Summer is usually my most productive time as a reader. But not this year. This summer I read the first volume of Elisabeth Elliot’s biography, and the first 141 pages of The Fellowship of the Ring. The slow plodding through the latter is in part due to the fact that as much as I love the story, Tolkien isn’t always the easiest thing for me to pick up and read at the end of the long day. But another contributor to the slow progress is the fact that I couldn’t get past one of the things Bilbo said in the opening chapters.
“I want to see mountains again, Gandalf, mountains, and then find somewhere where I can rest. In peace and quiet, without a lot of relatives prying around, and a string of confounded visitors hanging on the bell. I might find somewhere where I can finish my book. I have thought of a nice ending for it: and he lived happily ever after to the end of his days.” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring)
When I first read those words, I was shocked to find my eyes watering. Why was I crying over an old Bilbo complaining about the duties and calls of day to day life, and asking to see some mountains? This wasn’t emotional. This wasn’t climactic. This wasn’t where someone was supposed to cry.
Yet here I was, tears running down my face as I lay in bed with the clip-on booklight the only thing keeping me from being enveloped by the darkness. I turned it off, rolled over, and with the tears on my pillow case, went to sleep. I was just emotional. I’d be fine in the morning.
But I wasn’t. The quote lingered in my mind as I washed dishes, got ready for work, drove to the grocery store, answered phone calls, prepared for Bible study, and finally found myself once again in bed, trying to comprehend why this had hit me so deeply, when it finally clicked.
Bilbo longed for rest.
Rest from the distractions of each day. Rest from the duties. Rest from the noise. Rest from the discord. Rest. Uninterrupted, un-threatened rest.
And I long for rest, too.
I had hoped that this summer would bring rest, but it didn’t, at least, not the kind I was looking for. Physically, working two jobs and being in school full-time doesn’t leave a lot of room for resting. Spiritually, this summer brought on a host of stretching opportunities as I wrestled with my own fears, doubts, and sin. Mentally, news has continued to pour in of heartbreak, injustice, destruction, and ignorance.
Rest often feels like a dream, not a reality, doesn’t it?
But dear friends, it is not just a dream. It is real and it is ours for the taking. Because rest is not always a vacation, or political unity, or peaceful worldwide interactions. It isn’t always an empty schedule, or the elimination of bad news, or the absence of grief. I’m learning that in this world, rest is knowing Christ. It is being known by Him, hiding in Him, finding hope in an eternal future with Him. It is finding the everlasting arms underneath as each wave of fear, exhaustion, sorrow, and calamity slam into us. It is knowing that we are loved, held fast, and remembered. It is knowing that while this life doesn’t feel like rest, there is a day coming when we will reach a kingdom of untainted beauty, where there will be no more distractions, no more interruptions, no more tears, no more catastrophe. There will be peace, quiet, and joy.
There will be rest.
And of the people in that kingdom, it will be written, “They lived happily ever after, following the end of their days.”