One of my favorite stories is The Lord of the Rings. In it, there is a profound moment when Frodo Baggins laments to his friend Gandalf, “I wish none of this had happened!”
Life has gotten hard, and despite the fact that the young hobbit thought he wanted adventure, now that it’s come he’d rather not have it. To this, his wizard friend replies, “So do all who live to see such times…”
I experience a similar revelation every time I grow up a little bit. It started when I began working for a mission organization, a ministry. I thought every day would be full of adventure and service and amazing stories. So when all I got was email and spreadsheets, I started to get bitter, then full of disillusion.
As my adventure continued, I became a husband, which was great and romantic at first but slowly started to feel like work. No one ever told me love was work. So then I had a moment in which I wondered if this whole marriage thing was a good idea.
Then I became a dad and found that I no longer had the rights to my personal time. In all of it, I’ve learned both a valuable and hard lesson: I’m not satisfied when the story is about me.
Like Frodo, the adventure never feels as good as I imagined it, but that’s because growth is always uncomfortable. Always trying and challenging. How else would we rise to the occasion and persevere? It has to be hard. “The hard,” as Tom Hanks said in A League of Their Own, “is what makes it great.”
I once asked my friend David, who is a few years older than me and has been doing the whole family thing a bit longer than I, which was harder: the second kid or the third kid? He looked at me and laughed saying, “Um… the FIRST kid! Nothing’s harder than having to adjust to being a parent for the first time.” I nodded, tracking with him, but then he said something that caught my attention.
“You know,” David said, his voice sobering, “all of this is just an exercise in dying to yourself.” Yes, death. That’s what this sometimes feels like. Not the morbid hopeless kind of dying, though—the redemptive kind that leads to new life.
I used to dread doing hard things. I found ways to prolong thrills and chase adventure when it seemed God was calling me to something deeper and less glamorous. Now I understand why I avoided those situations; he was calling me to death.
“When Christ calls a man,” said Bonhoeffer, “he bids him to come and die.” Of course, that’s only half of the story, but without it we never get to resurrection.
Without surrendering my thoughts of what a good story would look like for me, I never would’ve been able to serve someone else’s vision and learn to be part of something bigger than myself. Without giving up my rights as a single man, I never would’ve been able to experience the beauty of a shared life with a spouse. Without learning to sacrifice my time, energy, and a little bit of sleep, I never would have the honor of seeing my son crack his first smile.
These are gifts, these moments and opportunities, and truly worth treasuring. But they have a cost—namely our wants—and that’s precisely what makes them valuable.
What’s something in your life that needs to die in order for something else to live? Share in the comments.
About the author: Jeff Goins is a writer who lives in Nashville. He just released his first book, Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life (http://wreckedthebook.com).