We live in a busy world, clinging to busy lives while complaining about how busy we are. We are rubbed bare, stretched thin, and emaciated by this curse called “busyness”, and It becomes the core of our lives. It vanquishes life, curses adventurous hearts, and fades questing hopes into pale, powerless ghosts. We long for rest in Its midst, yet find none.
We weakly negotiate with It:
“Once this and that have passed, then please leave me alone for a bit! All I need is a some space. When you’re gone, I can rest. I can rest when I’m____________ (insert here: when I’m alone, when work is over, when the weekend comes, when I don’t have to be responsible, when the kids grow up, when I retire, when I graduate… and on, and on, and on).
But It is not easily swayed; It laughs as we naively try to prove the origin of our rest. It laughs uproariously at the all-too-familiar phrase “When Life Slows Down”. It is wiser than we; wise enough to know that Life Never Slows Down.
But is a slow life— a stagnant trickle, a lifeless river— our true desire? Lounging on a porch in a green country, without worry of hunger, pain, anxiety, or discomfort? For the peaceful, quiet comforts of our Shire homeland? Frodo, fated for a path leaving his home behind, was often haunted by this desire. So often in Tolkien’s books the young hobbit’s thoughts rest on the Shire, as he wonders why on earth he chose to bear the hellish responsibility of the ring and leave his home.
“They stood for a while silent on the hill-top, near its southward edge. In that lonely place Frodo for the first time fully realized his homelessness and danger. He wished bitterly that his fortune had left him in the quiet and beloved Shire. He stared down at the hateful Road, leading back westward— to his home.” (Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring)
While draped in the dreary shadows of Mordor and constantly fearing impending doom, he cannot help but fantasize of a warm hearth, good food, and peaceful forests. Tumult and danger breed a demand and craving for rest.
But say his desires were granted? Say that one single thought could magically transport him back to Bag End for that short restful period. He would have to begin the same journey anew, weathering obstacles that he had already defeated. He would be backtracking. His responsibility would not go away, but only be deterred.
No, real rest does not deter or abhor responsibility. It strengthens and inspires the traveler to shoulder that pack with determination, a glint of fearless hope in his eye, and a spring in his step, headed straight toward the end of the road, knowing that when it is most needed that rest will appear along the way, in the form of an adventure.
Such rest is poignantly captured in one of Frodo’s first encounters after leaving his home— meeting the subject of his childhood fear, Farmer Maggot, whose wrath he had incurred by stealing the farmer’s excellent mushrooms. After several fearful brushes with the enemy, he finds in Maggot a friend instead of a foe, who offers respite by the fire, encouraging conversation, and “a mighty dish of mushrooms and bacon”. Then, when his company departs, the farmer sends a parting gift before once more setting food on the dangerous road — a hamper full of mushrooms.
Rest comes along the way in precious moments and unexpected interactions—
Those interactions that cause you to realize that you are more loved and guarded than you thought. Rest is a much-needed gift, a detour outside of time.
Thus, rest must come along the way— always unexpected, and always when most needed. It comes at the point of utter exhaustion, fear, and anxiety, with wide open arms. It need only be accepted. The sensible traveler will avoid its embrace, knowing that it will deter him momentarily. But the wise traveler will run to it and toss down his pack, knowing that this gift is given for his need and must be accepted. He sits down with it, for a restoring conversation over a steaming skillet of bacon and fried mushrooms.