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Wednesday Writings

The Lord of the Rings and Chronic Illness, Part II

Last week we looked at four encouraging themes from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings that parallel Scripture truths for us in our valley of chronic illness. This week we look at the last four:

5. Our needs will be met along the way

All now seemed dry and silent; but refusing to despair Sam stooped and listened, and to his delight he caught the sound of trickling. Clambering a few steps up he found a tiny stream of dark water that came out from the hill-side and filled a little bare pool, from which again it spilled, and vanished then under the barren stones.

The lembas had a virtue without which they would long ago have lain down to die. . . . And yet this waybread of the Elves had a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods. It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind.

The Return of the King, pp 219, 227-28

Even in the dark, barren lands of Mordor Frodo and Sam were provided food and water to sustain them to the end of their journey. In the same way, we in any stage of our journey can rely on God to meet our needs. 
He Himself is the Bread of Life (Jn 6:35) and the Living Water (Jn 4:10). Yet He also promises to take care of His children’s necessities, when they seek Him first, so they can focus on Him and His Kingdom (Matt 6:33). 

He doesn’t promise us feasts worthy of Rivendell or a hobbit’s six meals a day (at least), but He does make it clear that He will sustain us every step of our journey. 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 

Psalm 23:1

6. Our ignorance is for our protection

“We want to go with Frodo.”
“That is because you do not understand and cannot imagine what lies ahead,” said Elrond.
“Neither does Frodo,” said Gandalf, unexpectedly supporting Pippin. “Nor do any of us see clearly. It is true that if these hobbits understood the danger, they would not dare to go.”

The Fellowship of the Ring, p 310

I think this idea relates so well to our chronic illness. Many times I’ve heard others say (and said myself) that if given the choice, we wouldn’t have chosen our road of chronic illness, even if we’re grateful for it eventually. Yet how many times do we wish we could see into the future, know what would happen, or get a glimpse of a potential outcome?

We believe the lie that knowing would give us peace. But besides the fact that knowing removes our need for faith, most of the time knowing would only make things worse. Just as the hobbits wouldn’t have set out on their journey if they’d known what lay ahead, so we wouldn’t move forward if we really knew what was waiting for us. We’d be demoralized at best, paralyzed at worst.

It’s the darkness shrouding our future that, contrary to holding us back, gives us the courage to step out. Only infinite God is big enough to handle knowing the future, and He conceals it from our finite minds for our own good.

So how then do we walk? Like the hobbits, one step at a time. After Frodo hears history of the One Ring and the need to destroy it, he tells Gandalf he doesn’t know where to go, how to start to take the Ring from the Shire.

“For where am I to go? And by what shall I steer? What is to be my quest? Bilbo went to find a treasure, there and back again; but I go to lose one, and not return, as far as I can see.”
“But you cannot see very far,” said Gandalf. “Neither can I. It may be your task to find the Cracks of Doom; but that quest may be for others: I do not know. At any rate you are not ready for that long road yet.”
“No indeed!” said Frodo. “But in the meantime what course am I to take?”
“Towards danger; but not too rashly, nor too straight,” answered the wizard. “If you want my advice, make for Rivendell. That journey should not prove too perilous.”

The Fellowship of the Ring, p 73

If you see a long journey ahead of you, don’t let yourself feel overwhelmed by all the distance you have to cover or all the decisions you have to make. Start with one decision, find your next destination, and take action one step at a time.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. 

Matthew 6:34

7. There is always hope

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and beauty for ever beyond its reach.

The Return of the King, p 211

Many times in this story the characters are inspired, renewed, or encouraged by a glimpse of at least one star in the night sky. The hosts of the Prancing Pony Podcast point out that all throughout The Lord of the Rings Tolkien uses stars or starlight to symbolize hope.

Doesn’t that make sense? After all, no matter what clouds or darkness cover the earth, nothing can change or destroy the stars in their existence lightyears above our lowly atmosphere. Even if we can’t see them, they still shine. And when we do see them, they remind us that there remains truth, beauty, and goodness outside our sometimes dreary circumstances.

In the same way we as Christians always have hope on our life journey. Even in the dark valley of chronic illness, when the towering mountains on either side block out the heavens and drench us in shadow, there will always be stars. We may not see them, but we know–and have to choose to believe–that they’re there.

And when we do see them–a verse of Scripture, a kind word from a friend, a touch of the Spirit’s presence, a firefly out of season, whatever it may be–they encourage us with the truth that the darkness is not overpowering and God is always with us.

For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Hebrews 13:5

8. The darkness is not all-powerful

And as the Captains gazed south to the Land of Mordor, it seemed to them that, black against the pall of cloud, there rose a huge shape of shadow, impenetrable, lightning-crowned, filling all the sky. Enormous it reared above the world, and stretched out towards them a vast threatening hand, terrible but impotent: for even as it leaned over them, a great wind took it, and it was all blown away, and passed.

The Return of the King, p 243

Words cannot describe the surge of hope, joy, triumph, and relief I felt when I read this passage. Since the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring we’re threatened by the shadow of Sauron, the distant villain whose power only grows throughout the story until, at the end of The Return of the King, we’re at the very gates of his land with Aragorn and the last free armies of Middle-Earth (or at the doorway of Mount Doom itself with Frodo and Sam), facing all the embodied evil of the Dark Lord and his servants.

And then he’s gone. Crushed to a mere shadow that’s gusted away in the wind, never to be seen or felt again. Just like that.

Good news, friends: we’re living in the ultimate good-over-evil story, and we’re on the winning side. Someday, not only will our burden be cast away and destroyed, but evil itself will be cast down and defeated.

This is an essential truth for us to remember in the hard days of chronic illness. Our malady may be physical, but we also face intense spiritual battles, even in our sickbeds. We’re in a battle (Eph 6:12), every moment of every day (and every night), and it’s exhausting. (Yes, God promises us victory, but we still have to fight.)

One day, though, this fight will be over. The darkness that clouds our souls, mars our bodies, and pollutes our world will be vanquished, trodden down to a mere shadow and gusted away in a single Word from the King of Kings.

So take heart. Your burden may be heavy now, and the darkness may grow darker and darker as we come closer and closer to the end, but there is an end–an end of all evil and a beginning of all goodness for all eternity.

The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone . . .
The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it.

Revelation 20;10, 21:23

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