By Neil Cole
“A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships were made for.” ―Anonymous
A ship sits prominently in one of the busiest harbors of the world. She has been there for five decades, unmoved. The Queen Mary is a hotel, encased in a rock jetty. Tourists who come to Long Beach, CA (my home town) love to see this famous attraction. But visitors are only seeing a faint shadow of the ship she once was. She was once the finest cruise liner on the seven seas. During World War 2 she was used to transport injured military personnel. The Queen was meant to be out on the high seas, but now she is on the AAA’s list of three-and-a-half star hotels. For years, I saw the Queen’s tall red smokestacks from my office on the hill. She reminded me of a hollowed-out leader who only dreams of glories long past.
We are all familiar with the tragedy of the Titanic, but the Queen Mary is another sort of tragedy. If I had to choose a destiny, I would rather go out in glory on my maiden voyage like the Titanic than be stuck rusting in a harbor, never to make another ripple in the ocean. Award winning movies are made of one story, not the other.
Henry David Thoreau once said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” There is nothing sadder then a beautiful song that is never sung.
Many of us are like the Queen Mary—safe, secure, and not what we were meant to be. Many of us settle for lesser lives, for stories not worth telling. We are being called to a higher story, a bigger tale that will be told to future generations.
The Lord of the Rings is an epic battle of good versus evil where simple folk win the day against overwhelming odds––because they had each other and a cause worth dying for.
There is a scene near the end of the second film that depicts the spiritual battle we face unlike any in cinema. It shows us that we are simple folk drawn into a story way too big for us. We face three enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil, and each are portrayed in this scene.
Frodo, the protagonist, found himself in a place of ruins as hostile missiles passed overhead. His flesh was tempted to surrender to the darkness. A dark lord on a dragon was poised to devour him. All was about to be lost in one swoop.
Samwise Gamgee, Frodo’s faithful companion, pulled him back from the edge. They struggled for a moment. We often forget who our friends are…and worse, our enemy. Once Frodo recognized Sam, he dropped his sword, fell back on his haunches, and sighed, “I can’t do this, Sam.”
“I know. It’s all wrong,” said Sam. "By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are.”
How could these small rural hobbits be so important in the outcome of epic events of global significance? It is precisely their simple and ordinary lives that made them so powerful. Less easily seduced by power and prestige, they were uncommonly resistant to temptation and the power of the one ring. God delights when he can use the weak and foolish things of the earth to shame the mighty and wise.
From this dark moment, a light shone. A friend lifted up his brother and inspired hope. Frodo regained perspective, and the journey continued. We all need a friend who will help us remember why this journey into battle is worth the price it extracts from us.
Looking off at the ruins Sam said, “It’s like the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?"
His countenance lifted as he went on, “But in the end it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folks in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.”
“What are we holding onto, Sam?” Frodo sighed, still recovering from the near defeat of the previous moment.
Sam, determined to help his brother whom he would gladly die for, lifted Frodo to his feet, looked him sternly in the eyes, and said, “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fighting for.”
We all need a friend like Sam when we face the overwhelming odds in this battle. We also need to be a friend like Sam. The struggle against the evil that dominates this world is bad enough; to go through this fight alone is too much. We must have a small band of brothers and sisters who would give their lives for us, for the cause…for Jesus. We need to be such people. We all need something important enough to give our lives for.
There is conflict. There is evil that wants to destroy you. There will be pain and loss in this battle with evil, but the struggle is worth it. Any great story has conflict; that is what makes the story worth the telling.
There would not be three major motion pictures dozens of Oscars and a billion dollars in revenue if there was no struggle involved with the Lord of the Rings stories. If the Hobbits never left home, but stayed in the Shire, under the party tree smoking pipe weed, we would not really be all that interested in the stories. The conflict makes the struggle compelling.
If we can stick together and pull each other through, much like Sam and Frodo, I believe we can defeat the enemy and win this war. There will be great stories to tell our children’s children. These are the days where stories of grocers, high school kids, nurses, and simple gardeners, like Sam, overcome incredible evil to bring change and hope back to humanity.
You were created for good works that have been foreordained by God for the destruction of evil strongholds and to set captives free. Do not settle for rusting in the harbor over the decades. Set sail on the oceans of risk and let God lead you to stories that are worthy of being told.
The great American author and personality Mark Twain once commented, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
This is not a safe story, but none of the tales worth telling are safe ones. Leave the harbor, set sail into the open waters on a journey you will not forget nor regret!