One day last week, Isaac didn’t want to go to school. Maybe it was the continued sub zero temperatures. Maybe it was that one of his friends was leaving to go to another school. Whatever it was, when it was time to get on the bus, my six year old son crumbled on the floor and cried. He was afraid to go.
Mary and I asked him some questions to see if he needed to tell us something specific about why he was afraid. We talked to him about how we sometimes don’t want to go to work, or face certain difficult tasks, but that sometimes, we just need to face it down, and do it. We told him we’d be waiting for him when he got home. I can still remember feeling anxious about the school day, when lots and lots of unexpected things would happen.
Isaac had to go to school; I couldn’t do it for him. So he got on the bus, even though he was afraid. I noticed the lump in my throat as I watched him climb the steps of that huge bus. I was proud of him, and I wished he didn’t have to do hard things. But he does, and he did. And when he got home that day, we celebrated the fact that he did it.
You and I have to do difficult things, too, even though we are afraid.
I am reading The Lord of the Rings again these days. I have read those three books many times, because they remind me that I am in a much bigger story than I realize most days. In one of the most poignant scenes, the hobbits find themselves at Rivendell, and a council of the Wise have gathered to discuss what must be done about the Ring, which Frodo has carried all the way from the Shire. They debate for some time about whether they should hide it at Rivendell, or take the perilous journey to Mount Doom to destroy it.
When they decide it must be destroyed, they realize that it must fall to one of them to bear the burden of it on the journey. When Frodo arrived at Rivendell, he assumed his journey was over. But at the council, he understood that he must bear the burden of the Ring, all the way to Mount Doom, and if he didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done.
From far underneath the powerful and wise voices who were debating about what must be done and who must do it, Frodo uttered this declaration: “I will take the Ring, though I do not know the way.”
As Peter Kreeft points out in The Philosophy of Tolkien, it is the humility of this declaration that draws us in, and represents the genius of this story. The hero is the simple hobbit, who is afraid and who does not know the way, but who goes anyway. It recalls the teenage girl who was visited by the angel on that lonely night, who responded, “Let it be done to me, just as you say.” It is a Marian declaration.
I will have that hard conversation, though I do not know how she will respond.
I will take that new job, though I do not know all that it will demand of me.
I will have that operation, though I do not know how it will turn out.
I will stay and listen, though everything in me wants to run.
We will be afraid when we do hard things. We will plunge into the abyss without knowing when or how we will emerge. We will feel inadequate, unprepared, and unskilled. And like Frodo, it is precisely those things which make us great candidates to do it anyway. We know that we cannot do it alone. We know that we will need help. We know that we need a Power to meet us who will restore us and carry us when we fall.
The council at Rivendell decided that Frodo would be joined by a fellowship who would make the journey with him, and even though that fellowship was scattered before the Ring was destroyed, faithful Sam Gamgee never left his side. He even carried him up the mountain when Frodo’s strength was spent.
So, whatever it is that is before you today, may you do it afraid, and may God bring you a fellowship who will bear your burden with you.