One of the most fundamental questions we can ask is, “Where am I?” or “Where are we?” Not just about geography, it is the fundamental question we must ask in relation to anything of value or importance. To answer it, we must have some sort of framework for reference, or in other words, a map.
Without a map, knowing our location is not that useful or meaningful. As an early adopter of handheld GPS technology, my first GPS could tell me where I was within a few hundred feet anywhere in the world. But just having the latitude and longitude wasn’t all that useful unless I knew other points for reference.
Knowing where we are allows us to set goals, plan routes, and estimate how long it will take to reach our desired destination. It allows us to manage our expectations — is the journey ahead uphill or downhill?
Another important question related to, “Where am I?” is, “How did I get here?” This is our story. It is what we know with a fair degree of certainty and it is a large part of our identity. We have been shaped by the roads we have traveled.
Answering the question, “How did I get here?” can also help us see our strengths and vulnerabilities. It is from examining this question that we are able to confess our sins, glimpse the Holy Spirit’s leading in our lives, and identify our friends and our adversaries. Examining how we got here can also reveal what we prefer for the future. I enjoyed this leg of the journey, but not that one, so maybe for my next leg I’ll choose one that is more like the one I enjoyed.
I find these two questions useful not only in my personal planning and reflection, but also as a basis for all the counseling I do as a priest and chaplain. “So, what’s going on in your life?” is my standard opening line, and is really just another way to ask, “Where are you?” The answer will often include some “How did you get here?” as well, but my follow up questions help me flush that part out, as is relevant.
Sometimes, the answer to my opening question is answered in terms of where someone wants to be. They want their relationship with another person to be better or the way it used to be. Often, at least in the military context, they want to be somewhere else physically. In these cases, I have to back up and find out where they are right now. How far are you away from where you want to be? It can also be helpful to find out how long has it been since they were where they think they want to go back to. Only with the answers to, “Where am I?” and “How did I get here?” can we really answer the question, “How can I get where I want to be?”