When I was dumped in a German city barely able to recite a few religious phrases, one of the most valuable skills I learned as a missionary was how to read a map. And my map of choice was a Falk Plan city map.
This was years before GPS would trickle down from the military to consumers and cell phones were tethered to Cadillacs and reserved for the wealthy. These were still high tech as far as maps were concerned. They fit in a pocket yet expanded to show much of the city. Many hours were spent flipping to the index to lookup the street name, and then thumbing forward to the exact page and map quadrant where I’d find the street and begin planning my route.
It wasn’t long before I became obsessed with maps and couldn’t leave the apartment without one in my breast pocket. This was helpful when my German skills were in their infancy. But as can be the case with GPS today, I learned to rely on that map instead of my instincts. Instead of scanning landmarks and recognizing neighborhoods, I buried my head in the map.
As my German improved I began keeping my map in my leather bag. I figured that if I got lost, I could ask a stranger for directions. Maybe it wasn’t enough to get me to my destination, but if they pointed me in the right direction, I’d just ask someone else along the way.
I trained myself to look for landmarks. I searched for short cuts, and began charting my own course based on feedback from people who lived in these communities. They often provided tips on what areas we should avoid, especially in the larger cities. One morning I asked a woman if she could give us directions to city center and she told us we’d best stay home because an anti-American rally was taking place near town.
Over time, I relied less on my map. I had good instincts. But it took months before I felt confident enough to lean on them.
I still encounter maps today, but they’re no longer the pocket-sized versions. They show up when I am learning a new skill to further my business or when my children look to me to solve a problem because that’s what fathers do. During these moments, a pocket sized book of answers would come in handy. I’d turn to the index, find “hates school” and chart my route knowing I’ve left the heavy lifting to someone else.
Today there’s a map and an app for that.
But life doesn’t work that way. We learn when we step off the curb and make our way into the unknown, trusting only our instincts.
And somehow we reach our destination while the map stays buried deep in our bag.