New Year, Same Problems

Yes, I know it’s been 9 months since I last posted anything on this blog. Yes, some of you were beginning to get worried. But between transferring colleges, turning 21 (very important stuff), and moving to Europe, it’s been dang busy in my life! Oh, but how glad I am to be back with y’all on Endless Bounds. So let’s do this.

***

This fall, I was blessed with the beautiful opportunity to travel Europe for four months with some of my closest friends. I left in the middle of August, and our first stop – with breathless anticipation and mind-numbing fear – was Ireland. We made it out to Galway, Ireland, on the coast, and found a hostel that was hip, young, and warm. Emblazoned on the wall in the kitchen was a giant mural that had all these little anecdotes and pieces of advice that seemed perfect to remember for the upcoming four months.

Postcard from Kinlay Eyre, Galway, Ireland
Postcard from Kinlay Eyre, Galway, Ireland

Things like, this is your life. Do what you love. If you don’t like something, change it. Life is simple. Travel often. Life is short.

And my personal favorite – getting lost will help you find yourself.

Getting lost will help you find yourself.

I was sold on the idea immediately, thinking ahhh…that’s how I’ll finally discover myself. It’s about time!

God knows I’ve been trying. I mean, really, all of 2014 was my “find myself” year. In January, I transferred into a new college – I thought surely this is where I discover who I really am. So I met new people, formed new groups, had new experiences, and jumped head first into a renewed faith.

By March, I’d practically given up. Finding yourself is a lot harder than looking into a mirror, it seems.

So I decided to study abroad in Europe. Four months of European adventures with 200 other students – of whom I only knew about four or five. And that led me to the exact moment in Galway, sitting at a kitchen table across from two of my close friends, staring at the wall mural, enamored with the idea that if I just get lost, I’ll find myself.

Well…after a year of trying to find myself, and four months of literally getting lost everywhere, I can safely say that I still have no idea who I am.

And now, as I sit here on December 31st, waiting for the hour when we all shuffle into the basement for the ball to drop, it is so obvious to me that all anyone wants to know is themselves, and that the idea of finding ourselves, even if we have to get lost to do so, seems so tantalizing.

This is why we have aisles of self-help books in Barnes&Noble. This is why therapists make so much money. Why Buzzfeed quizzes are posted all over the internet, and why everyone is so eager to compare Myers Briggs types. This is why Polonius’ line in Hamlet is quoted all over tshirts – “to thine own self be true.” Why I made myself and my friends accounts on Pottermore to find out what house from Harry Potter we’re all in. This is why a hostel in the middle of Eyre Square, Galway, Ireland has the quote getting lost will help you find yourself painted on the wall.

Because all anyone wants to know is who they are, what they are made for, where they have been. I mean, isn’t that the point of New Years Eve? We celebrate all that we have done in the last year, and we look forward to a fresh start. If you don’t like who you are, now is the chance to change! And if you do like who you are, and you loved 2014, now is the time to weep and pray that 2015 is just as good or better.

But this isn’t why I’m finally sitting down after 9 months of radio silence to write to you all.

I’m not writing to tell you that I know who I am now, and that I suddenly pieced together my entire identity.

I’m writing because getting lost is unavoidable and inevitable, but you’d be surprised who you find once you’re there.

Let me explain.

When I was in Europe (woof…still haven’t gotten used to writing or saying that), I went on a very, very long hike with my classmates through the mountains of Lower Austria – we started in a nature park and hiked 17 or 18 miles to a town called Mariazell. I started out with my friends, who had been carrying all of my things, but somehow I got separated from them. Assuming I fell behind, I decided to run up ahead a little to find them so I could get my water and some lunch.

Otscher Mountain, Niederosterreich
Otscher Mountain, Niederosterreich. Emily Burgess.

So I jogged up around the corner to the next group, who hadn’t seen my friends. Well, I’m the unathletic one so I assumed they were just up ahead. I kept jogging. I ran. I stopped groups to ask if they’d seen my friends. A nun told me she was almost positive my friends were an hour behind us and I told her she was ridiculous, so I kept running.

Erlauf, Niederosterreich
Erlauf, Niederosterreich

Eventually, I ended up alone. Alone. I was in the mountains of Austria, alone, with no cell phone, no water, no boy scout skills, and the only thing I knew was that if I walked straight long enough, eventually I’d end up in a town where everyone spoke German.

This is one of those terrible stories they put on the Discovery Channel, and my active imagination was running a hundred miles a minute. I could fall. Break my leg. Be stranded and die of hypothermia and have my corpse be eaten by a bear (do they have bears in Lower Austria?) At one point, I did fall – I was walking on a tiny ledge dozens of feet above a river ravine and my left foot slipped off the edge. I caught myself with my hands and my knees but after that, the entire time I was hiking alone, I sang “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” in an incredibly shaky voice. Several times I passed some hardcore hikers with their sticks and backpacks and, like, Marine gear and I just had my sweatshirt and it was incredibly awkward.

(As it turns out, my friends were behind me the entire time. But the point isn’t that I lost them, the point is that I was lost. And, yes, I did find them eventually…several hours later.)

Erlauf, Niederosterreich
Erlauf, Niederosterreich

This past fall and winter, I was lost a lot. Running through Trnava to catch a train, jumping onto moving trains in Paris, walking through Foggia at midnight to find a hostel, falling into a lake in Slovenia, almost falling off a cliff in Ostcherland, going off without a map or plan (or money, tbh) all through Europe. We were lost.

