Dealing with Dragons
By Marie Story
The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, tells the story of Bilbo Baggins, a comfort-loving hobbit, who is thrust into an unwanted quest for dragon treasure with a wizard and a group of dwarves. He faces all manner of hardships, from orcs to hostile elves to giant spiders.
Finally the adventurers reach their destination: the mountain lair of the dragon Smaug. Bilbo enters the dragon’s lair through a secret door in the mountainside. All the dwarves are waiting outside, and Bilbo has to face the dragon alone. As he makes his way through the dark tunnel, he hears what sounds like a kettle bubbling on the stove. That noise grows into what seems like a giant cat purring. Suddenly Bilbo realizes that he’s hearing the sound of the dragon snoring deep in the cave.
Bilbo is petrified. He wants nothing more than to turn back, and he nearly does; but instead he decides to go on. Tolkien writes, “Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterward were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.”
Have you ever faced a challenge like this? A challenge that seemed so big and scary that you wanted to run away from it before you even assessed its enormity and level of difficulty? We all reach these points in our lives when we say to ourselves, “I’m too small to tackle what’s ahead.”
Dealing with dragons (or other scary challenges) isn’t easy. It takes a whole lot of courage. Bilbo’s testing point came in the tunnel, before he ever saw the dragon. He had to face his own fear. He had to face his own self-doubt.
These scary challenges—these “dragons”—won’t always seem like a big deal to anyone but you. Perhaps you’re struggling with a moral dilemma. Perhaps you deal with excessive shyness. Perhaps you need to forgive someone who has wronged you. These personal challenges can require just as much courage as facing down a real dragon.
Sometimes our success is hampered by outside circumstances; and honestly, it’s easier to blame our failings on outside stuff. The truth is that far more often we’re defeated by our own negative habits, attitudes, mindsets,or simply the fear of the unknown.
To me, courage is simply this: refusing to let yourself defeat yourself. Before you can ever win great victories, before you can ever achieve great success, you first have to face down your own self. Courage is refusing to give yourself room to wiggle out of doing what’s right. That’s why C. S. Lewis wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point.”
If you’re anything like me, then you’re probably feeling that having this kind of courage is nearly impossible. As strong as we are, or try to be, we often lack the courage that we need. So where can we find the courage to face life’s challenges?
Joshua 1:9 tells us, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” We can have courage because God is with us. He doesn’t send us out to face our dragons alone. He’s right there with us, backing us up, not only ready to give us strength and courage, but also promising to meet us there and carry us through.
Once you’ve asked God for courage, you have to choose to use it, even if you don’t feel courageous. It will be there for you as you step out and believe God has the answer. And to do so is an ongoing choice. It’s not a one-time thing that will last the rest of your life. Florence Nightingale said, “Courage is the common currency of all those who choose to do the right thing.” Courage begins as a decision and grows as you consistently use it.
If you don’t have a ton of courage right now, that’s okay. Often courage is simply putting one foot in front of the other, taking small, sometimes even tiny steps forward. Every time you make a brave choice—even if it’s a little one—you’re strengthening your courage and preparing for the bigger challenges ahead.
Bilbo had been building up his courage little by little throughout his journey. He fought fearsome enemies and won. He tackled difficult problems and found solutions. Each time he faced a challenge bravely, it was an investment in courage; and those investments paid off when it came time to face the dragon.
The King’s Guard of ancient Greece had a motto: “All men have fears, but the brave put down their fears and go forward, sometimes to death, but always to victory.” So face your dragons boldly.
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