Last time we talked about the classic triumph of good over evil story in Overcoming the Monster. Today’s storyline, “The Quest”, is pretty similar. Here the hero is searching for a specific prize and overcomes challenges and temptations, including his or her own flaws which must be conquered before the prize is won.
So who joins the hero on the quest? A group of friends with complementary attributes and skills to help and the support the hero on the journey.
(Incidentally, though it is not a “quest” story, other than perhaps the quest for honey or to live out every day life, one of my all-time favourite stories about friends is Winnie the Pooh. Each of the characters is so (almost unbearably) unique — Owl is wise, Piglet is afraid, Eeyore is depressed, Tigger is hyper, Rabbit is Type-A, Roo is innocent, Pooh is… hungry and oblivious. Each character’s excessive depiction of their individual traits used to make me so mad as a child. But now I love it and often like to imagine who in a group of people or friends is the Rabbit, the Eeyore, the Pooh, etc.)
For our purposes, though, we are going to look at the perfect Quest example: The Lord of the Rings. In this classic story, the hobbit, Frodo Baggins, is small, simple, and knows nothing of fighting and war and is thrust into the ultimate battle to destroy evil. Yet, it is precisely his nature that makes him perfect for the quest and allows him to get through Mordor unnoticed.
But Frodo doesn’t travel alone. He’s got the fellowship of a wizard, an elf, a dwarf, some warrior men, and a handful of hobbits to help him along the way. Each has their own limitations, but together they make a pretty good team. Well… until the fellowship fails and disbands. But, even in that, they each still contribute to the quest.
So, what does the fantasy story of a hobbit and a wizard and a ring have to do with our real life struggles?
First, it reminds us how easy it is to feel alone when we struggle. It’s easy to hide when life gets tough and to not let anyone see our fears and struggles. We might feel like no one will understand. We might not want to burden people. We might not feel like our problems are worth sharing. Or we might feel like they are just too huge and scary to name.
But it can make a world of difference to have someone to share with — someone who listens and cares. It can be so scary to make that first step of saying the words out loud to someone. It can be hard to find a person you trust. But, it is so important to find a place and a person with whom you can talk to about what is going on.
(Did you know that one of the first things counsellors assess with new clients is their social support network? We find out about their friends and family, whether they live nearby, and who they can rely on. Because IT MATTERS that you have people you can rely on!)
Often people don’t end up with the supports they need because they’re so good at hiding their struggles, no one knows there’s anything wrong! For example, how often have you heard the story of someone who has taken their life and people were so shocked because “She was so popular!” or “He was so successful!”?
We are not alone in our struggles –– that’s the second thing we can take away from The Lord of the Rings. Each of those characters had their own path and their own trials to overcome. And that’s just like life. We all have struggles as we go through the years of our lives. We are all unique individuals with stronger gifts (and “less strong” gifts) in different areas at different times.
Despite the fact that we are all individuals with particular skills and stories, it is so easy to compare our lives with others. What is more, we compare our lives with a moment in time of another person. We might be struggling with finances, for example, and look on with envy at the neighbour who is doing well (or appears to be doing well!). But we don’t know what the past has been like for them nor what the future holds.
Comparison is so rarely true, it is almost never helpful, and, more than anything, it isolates us.
Instead, acknowledging the journey of others can give us the courage to speak our own stories. And having even one or two people in our life that we know we can always go to is so important. Even if you’re at a place in life where there doesn’t seem to be anyone, there are always doctors, counsellors, and pastors who can listen and guide you to others who will listen.
Exercise: Stop for a moment and think about who might be helpful to you on your “quest”. (You might have people around you all the time, but they will not all be people with whom you should share burdens.) Is there one person who comes to mind who you know would listen and who you’d be willing to share a struggle with? And, because it can be so easy to put off these kind of scary, vulnerable conversations, plan a specific time in the next week or two that you could meet with this person to talk.
Be brave. You are not alone. Even if it feels that way, you are not the only one who is stressed or afraid today. You don’t have to go at this alone. It’s not about someone else having the answers for you; it’s about being willing to share yourself, your story with another.
(To be able to connect to all of the posts in the Our Lives As Stories series, go here.)