“I really do wish to destroy it!” cried Frodo. “Or, well, to have it destroyed. I am not made for perilous quests. I wish I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?”
Last night I was plagued with terrible dreams; the kind of dreams that cause one to wake up in a terror, shaking, trying to make sense of a myriad of emotions through the fog of sleep. In the dream, I was required to put to death a young girl for crimes unknown to me. Her death was the easy part; keeping her from rising up and threatening me was an entirely different story. There would be moments when I felt she had been successfully buried, yet she would rise again hurling the same horrible accusations until I felt I would go mad. When I finally shook off the last remnants of sleep, the following words were echoing through my mind:
“Yea, here she is/Harder than life/In my arms/See she there/Entwined with love/Unclean she is/And she comes down to me/And she offers me sleep/Under her black wings” (Danzig).
What could the undead nature of this child possibly mean? Am I slowly going insane? Honestly, the answer is I am not going insane; instead the child symbolizes something much deeper, something that I have tried to destroy, yet, for some unknown reason I continue to dredge up. It is something that has been harder than life, entwining itself with me until I do not know where I end and it begins. This undead child, I cannot help but believe, is the cancer that I am carrying around in this body; a disease that sometimes feels as if it has been finally put to death, only to resurface, mocking my confidence, leaving me unclean and questioning the goodness of a holy God who promises healing but seemingly refuses to deliver.
I have seen the adjacent Zig Ziglar quote floating around Pinterest. I cannot tell how many times I have seen it and how many people continually repin it. On its face, it seems like a great quote; one that should be inspiring, up-lifting, and provide hope in the deepest, darkest valleys of life. Quite honestly, I do not find it all that inspiring. In fact, I feel quite the opposite. I do not feel equipped to face this war; just when I think I won a major battle the dead resurface, reminding me that what I had just fought was only a hollow victory at best. I feel beaten down, defeated, and incredibly weak. This cancer warrior is exhausted, out of ideas, and beginning to allow the enemy to gain crucial ground because I am slowly losing the will to fight. What happens when the battle against cancer becomes frustrated? What would happen if I just gave into the pain and decided that it just was not worth the fight anymore? Would that be the end or just the beginning of something greater?
My answer to this question comes from an unlikely source, a character when taken within the context of his own story lacks the makings of a hero. He is small, insignificant, and cannot claim to be descended from a long line of kings. He has not had his meddle tested in battle; in fact, he has never even lifted a sword. I think what I admire the most about this character is that he knows this is true and makes no pretenses to the contrary. Frodo, like his Uncle Bilbo, is secretly longing for adventure and dreams of one day casting the boundaries of the Shire behind him; yet, he wants this adventure to be controlled and comfortable with the ability to return safely each night to the comforts of home.
I think what I admire the most about this character is that he knows this is true and makes no pretenses to the contrary.
When a real adventure confronts him, he cries out in utter panic that he is not made of the stuff required for perilous quests and wishes beyond all things that the honor would pass to someone much stronger and wiser (Tolkien 60). This wish, however, is not to be.
There is a cancer secretly beginning to grow inside Frodo. Tolkien gives the reader just a glimpse of its humble beginnings when he fails to throw the Ring into his hearth. He knows all about the potential evil, and he even knows of its destructive power, but when called upon to destroy it he hesitates. As he contemplates Gandalf’s story and the request to toss the Ring into the fire, he:
“Thought how rich and beautiful was its color, how perfect was it roundness. It was an admirable thing and altogether precious…he weighed the Ring in his hand, hesitating, and forcing himself to remember all that Gandalf had told him; and then with an effort of will he made a movement, as if to cast it away- but he found that he had put it back in his pocket” (Tolkien 59).
I can see the parallel to my dream of the undead child in Frodo’s hesitation to cast away the Ring. Both of us know that what we are holding so tightly is something dangerous, yet, there is an inherent beauty in the deadly thing that makes it impossible to cast aside. We can attempt to kill it, but if our hearts do not follow, our actions are for naught. Here is where the romance of my battle begins to take shape. In this dream I feel as if I am set face to face with a darker image of my very own self. It is the side of me that desires to hold on tightly to that which has the power to kill and to not let go. It is the side of me that, as morbid as it may sound, longs to give up hope.
