In a piece in America magazine, Margaret Silf relates a tale of a lost traveler who experiences frustration when he asks a boy where a series of trails leads. The boy can not answer where any of them go and when the exasperated man asks the boy what he does know, the boy responds, “I know I’m not lost.”
Silf makes the useful point that “Not knowing where to go next is not necessarily the same thing as being lost.” It is true that we tend to experience some nervousness, and perhaps even some panic, when we find ourselves in unfamiliar places. We like certainty and we are uncomfortable with the feeling of uncertainty that accompanies finding ourselves with several paths in front of us and no ability to predict where they will lead.
But, as she reminds us, our God is a God who tells us over and over again, “Do not be afraid, I am with you.” The question for us is always, are we willing to trust that? Are we willing to live with uncertainty? To take a step with God even when we don’t know where it will lead?
I was reminded when I read the Silf piece of something Thomas Merton once wrote. Titled The Road Ahead, it is a prayer that has helped me on any number of occasions. It is a good one to keep in mind when we feel some anxiety in the midst of unfamiliarity. Merton prays:
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 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.