Most of us don’t set out to get lost. Sometimes, it seems, we’re walking along, making good time, trying to choose wisely and do the right thing, and then WHAM! Suddenly, we’re in the middle of nowhere, the map seems to be completely wrong, and the GPS coordinates state, “You’re in the middle of a forest. Proceed to the nearest road.”
It’s so easy to feel frustrated when this occurs. “What happened?” we ask, sometimes of ourselves and sometimes of God. “We were doing the right things. Why is this happening?” We retrace our steps, and we still can’t figure out what is going on.
Something similar happened to my husband and me during a recent trip to Skagway, Alaska. We decided to take a hiking trail leading up a mountainside to a lake. We grabbed a trail map and had plenty of time before dusk, so we set out confidently. The first stretch of trail was somewhat difficult and took much longer than we had anticipated.
Although it did eventually lead into a cooler, easier pathway through a wooded area, we decided that instead of taking a branch leading up to a falls and back, we would take a loop that should take us past the lake and then back down to town. Accordingly, when we came to a fork in the road, we looked for a sign to guide us, but there wasn’t one. One sign plainly pointed to the falls path, but the other path was unmarked. Consulting the map, this seemed like the path we should take, so despite the lack of signage, we turned right.
We hadn’t gone very far before we started to have slight doubts about this particular trail. Though it was broad and appeared well-traveled, it didn’t seem maintained as well as the other trail had been. We were quickly becoming tired, hot, and a little exasperated. Shouldn’t there be a lake somewhere around here? Were we even headed in the right direction?
We had just finished refolding the map for a third time when a young woman appeared on the trail in front of us. “If you’re trying to get to town, you don’t want to go this way,” she said, sounding as frustrated as we felt. “There’s a lovely view, but no trail.” She fell into step with us as we walked a bit further on. “See?” she said, indicating the dead end of rocks and cliffs. “The trail just ends.”
We decided to retrace our steps, and she told us she had spent the day at the lake and then been unsure how to get back to town. She had no map, so had asked a fellow hiker for directions. The other hiker told her which direction to take, but she had somehow lost her way, and had been walking now for some time, not sure where she was or how to get where she was going. “I was so glad to see you guys on the trail!” she said.
Now, she would have found her way eventually. If she had retraced her steps, as we did, then she would have gotten to town all right. But, the journey was much quicker with an idea of where we were and with company to reassure her. Our own frustration melted away as we walked and talked and found our way back to civilization. My husband turned to me and said, “Isn’t it amazing how sometimes you end up in the wrong place so you can help someone find their way out?”
Wrong Turn, Right Way
This statement of his made me think of the story of Joseph. In Genesis 39, we read about Joseph in Egypt, working as a slave in Potiphar’s house. This certainly isn’t where Jacob’s favorite son would have imagined spending his days, but we see in verses 2-4 that, despite his poor circumstances, “The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned” (New International Version).
But within a few short verses, Joseph experienced another setback. Through no fault of his own, he was punished for a crime he didn’t commit, and thrown into prison. It doesn’t take much imagination to suppose during the long months following, Joseph must have wondered, “How did I end up here? I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I did the right things! Why me?”
Now, if we continue to follow the rest of the story, we see even in prison, God was with Joseph and blessed him. We begin then to see God had a plan Joseph could never have imagined: from prison, he would rise directly to being the second in command of Egypt. Why? So that he could make plans to save the people of Egypt—and his own family—from starvation.
Sometimes, we end up in messes of our own making. But sometimes, we’ve tried so hard to do right, and still end up in an uncomfortable place. We must not think that just because we’ve gotten lost, God has lost track of us—He is very much aware of where we are and what is happening. And it just may be that He has something in mind for us to do. We were in the “wrong” place and helped a fellow traveler find her way out of the forest. Joseph was in the “wrong” place and saved a nation from starvation. Sometimes, our circumstances may not be as much about us as they are about those around us. Sometimes, we’re in the “wrong” place so that we can show someone else the way out.
For more on the subject, read the article “Profiles of Faith: Joseph…Faithfulness Brings Blessing.”