The Pain, Confusion and Hope of Being “Lost”

“They seem kind of lost,” said my wife.

During the last couple of weeks, this was the third time she used the phrase. Not all about the same person - one was a teenager; another still carried the newly-retired scent and a third was approaching 40 years of age. Both males and females were represented.

Being well-seasoned in the Christian tradition, my mind went immediately to the line in Amazing Grace - “I once was lost but now am found.” My wife’s drifted to the prodigal son. The state of being lost is something with which we, in the Christian tradition, wrestle a great deal.`

My wife’s comment became like a thorn in my sock, unsettling and provoking. What does it mean to be lost?

I’m lost, I don’t know who I am

At the deep level of spirit, the phrase speaks to a profound uncertainty about personal identity and one’s place in the world. In one way, pursuit of the questions - Who am I? Where do I fit? How I can make a difference in the world? - is the work of everyone. Answers to these are the rebar in a life with a strong foundation. If not answered well or subject to the chronic stress of re-examination they can become debilitating, tragic, even life-threatening.

I’m not lost, I just don’t know where I am

I first heard this saying attributed to Daniel Boone. Of course, that was in the era when I was still interested in coonskin hats and rifles that shot ping-pong balls so I don’t know if the attribution is correct. The phrase has endured though, even becoming the name of a Facebook page!

Piper Perabo’s more recent quote underscores the sense of dislocation that can come in a post-modern, transient world: “I’m not lost, they just moved my street.”

The world may change suddenly - the death of a spouse, the ending of a long career, the sense that what was implicitly promised was illusionary or has disappeared: all can spawn the sense of being in an unfamiliar place. In our family, entering the world of mental health and drug addiction left me feeling dislocated, like waking up in a parallel universe. A lot looks the same but some key rules seem different and well-intentioned actions seldom yield anticipated results.

I’m not lost, I just don’t know where I’m going

While a variation on the last interpretation, the focus centres upon direction and purpose.

Vikram Bengal took out this billboard: “I like asking little kids what they want to be when they grow up because I’m still looking for ideas.” The question “What am I going to be when I grow up?” still resonates for many boomers well into their retirement.

Stories of single parents, athletes and women fighting incredible odds stand as inspiring testaments to people who have found - or have often had it thrust upon them - a focus for their life.

Often this version of “lost” becomes yoked with the matter of meaning. What’s the use? Or, in more recent form, Whatever? Or, in response to our consumer culture, “Are you sure this is all there is?”

I’m not lost, I just don’t want to be found

I saw a movie clip the other day that said the “latest generation” is not so concerned with being connected as once assumed. They like to be “in touch” but perhaps do not crave too much deeper intimacy and sharing. I remain to be convinced. For most people an abundant life contains some deep connections.

Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it means never living apart from one’ self. Community does not necessarily mean living face-to-face with others; rather, it means never losing the awareness that we are connected to each other.” (Parker Palmer)

“We are not alone” - not just comfort, also a call out of isolation, to recognize the intricate webs with people, species and the creation

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The creedal phrase, used by The United Church of Canada, “We are not alone,” is not just about comfort. It is also a call to recognize the intricate webs with other people, species and the creation. It is a call out of isolation to engagement and an accountable use of gifts and talents. Contrary to the strict doctrine of the consumer culture, we are not beloved and gifted just for our own pleasure and happiness. We are gifted in order to respond (response-able) to the opportunities, needs and challenges beyond ourselves.

I’m lost because I am in the grip of something much stronger than I and it drains the life from me and my relationships.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), in any given year, one in five Canadians experience a mental health or addiction problem. Some key statistics from the CAMH website. 

  • The disease burden of mental illness and addiction in Ontario is 1.5 times higher than all cancers put together and more than 7 times that of all infectious diseases.
  • An average of 11 people die by suicide every day in Canada
  • An estimated 75% of children with mental disorders do not access specialized treatment services.
  • In any given week, at least 500,000 employed Canadians are unable to work due to mental health problems.

The staggering number of individual struggles represented by these statistics require a variety of responses, some medical, some social, some personal. Some battles are simply too overwhelming to be fought alone.

Although no church historian, I am reminded that John Wesley, the great Reformer of the turbulent 18th century, established the Methodist Class Meetings, where small groups met to share their lives, the triumphs and the struggles, within a context of care and support.

Nothing beats the regular gathering in a trusted small group where the members care about each other in a non-judgmental atmosphere of support and accountability.

Growing up in the mountains of British Columbia, when the snows came, it took very little reflection to realize that being lost can quickly become a matter of life and death. AND search and rescue is a community activity and responsibility. For the lost, the first word and prayer may be “Help.”

Photos by Alec Weir, John Chavez, Elle Zhu, on Unsplash

If you have ever felt lost - or know someone for whom the description seems apt - how would you describe that state or experience? And what pulled you/them through?


  1. I was interested in your starting point… an observation of “other” seeming to be lost. I wonder if that question that comes to us sometimes is more about what we see lost as being rather than what the other might be actually experiencing.

    It was curious for me to read and identify with some of the descriptions yet have never felt lost was the naming that I would choose for that. Pondering that.

    1. I think what intrigued me was that we seldom use the word “lost” anymore. We prefer more psychological terms but you raise an interesting point: to what extent can one be in such positions without feeling the spiritual dimension I call lost. Perhaps the reverse is also true. One can feel lost, in a spiritual sense, yet have answers to the other questions – where we are, etc..

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