Life seems to be filled with small annoyances that can escalate into major hassles, and losing luggage is one of them.
Not long ago, my wife and I were in the baggage claim area at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, a cross-country flight behind us and a week of hiking in North Cascades National Park ahead. Bag after bag rolled by, but none was ours. A knot in my stomach grew stronger with each passing piece. After 15 minutes, I was convinced of the worst, seeing that lost bags were commonplace because we were traveling during a crippling airline work slowdown. "Our backpacks aren't here, and they're not coming," I told my wife. She glumly nodded.
Customer service agents were polite but unassuring, saying, "Your bags are in, well, we think they're in Los Angeles. They should be here on the next flight." The next flight arrived, but our bags did not. A dozen flights and five hours later, at midnight, a customer service agent grudgingly offered us a hotel voucher. My wife and I were devastated. With no way to immediately replace two backpacks of camping gear, our much-anticipated vacation was over before it had begun.
Or was it? The following morning, with all human measures to find the backpacks seemingly exhausted, I thought, "Prayer is the answer. I can turn to God, put my trust in Him, and expect good results." That wasn't wishful thinking. It was rock-solid prayer, grounded in 30 years of experience. Since I had been a little boy, I'd relied on prayer to solve all types of problems, including sickness, family relationships, unemployment, and, yes, lost items.
Listening to God is an essential part of prayer, but since arriving in Seattle I had listened to everybody except God. So I got very quiet and tuned in to God. Spirit is a synonym for God, and I thought about some Spirit-based facts of being: that life is spiritual, not material; that good is everpresent, whether or not I can see it; and that God - not people, airlines, or laws of chance - is the ultimate governing power of the universe.
I suddenly remembered that just before departing New York I had been praying to gain a better understanding of family. That prayer brought me a newfound conviction that God is our real and only parent - both our Father and our Mother - and that God is always expressing love. A parent who perpetually loves doesn't plan good and then cancel it without reason. It was my divine right not just to know these God-based truths of being, but also to experience them. Even better, it was everyone's right to experience them. So because there were hundreds of distressed passengers in the airport, I included all of them in my prayers.
I recalled a passage from the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper. "We have nothing to fear when Love is at the helm of thought, but everything to enjoy on earth and in heaven" ("Miscellaneous Writings," pg. 113). Pondering that statement invigorated my thought; I was suddenly peaceful, full of gratitude for God's perfect care. I realized that I could enjoy what seemed like a terrible situation because, in reality, it was an opportunity to demonstrate God's healing power. Girded by God, by Love, I now knew that this situation didn't threaten my vacation or my ability to have a good time. Several hours later, our backpacks still hadn't arrived. "Should we catch the next flight back to New York?" my wife asked.
"No," I replied. "Let's go sightseeing and give it some more time." We drove downtown and had a blast, visiting a music museum and a famous outdoor gear store - places not on our original itinerary. After returning to the airport, our backpacks were still missing, but the bad news didn't rattle us. We gratefully accepted another hotel voucher and went off to dinner. Less than five minutes later, my wife's cell phone rang. Our backpacks had arrived.
Receiving the backpacks was wonderful, but I got back something much more valuable than luggage. I regained a crystal-clear understanding of the true, spiritual nature of family and of my unbroken and unbreakable relationship with God. Indeed, God is our Father-Mother, and God is Love, filling our experiences not with loss and annoyance, but with harmony and joy. That's a family lesson I'll never forget.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor