A neighbor found Nasruddin on hands and knees.
“What are you searching for, Mullah?”
Both men got on their knees to search. After a while the neighbor said, “Where did you lose it?”
“Good Lord! Then why are you searching here?”
“Because it’s brighter here.”
The Indian Jesuit priest Anthony de Mello relates this story, not his own, in his collection of parables and commentary The Song of the Bird. Here his teaching is brief: “Search for God where you lost him” (27).
If we have journeyed any length in the spiritual life, we’re likely to have once gone in a direction feeling the company of Gød and found ourselves at some point lost, confused, discouraged, the initial confidence and feeling of purpose vanished, wondering, “Where have I gone wrong?” or, “Where did Gød go?” or “Why has Gød abandoned me?” In a panic, we might accuse ourselves or we might accuse Gød. Because, surely, one of us is wrong; surely one of us is in the wrong. We might search desperately in prayer for the signs around us, mine our discouragement for direction, try to repent our way back a sense of consolation or purpose.
In the two years since moving to Cleveland for ministry, I have made more decisions based on prayer and careful discernment than I’ve made in all my life before. My confidence in those decisions has been greater than I’ve found before. Yet I can’t imagine I’ve ever felt so much discouragement at so many times as in that same stretch. And the trap I’ve routinely fallen into is what Nasruddin betrays: I search for answers in the place I stand and not where I had them. Yet the difference is worse for us in this case: Nasruddin searched where the light was better, but in spiritual desolation, in discouragement and despair, we search where it is darkest, until our eyes our accustomed to the lightlessness and we no longer notice how futile, how absurd, how impossible our search is, though I persecute myself for failing in it.
Search for Gød where you lost Gød, Fr. de Mello teaches. When did you believe you heard Gød speak? When did you feel Gød’s love moving you to action? And when did that sense fade, and what took place when voices of discouragement began to shift the helm and define your experiences? It is not to promise that circumstances have not changed and that prior commitments or beliefs should not be reconsidered, but it is to take seriously what filled you with faith, hope and charity enough to resolve to do something—at least as seriously as what gives no clear direction now. What can be assured is that Gød is not no-place, and even if that Gød is now silent, that Gød who spoke to you once in love and compassion and encouragement is not now speaking in contradictions. Go back in your mind and in yourself to where you lost Gød; hear Gød’s distant words again as though they were speaking to you now; see if you can find traces of Gød’s voice there that lead you forward to where Gød speaks in your present situation, your confusion and your doubts. It may be that nothing has changed for all that seems to have passed and that your sense of Gød’s love leads you into the same direction you had despaired of when Gød seemed to stop saying, “Go. I am with you.”
To retrace the steps of life as though looking for a lost object may seem too simple a method for finding Gød, but this betrays our belief that it should be difficult to find and to pursue Gød, that a spiritual life is unnaturally hard, is anything other than how we are made to live: to enjoy Gød and to flourish with Gød as in our home.