A few weeks ago I finished reading the entire Lord of the Rings aloud to my son—all 1200 pages.
Reading this book aloud taught me many things about Tolkien’s genius as a wordsmith. Several of his sentences shocked me with their clarity of vision and depth of wisdom. I missed these sentences on earlier readings, but they grabbed me by the eyeballs this time through.
One of these sentences comes from Gandalf (who else?):
“Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till” (The Return of the King).
In the context, Gandalf is explaining to the leaders of Men that even though Sauron may be destroyed, other evils will rise after him. But this should not cause despair, for their task is to defeat the evil that exists in their time. They are called to defeat Sauron, not to rid evil from the world forever.
Yet by defeating Sauron, they will uproot “the evil in fields we know” and leave the world a much better place. They will give their children “clean earth to till”, free from the threat of a world-destroying evil.
It is the job of these men, Gandalf says, to spend their lives clearing the fields that their children will make fruitful.
Gandalf’s words are certainly encouraging to anyone fighting Dark Lords and armies of shadow. But how do we apply them to our lives? Is there anything we can do with Gandalf’s wisdom?
Vocation and Clean Earth
This quote actually has as much to say about our work as about our warfare against evil. In fact, one of the chief ways we war against evil is through our work. (I hope to write more about this in later posts.)
Each of us has been given a certain type of work to do. Some are doctors, some teachers, some police officers, some stay-at-home moms. Gandalf would call this particular work the “field that we know”. This is where we have been called to labor—this is our vocation.
We have been called to a single field, and not to “all the tides of the world.” Yet it is easy for us to grow weary of our vocation and start longing for more glorious field to till. Several times Tolkien’s hobbits wish they had never been taxed with the burden of the ring. And each time they are told that such wishes are pointless. They have been given a difficult task, and their only concern should be to complete it.
Likewise, we must accept our vocation and labor faithfully in it. Gandalf calls the chiefs of Gondor to be faithful in their apparently doomed struggle against evil. This struggle will mean suffering and even death, but it is the task they have been given. They are to end what evil they can in their lifetimes in order to leave cleaner fields for their children.
And in the same way, Gandalf calls us to be faithful to the tasks we have been given. He call us to faithfulness in the present, so our children can enjoy peace and prosperity in the future. He calls us to shape the world as best we can for those who come after us.
Are you chaffing at the work you have been called to? Remember that you labor for your children and your neighbor’s children.
Do you long for a greater, higher work? Work faithfully at what you’ve been given. Those who are faithful in a little are given more.
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