|Photo by Lori Greig|
I once used my phone’s GPS to find my way out of a building. I’m not kidding.
A sense of direction is not a gift with which I was born. The problem, I think, isn’t even that I have a bad sense of direction. I actually have no sense of direction. At all. I think the angel providing the software for my sense-of-direction programming got lost on his way to the people factory.
As I travel through the world, I suspect there may be gnomes running around behind me, moving buildings and signs and landmarks. When I glance over my shoulder or turn around to retrace my steps, nothing ever looks the way I think it should.
I can decode the cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west) exactly twice a day: at sunrise and sunset. If the sky is overcast, forget it. There’s a better chance of Jesus coming back today than of me accurately determining whether a right turn will convey me toward New York or California. Or Ecuador.
When consulting a map, I must stand with the map oriented in tandem with the physical world. Even then my right-or-left decision-making ability follows the 50-50-90 law: I have a 50/50 chance of getting it right and 90 percent of the time I get it wrong.
Hawaii was the most congenial place I ever lived, because there’s only so lost you can get on an island. If you run into water, just turn around and keep trying.
My directionally masterful husband once endeavored to teach me how to geolocate myself in physical space. “Picture yourself as a bug on a map,” he said. “When you turn left, the bug turns left. When you turn right, the bug turns right.”
I squinched my eyes closed and attempted to do this.
“I can’t make the bug move,” I explained. “When I turn right the map turns left.”
His eyes popped like Wile E. Coyote’s when an anvil drops on his foot. “That is a much more complicated problem,” he admitted.
For me, navigating the world feels like stumbling alone through a corn maze, drunk, on a foggy night. (I've heard.)
So the Global Positioning System may be one of the best things that has ever happened to me.
When Hubby wanted to purchase a GPS unit back when they were first on the market, I rolled my eyes. I figured my adorably geeky engineer was yet again jonesing for the latest Popular Science tech gadget, which would eventually end up in our storage room’s Sack Full of Electronics We Never Use.
How wrong I was.
My GPS occupies a position in my life just a smidge below God’s. And the parallels between the two are remarkable and vast:
"I once was lost but now am found" (from “Amazing Grace” by John Newton).
“Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before” (Joshua 3:4).
“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice… saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (Isaiah 30:21).
My GPS knows which streets are one-way, where roads are unfinished, and if there is an accident blocking the path ahead. And I’m convinced that it knows that I know nothing, and it coddles me accordingly. When I make a wrong turn—and how does a sentient person with a high school diploma actually do that when she’s been provided a visual map, with an interactive arrow, and a voice narrating what to do and when to do it?—my GPS gently responds, “Recalculating,” and finds me a way back to my destination.
The constant, silent presence of the “GO HOME” button brings me a feeling of safety and well-being the likes of which I have not known since I was a babe asleep in my mother’s arms.
Last week I stumbled across an article about a recently discovered brain dysfunction that prevents people from creating maps inside their heads, to the degree that some even get lost inside their own homes. One woman said when her baby cried she had to follow the sound of the child’s voice in order to find her way back to his bedroom.
Yes! I thought. Here is proof that my struggles are real!
Because having no sense of physical direction feels something like living with three-dimensional dyslexia, or wandering through the Twilight Zone, or existing in that state of drunkenness where you know you’re impaired, but you’re not enjoying it yet. (Not that I’ve ever done that, either.)
But I’m learning a couple of things via my disability. One is humility, which is arguably one of the most under-valued and under-practiced of the Christian virtues. A great many people have strived throughout my life of disorientation to assist the breaking of my pride:
“But you’ve been there before, right? Why do you need to use the GPS?”
“It’s down the street and two blocks north of the Safeway. What do you mean, you can’t find it?”
“Here’s a paper bag. Try not to get lost in it.”
And I’m learning the even more valuable lesson that when I don’t know where I’m going or how I’m going to get there, God does. I only need to make sure I’m listening to his voice and not “leaning on my own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
Because leaning my own understanding gets me stuck, driving in endless circles over the same four one-way roads. Why? Because I know that if I exit my narrow sphere of geographic comprehension I may end up in an alternate universe where I can’t even read the street signs.
That’s happened to me, by the way. (The endless circle of four one-way roads. Not the alternate universe.)
So as I meander my way through life and try to get where I need to be when I need to be there, keep an eye out for me. I’ll be the woman holding my smartphone parallel to the earth and lining it up with the intersection beside which I’m standing. And I’ll be reasoning out loud with Google Maps as I do so.
Please ask me where I’m going, then take my elbow and kindly lead me there.
And then thank God that the angel responsible for delivering your sense of direction had one of his own.