Warning: This post may explicitly refer to the climax of Return of the King. Deal with it, if you're one of the three people who hasn't read it or seen the movie. On the other hand, you may be one of the uber-Protestants who considers Bel and the Dragon hazardous literary material. So be it.
One of the hardest lessons to learn is that of quiet piety. When a WWII vet fought off the Nazis in front of everyone, he received a medal on his return to the U.S. When Lenny Skudnik dove into a freezing river to save passengers of a crashed plane that fire fighters were letting drown, he got a medal from Reagan. But it takes courage, occasionally, to do the ordinary. And that, occasionally, is discouraging in itself.
It takes courage for an eighty year old, mentally sound woman with physical impairments to wait with patience and grace for a nurse's aide to lift her out of bed so that she can slowly wheel herself to the lunch room.
It takes courage to fight the spirit's battles in the dark, in the quiet, in the out of the way, middle of ordinary moments that no one reads about.
It can be exhausting to do the one thing, whatever that thing is, that is the most difficult for you to do. Sometimes speaking quietly takes courage. Sometimes speaking loudly takes courage. Sometimes extending grace, like loaning your barn to a poor immigrant couple expecting a baby, takes courage. Ever wonder what kind of standing ovation the people who lent space to Mary and Joseph DIDN'T get? How were they to know...
It takes courage to go deep. To go deep instead of off the deep end. To practice in battle the slow movements that seem foreign at first. Forgiveness feels strange and heavy. Love feels bulky and cumbersome. In time, they will fit easier. In time, they will feel familiar. For now, speaking and thinking truthfully do not always come naturally.
And sometimes it takes courage to bear your burden without beginning to love it. Frodo hated his task - until he began to love his burden. He began to love the object that was weighing him down, more even than he loved his family and his friend. Are there people who will loose you from the fondness you develop for your burden?
The quiet moments define you. Muscles stretch and burn as fibers tear under the strain of combat, but strength is born and borne. Strength itself can be burdensome - the ability to fight in your spirit will probably mean that you will find yourself compelled to use it - an awesome task. Sometimes being in battle is the best training you will receive.
Today I completed an ordinary task. But today, for me, it wasn't a task. It was a dragon.
I fought the dragon.
If you can't fold laundry with a thankful heart, or speak well of someone who is generally disliked, or hold yourself to the standard of Christ in your business dealings, then you will be slain when you fight the dragon. You will die by your own sword, because you did not wield it well.
Samwise comes in many guises - the friend that sticks closer, the Spirit that chides. The valley of the shadow of death may appear many different ways, but it is never a solitary place. The quietest moments still house the honing work of the Spirit.
Bent iron - broken steel, the wounded hand and side
that forget not Your benefits, O Lord -
the dented armor, flushed face, shaking fingers
of one who has seen It
and lived to tell the tale
To fight an unrecognized foe is mundane to onlookers.
They see checkout counters, flowerbeds, scarved and hatted
No eyes for beauty deep under your lapel, wrought by the scratching
of bent iron.
Be STILL, and know that "waves and winds still know" that voice.
Bandage our hands, Lord, our wounded sides and scratched brows
that bear your mark. Let us forget not your benefits.
Let us be content to be bent iron, broken steel.
Let us be content with hushed victories.