It seemed like a normal trip to Osco Drug in downtown Huron, SD. I mean . . . I had made previous trips with my family, and as I recall, on this particular occasion, I was with my mom.
As the reader, I ask for you to indulge me for a moment while I set the stage by reminiscing.
It was probably a Friday night because that is when the stores were open past 5:00 PM and when my family usually went to town after school. Note: I said, “went to town.” An important phrase as we lived on a farm, thirty miles away. This may explain why these Friday night trips were weekly highlights. On those nights, my brother usually had a guitar lesson from Dick Dugan, a local pastor of the Huron Mission Church, and of course, my Mom needed to stock up on groceries. She had, after all, three kids and her wavy, black-haired, hard-working husband to keep well-fed. She did not drive (that’s another story for another day); therefore, Dad usually dropped her off downtown, and after running a few errands, Mom and I (as the youngest, I usually was with Mom) walked to the downtown grocery store, O. P. Skaggs. I assume it was named after a person, but I do not recall meeting O. P., and I probably never have since the store was part of a small chain . . . But I digress.
I am not sure how it happened.
I found myself in Osco Drug on this particular evening. Perhaps I was bored with whatever my mother was examining . . . taking way too long to make up her mind, in my young, humble opinion (probably under the age of 6). Or maybe we walked by something that caught my eye, causing me to stop while she kept going. However it happened, I was not expecting it. For me, Mom was nearby, and this was not my first rodeo, so to speak. In fact, if given a choice between a woman’s clothing store and Osco Drug, I preferred Osco. It at least had some interesting things . . . You know, like a small toy section, a high priority for me . . . Plus, they had enough variety to attract my short attention span.
As far as I can recall, every other time that I had been distracted in a store I felt secure. My mom was nearby, so it was safe for me to explore my world. As long as she was near, I had a sense of security to investigate other, more interesting things. Well, on this occasion, unbeknownst to me, my Mom went out of the store. When I realized Mom’s absence, panic set in. My secure base was gone. I was lost.
I have this vague memory of a man asking me if I was lost. I do not know if I was crying. Or maybe it was the look of sheer terror on my face that was a dead giveaway. Or perhaps I was wandering around aimlessly while appearing a little too young to be doing such a thing alone. Whatever it was, this man saw a little girl in trouble. I remember he contacted a clerk, and eventually I found myself sitting on the counter with the store clerk standing by my side, attempting to reassure me that someone would come back for me. I do not know if I believed this stranger. After all, this person was not my Mom, from where my sense of security derived.
I was scared. Confused. Disoriented.
This story is a great illustration of John Bowlby’s attachment theory.
According to this theory, children tend to rely on an attachment with a caregiver in order to have a sense of security to explore their world. With this security, the child will be curious, wander, explore, and seek to discover his world, resting in the knowledge that the parent is present. The child may become consumed in her playtime but periodically looks over her shoulder to check to see if the caregiver is still there. If so, all is right with the world.
The caregiver is like an anchor point, a secure base, a shelter, a place that is reliable, steady, and stable that enables the child to investigate and discover new things. However, if that secure base disappears for a period of time and the child is unable to find that security, a sense of loss and feelings of grief may follow. The child may have feelings of anger, anxiety, or fear which triggers loud protests and/or uncontrolled sobbing.
By the way, I will not keep you in suspense any longer: My Mom returned to Osco Drug, having realized at some point that I was not with the family. And all became right with the world once again.
As adults, many of us continue to form attachments both with things and with people, which generate for us a sense of security.
It may be a person, a dream, a career, or even a goal. For instance, a pastor has a goal to expand the church building. As the project begins, the pastor becomes consumed with this goal. But upon its completion, it is said that many pastors leave their congregations. Could it be the pastor lost her connection with her secure base, and it is gone? The pastor is . . . well . . . lost?
Or maybe a husband is a caregiver to his wife for many years. What do you suppose may transpire when the wife dies? The husband was fulfilled as a caregiver; thus, he not only lost his lover and friend, but he also lost his job, his purpose, and security. He knew what was expected of him and what he expected of his day, but with her gone, his world may no longer be predictable and stable.
