Courage in Quiet Places

In his classic novel The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien gives an interesting insight on courage.

The scene is set: little Bilbo Baggins, a half pint Everyman, is going down the tunnel to sneak into the dragon’s lair. Not one of his companions would volunteer to go with him. About halfway down the tunnel he hears the rumble of the sleeping dragon.

This is the description:
“… Wisps of vapor floated up and past him, and he began to sweat. A sound, too, began to throb in his ears, a sort of bubbling like the noise of a large pot galloping on the fire, mixed with a rumble as of a gigantic tom-cat purring. This grew to the unmistakable gurgling noise of some vast animal snoring in its sleep down there in the red glow in front of him.
“ It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterward were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait. …”

Have you ever had a moment like that? A moment when you had the time and quiet to think, and realized that what you were about to do was indeed a frightening thing? I did once. It was the first time that I left home to move across country for a job! Going to a place where I knew no one and started life again from scratch!

How often we reach the point where we say to ourselves, “Look how small I am, and how great the task ahead of me.”

I’m like that quite often at Communion. How often I drag myself, mentally, to the altar of God and moan, “Here I am again. Back again, with the same sins as last week, unable to triumph over them. Lord, how can you stand to see me like this?” The great temptation is to say to God that I am such a sinner that nothing can be done for me. I take counsel of my fears and listen to my discouragement. The battle begins.

Then I begin to think about what lies ahead that week. I think of the people I will have to face; the conflicts which seem inevitable, and the reactions already burning in me. It seems hopeless to think that I can walk as Christ would have me walk.

If I stood alone in my own strength, that would be true. But I do not stand alone. Communion is a time when we must — like Bilbo in the tunnel — face our fears and our discouragements. If we face them alone, we will fail. But we do not need to face them alone. For just as we are weak, He is mighty, and He is with us. Unlike Bilbo, we are not alone. The Lord Almighty stands with us.

I do not stand alone. I bring my sins to a loving, forgiving heavenly Father. I receive from him the charge to try again, and his promise of his aid. I am brave, for I am not alone.