Of all the dogs I’ve owned, I loved the one I lost most. She was a black and white Springer Spaniel we named Sasson, Hebrew for joy. I know, I know. We were young and so spiritual and didn’t have kids yet.
We bought her in our first year of marriage. Dee Dee chose her, dark puppy eyes saying, “Pick me, pick me.”
We called her Sassy. And she was. She was arrow quick, sweet, and easy. I’d return home from my construction job and she’d run around my legs and shake with excitement. She learned to sit, heal, come, stay, and all manner of dog tricks so quickly she convinced me I was a dog whisperer.
We took her everywhere. She loved to ride on the wheel well of my white Toyota pickup, catching the wind.
In the summer of 1980, we took her backpacking in the Holy Cross Wilderness. While I reeled in brookies, she stood on the rock next to me trembiling to see what was on the end of the line. She slept in our tent with us.
At the end of the weekend, as we drove down the long dirt road out of the mountains, she perched on her wheel well. Dee Dee and I planned our next trip and were captivated by a world exploding with wildflowers. We stopped for gas in Eagle. That’s when I noticed Sassy was gone. Instantly I knew what had happened. She had fallen out on the twisty, bumpy dirt road. We raced back and searched the entire route. Desperate, we stopped cars and asked if they had seen a black and white Springer.
“Yes,” one driver said. “Right back up there.”
Our hearts soared. We drove along praying, slowly searching the road and the woods. Another car approached and I got out to stop it and ask. They ignored me and drove by. We drove up and down the road growing more frantic and despondent each moment.
Finally, we returned home, silent, guilty. We burst into tears entering our tiny living room with her dog toys scattered about. We placed ads in the Eagle County papers. We waited. We hoped the people in the car that didn’t stop had her. But we never saw Sassy again. Even thirty-seven years later, I miss her and feel guilty for letting her ride the wheel well, for not watching, for losing her.
This memory came back sharp because of the Facebook meme: “Heaven is a place where all the dogs you’ve ever loved run to greet you.” That thought gave me hope. Heaven will be a place to be reunited. And with more than lost dogs. My mom. My brother.
But it also gave me pause. If I were lost, who would search for me?
I picture myself standing along that dirt road, watching the truck tires throwing dust. I raise my hand but the truck heedlessly turns the corner. I shiver with shock and thrust my hands in my pockets. Soon the dusk rises cold and dim from around my feet. A fading sliver of light clings to the tips of the dark pines. I glance up and down the empty road. I wait. They’ll come back. The silence and aloneness beat together as an ache in my heart. I’m lost.
Life is often like that. More metaphorically than literally, we’re lost.
And we always believe we’ll find ourselves just over the next rise, or in the next relationship, or job, self-help book, or birthday. I turned thirty, forty, and fifty thinking with each birthday: surely now I’ll know who I am and what I’m about. Finally, I’ve arrived!
Arrived where? Now in my sixth decade, I’ve learned that without a fixed point, a north star, there is no finding yourself. In “Meditations in Wall Street,” Henry S. Haskins wrote, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
As inspiring as this oft-misattributed quote may be, God did not design us with an infallible inner compass. It’s as if our inner-Siri tells us to turn north on Main Street, but we don’t know north from a hole in the ground. Even if we deny it, all internal drives find themselves following external maps. Too many of these lead nowhere, at least nowhere good. This is why each new generation sets out to find itself and comes up empty. Self is not something we find, but rather something created and pointed out by God.
John Newton had it right in “Amazing Grace.” “I once was lost, but now am found.” The passive voice in those lyrics speaks volumes. Newton’s internal sense of lostness left him searching until it was confirmed and answered by God. God is the ultimate North.
Thus the Bible describes humans as lost. And worse lost sheep. Jesus especially uses this metaphor. He is the shepherd searching for the one lost sheep. If I were lost, who would search for me? For you?
Though God was not careening down a mountain road and carelessly tossed us out. Rather we jumped. Still, Jesus walks that dusty, lonely dirt road calling our names. Jesus placed a lost and found ad in our newspaper. He weeps for our loss. He has marked your soul with his breath and that lonely heartache you and I feel is for him. He is home. He is North. He is found.
If heaven is the place to be reunited with loved ones, maybe even dogs, then earth is the place Jesus traveled to reunite us with heaven.
Tolkien may be right that “Not all those who wander are lost.” But it is just as true that all who are lost wander. And wonder. Where the hell am I? Who am I? Why am I here?
The answer is not within, except when from inside we cry out.
“My God, why have you forsaken me?” Even Jesus felt that lostness.
And God the Father answered. “I Am!” I am with you. Even in death on the cross, even in suffering, even in daily life and periodic drudgery. I am with you. Reach out your hand and take Mine.