A sense of security may result from a dream or an internal calling, such as a pursuit of a particular career or a certain status. This may be seen in the life of a professional athlete who sustains a career-ending injury. Her sport had provided her with a sense of security, enabling her to push herself—to practice hard, to propel herself beyond her perceived limitations, or to take chances. Now in its absence, this former athlete, who once exuded confidence, finds herself paralyzed by decisions and shying away from risks.
This security, then, provides a sense of certainty, stability, and predictability that enables us to explore our world.
With security in place, we may stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zone and boundaries by trying new things. We may have more confidence and assurance, which may cause us to be more willing to take risks, become emotionally exposed, or embrace uncertainty and/or ambiguity.
In the above examples, we see that security may also be connected to expectations. It was not part of my plan that day to become lost. I expected my mother to be nearby which enabled me to take a minor risk by being away from her side. When we derive our sense of security from a stable base, we make no contingency plans. Mom will be there. There is no reason to fear as I expected my secure base to be near.
However, in the wake of a disrupted expectation, there is a loss of security.
There is chaos. A fog. A wilderness.
One becomes like a ship without an anchor on a vast sea with no land in sight. We are directionless. While it may be true that on some level we acknowledge that nothing lasts forever, on another level we may not know what we have until it’s gone. When the person, the goal, the career, the dream, the marriage, or health is gone, we may question if anything is stable. A void appears when security is absent, and when we stare in the void, we become frightened, confused, and disoriented.
Sometimes our sense of lostness may become an existential crisis.
It may become closely tied to questions of “Who am I? Does my life have purpose?” Alan Wolfelt speaks of a search for self, meaning, and security as the three main secondary losses that may transpire during the journey of grief. (And just when we thought these questions were reserved for our teenage years or a mid-life crisis!)
The answer to these type of questions does not come easily. I fear that too often when we or someone else is wrestling with these type of questions, we become impatient.
We may try to will a person (including ourselves) out this crisis.
We may ask, “What do you want to do?” as if the person just needs to make a decision. While in some cases this may be appropriate, such a question tends to overlook the confusion and disorientation. The person is lost. Anchors are absent. Clear signposts are obscure. We used to know, but now we do not. In essence, I want Mom, but Mom is gone, and the world is too big for me to find her.
I want to suggest that what may be the most helpful may not be the most intuitive. That is, learn to be.
It is said that if we become lost in a wilderness, we are to sit in one place until someone finds us. In many ways, this is what the store clerk did with me. After I was found, she stood by me, and together we waited for Mom.
It is also what Job’s friends did . . . they silently sat with Job . . . well . . . at least for seven days and seven nights.
Let’s be honest: It is hard to be.
But as a Christ-follower, I believe I have found an invitation to be: Psalm 88.
This is what one would call a lament psalm. However, it is different from other laments in that it does not end in praise or thanksgiving. We tend to highlight those laments that end well . . . You know, like a nice story (which my husband loves, by the way) with everything all tied up in a pretty, little, red bow. No ambiguity. No uncertainty. No mystery. Predictable. Stable. Secure.
But life is not always like that.
In reality, if we allowed ourselves to think about it, life has many insecurities. Thus, expectations, predictable patterns, provide us with some security. And to be frank, without them we would probably lose our minds.
Psalm 88 is that kind of reminder. Life has insecurities.
But I think it also can be an invitation: An invitation to simply be with others in their disorientation, something we all could experience. To plop down beside others in their fog. To sit in the vast wilderness in their state of lostness.
So, I leave you with the final verse of Psalm 88:
You cause my friends and neighbors to keep their distance; those who know me leave me alone in the darkness (v. 18).
It is a verse not of hope but an opportunity to be, like the store clerk did with me. Being alongside others in their fog. Their wilderness. Their lostness. By doing so, you participate in Christ’s ministry by helping to provide a sense of security for them.