I recently spent a few days in Colorado with a hobbit and it may just have changed my life.
Okay, maybe it didn’t change my whole life, but it sure recalibrated how I understand my purpose on this spinning Earth we call home. And that, to me, is a pretty big change. If you’ve ever wondered about your own purpose on earth, if you’ve ever lain awake at night wondering why exactly you are here, I highly recommend spending a few days with a hobbit in Colorado.
Not just any hobbit, though. I’m thinking specifically of Steven Garber, founder of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture. If you google Steve, you’ll see he does have some distinct physically hobbit features. And if you spend a few days with him, you may just start looking at your own purpose in new and fresh ways.
Hiding in comfort
I’m still processing everything I heard and saw during those few days, but let me gently pull on one thread from my time with Dr. Garber.
Early on, Steve confessed that he had always considered himself something of a hobbit. This piqued my interest because J.R.R. Tolkien’s quiet, unassuming, happy-to-be-hidden-away-from-the-world hobbits have always been a sort of mirror for myself as well. Given the choice between venturing out into the dark, ragged world on an adventure of import on the one hand, or enjoying a warm cup of tea in the snug confines of an underground home on the other hand …I’ve always leaned towards the second hand.
Card-carrying introvert. Averse to pain or conflict or general messiness. Somewhat germ-focused (even before COVID). That’s me! Just like Bilbo resisted Gandalf’s invitation to venture out on an important quest in The Hobbit, I have resisted invitations from teachers, friends, mentors, leaders, pastors – and even from Jesus himself.
Don’t get me wrong, I want to make a difference. I want to lift up the lowly. I want to strike a blow to evil. I want my life to count for something at the end of the day. I want to have purpose. But I also want to be comfortable and avoid pain. And that’s why it’s always been a dance in my life between compelling invitations to venture out and reticence stemming from my desire to just stay in.
Story after story
To be honest, my Gentle Shepherd (Jesus) has been so patient and so artful throughout the years at helping me venture out a little bit more with every passing season. But there’s always that lingering reticence. There’s always this dream that I can live life (even a purposeful life) while avoiding messy and complicated and painful attachments to fallen people and places.
And that’s how I arrived in Colorado. Then Steve stood up, identified himself as a fellow hobbit, and proceeded to gently narrate a simple biblical idea. (You can read his Vision of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good to get a taste of what I heard. I’m now reading the book for myself to help me more fully digest and process those days with Steve.)
Steve opened the Bible and talked about how God has made every human (we are all “sons of Adam and daughters of Eve”) to use their gifts to pursue the common good. And then Steve told story after story of people who took their vocations in life seriously. Christians who reflected theologically on their lifelong vocations and daily faithfulness. Businessmen who developed a theological depth to match their occupational competency. It was story after story of people saying yes to Gandalf. And I liked those stories.
To be implicated
But here’s the thing: Steve wasn’t spinning overly polished tales of shiny-happy people. Steve had this line he repeated over and over: What happens when people see themselves as “implicated” in the world around them? Oh, how the hobbit in me howled at that question! Oh, how I twinged at Steve’s repeated use of that adjective “implicated”: being implicated in the world, being implicated in how the world is and isn’t, being implicated in how the world ought to be.
Ah! We hobbits don’t like attachments. And yet …those stories. Steve kept telling stories of people he’d met along his own trail who found themselves (often led by the Gentle Shepherd) increasingly implicated in the fallen places and people around them. And, oh how beautiful these stories were. Painful and messy and inspired and delicate: stories of everyday people invited by the Gentle Shepherd to venture out of their hobbit holes and get implicated in the world around them. Businessmen, artists, farmers, writers, rock stars, pastors, teachers, raisers-of-children who found themselves gloriously invested in the world around them.
It’s the beauty that got me. I really do want a life like that. In spite of my reticence, I want my life to count for something. And, according to the hobbit, Dr. Steven Garber, the reason I’m here is to thoughtfully, faithfully take steps forward in my various vocations. The reason I’m here is to become implicated in the world around me.
Do you see the painful recalibration? I think I may have been avoiding the very thing God has put me here for.
Even hobbits must leave the Shire now and then.