As it turns out, lost people really do walk around in circles.
I was recently listening to a radio interview that described an experiment from about 10 years ago.
The researchers wondered if it’s true that walkers tend to circle back again and again in a big forest if they don’t have landmarks or GPS to guide them.
To find out, they asked nine people to walk for several hours in as straight a direction as possible. The walkers were given GPS trackers so the researchers could analyze their movements.
But it’s a good thing they had those trackers because they all got lost. They crossed their own paths again and again.
I could spend a while focusing on the inability of humans to walk in a straight line. Lots of moral and career applications there, or maybe just, people are clumsy.
However, a strange thought entered my mind as I heard the interview.
The researchers hailed the importance of compasses and GPS as solutions, but I thought, “Or maybe it would just be good to have another person there to help in the decision-making.”
Maybe humans are like GPS. When it’s just one person, it’s easy to get lost. A person doesn’t have good “mirroring” from others when they get isolated, someone to let them know they’re pursuing an unhealthy direction or that they’re on the right track.
How helpful it is to describe challenges, failures and setbacks to a friend, wondering if it all is falling apart, only to hear the friend say, “I think you’re OK. You seem right on track to me.”
Two people in the woods won’t get lost as easily. But with three people, so long as the people are willing to cooperate, the chances of staying in the right direction must increase exponentially.
Maybe humans need “triangulation” as well. We need not one person, but more than one, for support, encouragement and direction when we don’t know where to turn.
Maybe we all need at least one parent who lets us know that we are OK, that we are loved without condition, and one more adult who can help us know our “position” in life.
I heard it said once that the God who is three-in-one Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit – shows us a pattern for our own lives.
One may have infinite power and knowledge, but it takes two to love because love is always relational.
But to experience genuine delight, it takes three – the two creating one more. Think of new parents when a child is born, the sense of wonder, completeness and delight.
Any great idea that transforms a church, community or even the world, always begins with two people realizing they share a common passion or dream.
A new action, direction or movement is born only when two people link as co-creators.
“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken,” says Ecclesiastes 4:12.
It’s life to the power of three.
In a world where so many people seem without direction, every middle-aged or senior adult needs to be mentoring and encouraging a young adult or teenager. No expertise is required. Just share your life and ask good questions.
Mentoring doesn’t have to go on forever either. It can be for a season – maybe a season of discernment around vocation or about a significant relationship.
Who comes to mind immediately? Today, make the phone call or send the email to set up a time to get together.
I remember when I was in college when someone gave me a call out of the blue. He was a friend of our family – actually the father of my first girlfriend – and I had spent time with him through various gatherings.
He wanted to get together. Why? I asked. He said he just wanted to hear how things were going. We met over coffee.
There wasn’t any deep wisdom shared, but I won’t ever forget: He was there for me. He cared enough to pick up the phone. It changed my life.
You can help someone stop walking in circles and get to where they need to be. It may be that one day they would say of you, “He was like a father to me” or “She was like a mother.”
And who knows? Maybe they’ll help other lost souls be found too.
Brent McDougal is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.