Transferring to a new college, taking new classes with new professors, meeting new people, being hours away from home, having some of my closest friends out of state or out of the country, realizing just how little I knew about my faith and my God…I was lost.

You don’t have even to sleep with the devil to be lost – you don’t have to get involved with the wrong sort, you don’t need an affliction or addiction, you don’t need a sin or a past or mistake to be lost.

You can set out on a safe road with a safer end goal and still find yourself lost. You can be minding your own business with quite good intentions and be lost. We are all lost, somehow, somewhere.

We are all lost. And I have fallen into the idea that the only way to not be lost is to find myself. So I take the quizzes and read the books. So I saw a therapist and I spent hours talking to my friends about what I feel. So I cry. I blog. I’m lost.

So I’m not writing to tell you that I’ve finally found myself and discovered my true identity.

I’m writing to tell you that getting lost is unavoidable and inevitable, but you’d be surprised who you find once you’re there.

Because you know what I discovered in 2014? Getting lost does not help us find ourselves.

Getting lost helps us find each other. And it helps us find God.

I wrote a post once about how hitting rock bottom is a good thing because it’s then that we can have a solid foundation off of which to push ourselves. Getting lost is a good thing too, because it creates dependency.

I depended heavily on my friends in Europe. One friend had this uncanny knack for understanding metro systems. Another was superbly generous if we found ourselves short on euros. Some friends would offer to give up their seats on the train, others would offer to carry my bags if I found they were too heavy. We all lived together, ate together, prayed together, drank together. We got lost together, and we found God every single time.

And honestly, I saw God so much more in the mountains of Austria that I hiked by myself, scared and isolated, than I did in most cities or towns. My natural instinct was to pray, and sing, and just be with God.

God is in Austria. God is in France. God is in your school, in your church, in your family, in your friend. God is in you. God is.

And we can’t fully find Him until we stop looking for ourselves.

How can we, so utterly consumed with knowing everything about ourselves, begin to understand anything about the God who created us?

How can we even expect to know anything about the machine before understanding the engineer? How can we understand the art without knowing the artist? How can we comprehend beauty without knowing Beauty?

Getting lost creates a dependency that should be entirely placed on God – because only God is entirely trustworthy and only God is entirely faithful.

Getting lost creates an abandonment that can be so, so fruitful so long as we are open to Him and to His will.

Getting lost doesn’t help us find ourselves, nor should we be looking for ourselves. Christ tells His disciples that whomever wants to follow Him must deny themselves. “Deny thyself,” He says, “to follow me.”

Gaming, Austria. Emily Burgess.
Gaming, Austria. Emily Burgess.

We are so small and inconsequential. But we are so precious.

Why do we spend so much of our energy into “getting lost” to find ourselves – when we are lost, we don’t find.

Don’t you know that when you are lost, you are found?

He sees you. He created you. He knows you.

And He finds you, wherever and whomever you are.

The beauty of it is that getting lost helps you lose yourself. And in a world so consumed with knowing and finding and understanding, losing yourself could quite possibly be the best thing that ever happened to you.

My grandmother died while I was in Europe – that dear, sweet woman whom I will never forget. And I didn’t tell my friends about it at first, nor did I allow myself to cry in front of any of them. No need to seem lost, I thought, because we’re all dealing with our own problems. But when I did finally cry, when I did finally open up and make myself vulnerable to my friends, I was thanked. I was thanked, because (apparently, as I found out) it’s a gift to be vulnerable, and it’s a gift to my friends when I allow them to find me.

When we stop trying so hard to be a perfect version of ourselves – strong, confident, made-of-marble me – we deny those around us a chance to love us. But when we deny ourselves, we allow ourselves to be found and loved in the most whole and cherished way.

Maybe this isn’t big news for some of you. Maybe you all know this, and I’m the only one who’s been wrestling with this for the entirety of 2014. And I’ll probably still wrestle with this bitter pill – it’s a new year and I’m probably going to have the same problems.

But I sit here on the eve of 2015, excited for new-ness and a continuing of the adventure I began this time last year, and I can look back over the days of the last year and know – even if it was a year completely different than the one I thought I’d have – even if I didn’t finally figure out my identity like I’d been praying I would back in March – that I did what I was supposed to do.

And I know that every single damn time I was lost, I was found. And I found my friends. And I found God.

And this is what I hope for every single one of you starting 2015. I hope that you manage to lose yourself – and deny yourself – enough to find what’s really important.

Family. Friends. Love. Peace. God.

So, Happy New Year, everyone. I hope your 2015 is even better than 2014. I hope you spend the entire year being found and finding others. And I hope that none of you experience the fear of being lost on a mountain in Austria alone this year. Or ever.

And I know – it all sounds so very campy and cliche, but take it from someone who just spent an entire year getting lost –

That hostel in Galway, Ireland was wrong. Dead wrong.

This is your life, so do what you love. But life isn’t simple. Life isn’t that short. You can’t always change what you don’t like. And getting lost won’t help you find yourself.

But you’ll find something better. I promise.

***

Here, have a song. We sang this a lot in Europe, and it’s pretty spot on – no matter how little I can comprehend, God is still holy. And no matter how lost I find myself to be, God is still worthy to be praised.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Love that song. Rock on, girl. I’m glad you had a good time in Austria! I’ll be praying for you next semester as I journey over there!! Love you! :)

    1. Wish I could see you in the Spring! I’ll pray for you, too, of course.

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