While I find a similarity between my dream and the Ring’s draw on Frodo, I think my relationship to the undead child bears a more striking similarity to the relationship between Frodo and Gollum. Gollum is everything that Frodo has the potential to be if he does not find the strength within to destroy the Ring. It is Gollum’s singular desire that betrayed the safety of the Shire to the Dark Lord, and upon learning this Frodo yells, “What am I to do? What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature when he had a chance” (Tolkien 58). Gandalf’s response is what takes my breath away:
“It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity” (Tolkien 58).
Wow. Bilbo escaped being overwhelmed with evil because he began his possession of great evil with pity; a fact, says Gandalf, that may even come to save Frodo’s life (Tolkien 58). I need to look at this cancer with different eyes. I need to see it not as an all-consuming poison, but as an opportunity to realize God’s merciful providence so as to escape a greater evil.
When I began this cancer journey, I did so with a heart that was solely focused on someone else. My husband was serving in a combat zone and many lives depended on him being clear headed, forward thinking, and able to react swiftly to a rapidly changing environment; this fact allowed me to see my situation as a secondary concern. I never took a moment to feel sorry for myself; my primary focus was my husband and my secondary concern fell to my children. Now, with this situation in the past, I am allowing myself to grieve for my condition and it is slowly taking possession of my life. I need to listen to Gandalf’s counsel to Frodo and look back on how this evil came into my knowledge, how I originally handled the situation, and allow that to be the force that carries me through these dark, painful days. When Frodo comes to a similar realization, he laments:
“I really do wish to destroy it…Or, well, to have it destroyed. I am not made for perilous quests. I wish I had never seen the Ring! Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen” (Tolkien 60)?
I found the answer to the question, why was I chosen, in Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Paul reassures the Corinthians by sharing with them that he, too, has suffered hardships and pressures beyond his ability to endure (NIV 2 Co 1.8). Paul shares:
“Indeed, in our hearts were felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us” (NIV 2 Co 1.9-10).
I do not know how many can relate to what I am about to say, but when soldier comes home from a combat deployment, it is akin to receiving him back from the dead. Before deployment, we had made preparations for what would happen if he did not come home, never once considering what would happen when he returned alive and well. Seeing him get off that plane set me to such joy that I cannot find adequate words to describe the feeling. God delivered us from that “death”, so why would He fail to deliver me from this one?
For Frodo, life can be found in returning to the mindset that stayed Bilbo’s hand. By keeping the same pity in the forefront of his mind, he remembers and reacts with the same pity Bilbo had years before. It is this memory that, as Gandalf predicted, saves his life in the end. For me, I have felt the sentence of death, both with my husband’s deployment and the diagnosis of cancer. I had faith during the time he was gone that God would bring him back from dead, and He proved faithful. Now, as Paul so reassuringly writes, I can step out with confidence that God will deliver me from this peril, all I have to do is walk with the same faith I did during the deployment. For the moment, I am going to allow the promise of God to flow through the words of Gandalf:
“And now…the decision lies with you. But I will always help you…I will help you bear this burden, as long as it is yours to bear. But we must do something, soon. The Enemy is moving” (Tolkien 60).
The undead child is symbolic of the evil that God has already put to death, which leaves me with two choices: I can continually dig up that which God has put to death or, with His help, I can move on in freedom. The choice is all mine. Today, I am going to choose to walk in the knowledge of God’s past faithfulness and His promise to walk alongside me in order to prevent Satan from outwitting me, for I am now well aware of his schemes and realize I am not strong enough to walk this journey alone (NIV 2 Co 2.11).
Danzig, Glen. “Her Black Wings.” Lucifuge. Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC. 1990.
Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, New International Version. Richard L. Pratt Ed. Grand Rapids:Zondervan. 2003. Print.
Tolkien, John Ronald Reuel. The Fellowship of the Ring: being the first part of the LORD OF THE RINGS. New York: Houghton. 1994. Print.