J.R.R. Tolkien’s powerfully trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, as well as The Hobbit, looks at more than one theme as darkness and evil battle against light and life. Much of the story revolves around rings of power and one ring to rule all the others. That one ring that holds power over all the others is called “the Precious” and many seek it for the power it holds, but they miss that the power also destroys any who seek to possess it.
Many of you know this story well and have not only read the books but also enjoyed the movies that were made in recent years that depict the story on the big screen.
As we recently watched both trilogies of these two series, I wondered what I or any one of us might fall prey to in our own lives. Our “precious” is not that ring of power but are there other things that we hold tightly to that can control us more than we might realize?
Our “precious” would be something we hold so dear to us that we would refuse to give it up even if it were doing us harm. As you consider that I wonder what might come to mind.
One of the books I recently added to our bookshelf was the latest one by John Eldredge entitled Get Your Life Back: Everyday Practices for a World Gone Mad. It’s somewhat ironic that it was released when we just entered this new crisis of disease and economic uncertainty and were asked to stay at home versus zipping around from one thing to another in our busy lifestyles.
Some of us are handling the new directives to stay at home and shelter in place better than others. The best of us might be a bit more upended as this goes on for days and weeks ahead.
As I was reading and considering this question of what my “precious” might be, I came across a major clue in John’s book.
“Over time, throughout our lives, the Self stakes out its own territory within us to try to assure getting its own way, ordering our world to its likings. It has imbedded assumptions and privileges in our psyche; there is a momentum to its desires, motives, and presence in us. I call this the Self Life.”
This could be the key to identifying the “precious” as we each grapple with not being able to order our world according to our likes. We can’t meet our friend for coffee at our favorite coffee bar. That trip to the beach that was planned for spring break can’t happen either. Graduation ceremonies are canceled, and wedding receptions are postponed. The latest movie isn’t available to see in the neighborhood theater either.
Things like church services and activities are canceled as well – just one more thing we could never have guessed might happen just a short time ago.
We can err on two sides of the Self Life. We can ignore the need for nourishment, rest, and quiet intimate times with the beauty that surrounds us, or we can be driven by it.
To be clear about how Eldredge defines Self Life in his book, let me add a few more details he notes:
‘It’s the Self Life in us that so easily takes offense, enjoys taking offense.
It wants things done our way, so it’s continually making demands, because, of course, our demands are perfectly reasonable, justified. The Self Life doesn’t like being interrupted, cut off on the freeway, and told what to do or how to do things; it hates it when someone corrects our driving, typing, cooking, performance (or writing). It’s the Self Life that keeps a record of wrongs, holds those imaginary conversations with people we’d love to set straight, crafts those devastating emails we only wish we could send.”
That hits pretty close to home in one way or another and we don’t get off the hook as believers either according to John:
“This matter isn’t a matter of Christian and non-Christian; the Self Life has a religious version. It gets irritated when a prayer time goes longer than we think it should, it feels wronged when church services run late, and it doesn’t particularly enjoy worship. The Self waits to be asked during small group how we are doing, and it feels righteously irritated when someone else takes too long talking about their life.”
Reading through these challenges can expose how often demandingness creeps into us despite our attempts to surrender and submit it to the Lord’s hands.
The problem about these things is that when the Self rules (sometimes without our awareness of how much), it gets in the way of our awareness of the Lord and how well we hear or receive Him as He seeks to guide us through ordinary and not-so-ordinary days.
So perhaps this time where our usual daily activities have ceased gives each of us time and opportunity to consider this part of us we often miss. Maybe each of us can make our own trip to “Mt. Doom” to destroy the power it can still exert in our lives.