A true leader isn’t someone who sees themselves as “having all the power,” but rather a person who knows the One who does. Sometimes, the torrent of life can seem too overwhelming and chaotic for even the best of leaders. Without coming across too tongue-in-cheek, sometimes leaders (youth leaders especially) can feel exactly like Frodo Baggins precariously dangling over the Crack of Doom.
Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of Tolkien’s epic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, is a monolithic achievement in the world of cinema. One of the final sequences in The Return of the King sees seasoned journeyman Frodo Baggins clinging to the last edge of the precipice of the Crack of Doom — a far cry from his simple beginnings back in Hobbiton. Frodo had just seen Smeagol go over the edge into the molten river beneath, after both junkies struggled for possession of the One Ring. Remarkably, Frodo found a hand-hold on the cliff; and now hangs above the fiery abyss. You can see in his eyes the real and familiar debate occurring in his head: whether to continue struggling, or to just let go. After all he’s endured and suffered to end evil by destroying the One Ring, an actual decision had to be made to press forward once more, to keep breathing.
While not in quite the same hazardous situation, I’ve felt and thought similarly to Frodo, questioning whether or not to press on, or to just let go. While I haven’t personally struggled with suicidal thoughts, the temptation to give up on God has seen far too warm a welcome.
The Allure of the Broad Way
There was a time in my life when I felt as though I was merely clinging to the last piece of the Rock of Ages — and in that moment, quitting religion seemed pretty appealing. That’s the draw and allure of the broad gate and easy way (Matt. 7:13), seducing the once honest dreams of the heart and flooding them with doubts, temptations, and struggles. The hard and narrow way is just too literal (Matt. 7:14): hard and narrow, full of visceral egos who deem they have a monopoly on truth.
The road through the narrow gate, the gate of God’s Kingdom, had proved to be taxing beyond bearable degrees. The initial drive to see souls transformed by God’s grace had become clouded under arbitrary disagreements and trivial disputes which, unfortunately, make up so much of a minister’s appointments. My early visions of ministry life seemed nothing but youthful naïveté, giving way to timeworn cynicism and pragmatism.
Nevertheless, I still held on — not really knowing why but still cleaving to the notion that if I were to pull myself up out of this despondency, the Crack of Doom wouldn’t overtake me; if I could just strain one last time, I might just make it. I might just free myself from this season of despair.
A Gracious Interruption
And it was in the midst of this bedlam of temptations, questions, and struggles that a voice rose above it all — not unlike the loyal Samwise Gamgee’s, who ultimately interjected Frodo’s internal debate, urging him to not let go. Similarly, God’s Spirit broke through my own confusion, reminding me to not let go of his grip on me.
“Don’t you let go!” Sam shouts, “Don’t let go. Reach!” and his words seem to offer and inspire the very strength Frodo needs to thrust his hand back upward. Equally as urgent and gracious is Jesus’s cry to us: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (Mark 6:50) “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isa. 41:10) Christ’s encouragement is for us to reach out in surrender, acknowledging our dire need for his saving power.
By reaching out in faith, we find the hand of grace was already extended.
It was for me.
Consolation in Commotion
God’s mercy lingers patiently, steadfastly, and faithfully for the desperate cry of his children. The struggle and confusion of God’s Children is not all bad — oftentimes he permits this disarray to bring us to the end of ourselves, forcing us to recognize that our only hope is our Only Hope. A season of doubt and discouragement had overwhelmed me, but God’s Spirit reminded me of this promise: it is not my strength that sustains me, it’s not my faith that holds me, it’s not my power that keeps me pressing forward — it’s Christ’s.
Even though I entertained the thought of letting go of God, he never considered letting go of me. Christians everywhere, and youth leaders especially, need the constant reminder that notwithstanding the turmoil they endure from internal and external pressures, God is there — and by his grace, he gives us what we need to never let go. “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20) In our reach of faith, it is not we who pull ourselves up, it’s Christ that raises us, causing us to stand on the firm foundation of what he’s done, what he’s finished. This is our consolation amidst all the commotion.
The unflinching, unrelenting grace of God is the only solace and support for the troubles of life. He alone relieves and reprieves the exhausted soul, the shamed fugitive. The hand of grace reaches down and raises the desperate and destitute from the cavern of despair, the Crack of Doom, putting a new song on their lips, “a song of praise to our God.” (Ps. 40:3)
Don’t You Let Go
Our incredible turmoil is met with God’s indelible love. Our confusion collides with his compassion. His promise isn’t necessarily to remove our upheaval, but rather to be present with us in the midst of it. “Fear not, for . . . you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isa. 43:1–3) Although Frodo dismissed Sam time and again throughout their long and perilous journey, Sam never left.
It is Jesus who promises to perfectly and perpetually meet our failure with his grace, our mess with his mercy. It is the march through the wasteland itself, then, that gives us a renewed thirst and craving for the succoring grace of our Heavenly Father. Only with this knowledge can we see that the doldrums were divinely-sent; that the hard way of the wilderness is the sovereign way of grace; that our “holding on” was actually God’s clinging to us. The definitive “Don’t you let go!” has already been pronounced in the Savior’s “It is finished.”