We all need Sam

As Frodo and Sam emerge from the Orc’s tower, finally within the boarders of Mordor, they survey the vast expanse of rocky terrain between them and Mount Doom, their chosen destination. It would have been several days of treacherous travel were the terrain not heaving with thousands upon thousands of Orcs and other evil creatures – the massed armies of the dark lord, Sauron. You can almost see the last drops of hope drain away from Frodo beneath his Orc-ish attire; there is no way they will make it to Mount Doom alive, the ring will doubtless find its way to Sauron and all will have been lost, he will have failed his companions, the Shire and middle Earth will be lost.

Samwise Gamgee, Frodo’s friend and companion, looks at Mount Doom, looks at the land filled with Orc armies, looks at Frodo and then says; ‘Well, lets get to the bottom of this hill for starters.’ And putting one foot in front of the other, they set out.

Not long after Sam and Frodo start to make their way forward, the armies start to empty out of Mordor clearing their way towards Mount Doom. Unbeknown to Sam and Frodo, way out West in Gondor after an incredible victory, the remainder of the Fellowship put into action a plan. They have no news of Frodo’s whereabouts or even if he is still alive. Still they know that the battle for middle earth is not yet over and the ring has not yet been destroyed, the two objectives that have shaped their every move for the last year. They know that Mordor is full of Orc armies and if Frodo and Sam are still live and anywhere near, they will never reach Mount Doom as long as Sauron regroups his strength in Mordor. They plan a diversion to draw Sauron’s attention away from his own land and to empty Mordor of his armies… just in case Frodo is there and trying to get through. They challenge Sauron to battle, certain to lose their lives in the process, and with no guarantee that their actions will be of any use to Frodo at all.

I love that every member of the fellowship knew that together they had a single purpose – to save middle earth by destroying the ring of power. However far away from each other they were, the purpose was still the same. Though things never seemed to go according to plan, at every twist and turn they had their North Star, would the choice before them help them move closer to or away from their ultimate end? I appreciate the role of people like Lord Elrond, Lady Galadriel and Gandalf who help everyone keep the big picture in view and can see how all the dots join up, when I am at my best I am most comfortable functioning like this. But there are times when like Frodo, all my strength is spent, all hope seems to have taken flight and the big dream brings despair not excitement; in those times I am glad to have a ‘Sam’ near by who’ll say, ‘well, lets get to the bottom of this hill for starters.’

Every team on a mission needs to have a clear North Star to follow, but they also need to know where to put their next step. Most of us with enough of the right kind of mentoring can find our own way if the North Star is clear, but all of us will from time to time need that friend behind us saying ‘its OK, this is the way, walk in it.’.  To provide effective leadership I need to know when to be a Lady Galadriel, remind the team of its mission, its North Star so bringing courage, commitment  and clarity; and when to be a Sam and give only the next step so as not to snuff out a smouldering wick. For me, to be a Sam is harder than to be a Gandalf, but I know that God’s heart in me will help me be patient and give me the wisdom to know what’s needed.

This is some of the beauty and complexity of working in teams and living in fellowship.


A Battle to the Death

“You will be the fellowship of the ring.” Lord Elrond commissions the nine on their journey to destroy the ‘one ring’. I love the scene set in Rivendel where the leaders, adventurers, travellers of the lands are caught up in heated, fear-filled, discussion about who should take the ring to Mordor and how, and little Frodo simply says, “I will take it.” A hush falls and he somewhat bashfully admits “though I do not know the way”. Various representatives then step up to guide, protect and accompany Frodo on his quest.

There begins this epic journey, made up of a myriad of journeys but with one theme running through them all: what does it mean to face and do battle with the part that longs to be the centre of the universe, that longs for power, pleasure, success and comfort? The narrative is consistently that through the death of that part, life in all its fullness emerges in a plethora of forms and guises. It’s Lady Galadriel who says beautifully “even the smallest person can change the course of history.” For every battle fought physically on the journey, it was first won or lost in each players heart. As each member fights this battle in their own lives and choices, the fellowship strengthens until the final stand when Aragorn’s words from beginning become the heart cry of each one “if by my life or my death I can protect you”. Individually and now as a matured fellowship they serve a purpose and a narrative far greater than themselves; it was never about size or prowess but the courage to die to self, to keep hope alive and to ‘decide (for honour and truth) what to do with the time given’ to them… and even the smallest of us can do that.

I wonder if each one of us in on an epic journey to die to self, God has given us himself and a ‘fellowship’ to keep us company and protect us on our quest. And in turn we are the ‘fellowship’ for others, to keep them company and watch their backs. As we keep going, with nearly every step Hope rises and Life comes, reminding us of our purpose. None of us can do this without God’s Spirit, but the battle to the death of self for the sake of a cause far greater than us, is a hard one and requires a commitment to keep choosing what to do with the time given to us.

So, as I get ready to take on another week, I take fresh courage and renew my commitment to fight my battle to the death of self for the sake of my Lord, my King, my Father and my God, and then I pray, ‘Holy Spirit, Help me to do this all in your strength and not my own.’

Giving it up with Frodo

“I wish the ring hadn’t come to me. I wish that none of this had happened.” “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” Young Frodo talking with his mentor, Gandalf, at the start of his epic journey to destroy the ‘one ring’.

I am having a weekend off after what has been a rough two weeks; I have chosen to spend some time watching the film adaptations of Tolkein’s trilogy. To be honest I chose to watch them simply because I enjoy them and I wanted to – a bit of nice self indulgence! I guess I forgot why I love the story so much.

This week my weariness and crankiness reached new heights to the point at which I just wanted to give up. I didn’t want to work so hard any more, I wanted to take a rest and put my feet up, and most importantly remove myself from anyone close enough to cause me pain or be pained my me. If I’m honest I was feeling a bit sorry for myself! I felt a bit like Frodo in this scene – I wish my life was different right now “I wish the ring hadn’t come to me”. I feel sorry for Frodo at this point – he’s only two thirds of the way through the first volume and there’s another two to go before his journey ends! I am so glad he listened to Gandalf and we have the great journey to celebrate. Do you take courage from Gandalf’s words? I find it fascinating that although he basically says ‘don’t feel so sorry for yourself, get on with the job and as well as you can, give it your best shot!’, I feel like getting back up on my feet and saying ‘bring it on!’.

When I reach my give up line, I don’t want people around me to say ‘there, there, you’ve given it a good go, no one’s going to blame you for stopping now, you deserve a break’. No! I want to be reminded of the spirit within me, created before the world began and now one with God’s own Spirit. Reminded of the part of me that knows I live to make my God smile and because of that my existence counts. Please give me some cool water, tend to my wounds and if necessary take me to the healing house, but remember and please remind me that the journey and calling is mine by gift, and all I have to decide is what to do with it. Believe in God’s work within me and I will find courage and fresh hope once again.