step off, it turned and ended. I was suddenly filled with a sense that this season was ending, too. I would not experience this disorientation in my life forever. That experience gave me a cup of hope to drink, and I returned back to my life with that gift.

And that’s the beauty of the labyrinth: the hand of God gently guiding us so that even when we feel lost or confused, we are not; we are moving forward with the one who loves us.

What spiritual practices have you found most meaningful in disorienting times?


Photo: The Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France

Karen Gonzalez

Co-Host at Dovetail Podcast
Karen Gonzalez is an immigrant from Guatemala, raised in the US. She is a writer, baseball lover, and amateur theologian in Baltimore, MD.
  • Karen, my experience with the labyrinth is limited but I know of its sacred call to keep following. It is often at the time we feel like giving up that God reveals himself. Thanks for sharing your beautiful words.

    • Karen Gonzalez

      Thank you, Debby, for sharing your own experience and for reading it. I once had a spiritual director tell me that the only way to mess up the spiritual practice of labyrinth is not to do it at all–God honors the journey and desire to draw close the divine.

      • I love this! I feel like so much of life could be summed up like that – the only way to mess up is to not do it at all.

  • The spiritual practice that I want to incorporate more into my life is breath prayer. I’m fumbling along with this discipline but when I do it, I am amazed at how connected my body is with God.

    • Karen Gonzalez

      I LOVE the breath prayers, especially the Jesus prayer! I have found it very helpful and meaningful in my own life. My favorite is Mary’s statement to the angel, “Let it be to me according to your word.” Have you ever tried doing breath prayers with a prayer rope? It helps me to focus as I move along the knots, and it was $3 at an Orthodox Church gift shop. Blessings to you as you connect with God.

      • I have not… I’ll have to look for one! Thanks!

  • This resonates deeply with me during this season in life. I’m going to think on the spiritual practices question and come back to this. Gracias, amiga. Your words are illuminating.

    • Karen Gonzalez

      Thank you, hermana. Blessings in Christ as you seek the divine 🙂

  • Have you been reading Barbara Brown Taylor? your meditation here reminded me of her “Altar in the World.” The paradoxes and the questions are becoming a place of respite for me too, Karen. Thanks for speaking out about this.

    • Karen Gonzalez

      No, but I read that book about 5 years ago and loved it! It really changed my outlook on God and the world. I’m still learning to be comfortable with the ambiguities, paradoxes, and uncertainties. I SO appreciate your reading it and sharing it.

  • Ovalle

    Karen,
    Thanks for your words. I love the celebration of the times of disorientation! I still need to find my practices in those times… but often what helps me come back are practices that involve my body like pilates or yoga. In some way the time connecting with God in those ways are like prayers for which I have no words but where my body needs to release and trust and then my mind will follow.