Five things to learn from Bilbo
There's a lot of wisdom to be gained from this little hero.
Six movies and thirteen years later, Bilbo Baggins' cinematic saga is almost over. It started in 2001 with his birthday party (Fellowship of the Ring) and ends now, technically sixty years before that party. Yes, Peter Jackson went a little Star War-ish flex time on us.
But before we enjoy Battle of the Five Armies and leave Bilbo alone for sixty years, it would be a great finish to this epic adventure to ask some questions about him that could help us in our own adventures. What makes Bilbo such a popular hero? What does he teach us about adventures, and heroism, and life? A few ideas.
1. Don't leave the path
Gandalf's last words to the hobbit and dwarves before they go into the creepy forest are, “DON'T LEAVE THE PATH!” You know what's going to happen right there. Unfortunately, it's a lot easier to remember God's words to us when everything is sunshine and rainbows. Spend a while in the dark--lost, surrounded by scary sounds, and uncertain you'll ever get out, and . . . those words seem a lot farther off.
Maybe He didn't mean exactly what He said. Maybe I can take a short cut. I'll still end up where God wants me, but I'll find an easier way. (Sounds just a little like Satan in the Garden of Eden hissing, “Did God really say that? Are you sure that's what he meant?”)
C.S. Lewis said that the devil was never in more danger than when a human could no longer feel God's presence but obeyed him anyway. When God seems silent, Bilbo can teach us to stay the course and continue to obey, even if we're scared and lost.
2. Never laugh at a live dragon
Bilbo was having a great time matching wits with Smaug. Well, as great as it gets when you're in constant danger of being a human french fry. But that was the problem—he forgot his danger. He was so into his own brilliance there for a while that he totally forgot that he was dealing with something way beyond him. He started to think he had this. Then he made one too many jokes and . . . dragon fire.
I've done that. Getting so impressed with my own intelligence, or ability to handle temptation, or good judgment, that I start to think I can handle whatever the situation is. So sure of myself that I forget this battle is way beyond me. I forget that Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.”
It pays to remember that no matter how smart or fast you are, showing it off can give you a warm backside.
3. Be a problem solver
OK, the Six Flags barrel ride wasn't the easiest route to freedom, but while the dwarves sat around complaining about how nothing was going to work, Bilbo came up with an idea that might.
There are people who let life happen to them, and there are people who take charge of life. Bilbo moves from being the first kind of person to the second. Your life will be full of obstacles to getting where you're supposed to be. A victim of life wonders why nothing has worked out for him; a Bilbo looks for a way to deal with the things that aren't working. You may get wet, but you'll get where you wanted to be.
4. Trust the One who chose you
Bilbo does not think he is a burglar. Nor a warrior, adventurer, or dragon slayer. He doesn't even think he can skip breakfast without serious consequences. Neither does anyone else--and they are right. He isn't. No one expects the smallest one in the group, whose greatest risk thus far probably has been eating week-old tomatoes, to be the hero.
Bilbo continues the journey because he was given a job and he is committed to getting it done. Even when no one believes in him. Along the way, while he keeps trusting that call, he finds his courage. He becomes the hero in a way that only he could.
When God calls, he knows how capable you are. He knows where you'll need help. He knows how only you can do what he's called you to do. What he wants from you is the willingness to trust and keep going.
5. Be the boss of your fears
I love the paragraph in the book where it says that Bilbo fought his greatest battle not when he saw the dragon but in the tunnel before he saw Smaug. His greatest struggle was with his fear, not with the creature. Once he defeated the urge to turn back, he had already won.
Sometimes the biggest thing we fear is not the dragon but our own reaction to the dragon.
I know when I feel like I can't apologize to someone, it's not the person I fear. It's looking bad, being humbled, and admitting failure. If I feel like I can't start a difficult job, it's not the job that's the problem. It's the fear of not doing a good enough job.
We're more afraid of how terrible we'll feel running back down the tunnel. We don't like feeling like failures. When Bilbo takes charge of his fear and makes himself keep waking, he shows us all how to face the things that frighten us.
And One Bonus Lesson—Stay away from large spiders. Really, why should anyone have to tell you this? It should be obvious.