The other day, one of my sons said to me out of the blue, “Aragorn was stronger in mind than Isildur.”
This was an interesting comment, so I inquired, “Why do you say that?”
He continued, “Isildur couldn’t stand to have the ring destroyed, but Aragorn did want it to be destroyed.” Considering his words, my lower lip jutted out and I began to nod. It was a pretty good observation for a nine year old kid.
These words got me thinking about my own strength of mind. I think that anyone who has read “The Lord of the Rings” (TLOTR) has wondered to themselves whether or not they would possess the resolve and strength of will to resist the temptation of the ring of power. And when I think of that topic, I end up hearing Andy Gullihorn’s line from Skinny Jeans about folding like origami. I think I would fold every time. And when I face that realization, I quickly remind myself that the ring of power is not real, and that I will never face such temptation, so I needn’t trouble myself. Or do I?
When I was in the first grade, if I finished my classwork early, my teacher would allow me to go and play games quietly while the other students finished their assignment. Once when I had finished early, I went over to join two classmates who were playing a game. I greeted the two students and asked if I could play. To my surprise, one of the girls looked up at me and said, “No, we don’t want to play with you.” This rejection stung badly, and immediately I felt my shoulders roll, my head drop, and my chin protrude and I moped back to my desk.
Now, this was not an involuntary reaction. I was feeling sorry for myself. I was throwing a pity party, and I was the guest of honor. I had done nothing wrong, and I was unjustly rejected by selfish people. This is my first living memory of self-righteousness combined with self-pity. Having been unjustly rejected, I responded with mopey self-pity. And it didn’t stop there, because I remember the two girls coming up to me at recess later in the day to apologize, and I felt a strange dilemma. I could forgive them and be done with affair, or I could withhold forgiveness and maintain control over these people who had offended me. I am ashamed to say that for a while I withheld forgiveness for the sake of “control.”
Self-pity is very powerful. If we believe that we have been unjustly treated we can cherish those offenses because they give us leverage on the one who has offended us. They have made us feel bad, and we can cherish the prospect of making them feel bad, too. In a desire to wield that power, we might withdraw from those who offend us, so that they can stew in their guilt. And sometimes we may even want the pity party to spread into a pity festival. We will tell people about how we have been offended so that others can take our side in the injustice and feel sorry for us and how we have been treated.
Again, self-pity can be very powerful. In pride, it can convince me that “I don’t deserve to be treated like this.” It can promise me power over those who have unjustly treated me. It can cause me to disappear as I withdraw from those who have offended me to leave them to consider the heinous thing that they have done.
Like the ring of power in TLOTR, self-pity is a deceptive power. It can consume the bearer and draw them into solitude that will corrupt the soul and warp the mind. If I cherish offenses and withhold forgiveness, I can feel my heart harden and my mind become foggy in its consumption to promote guilt among those around me. I become like Gollum in TLOTR, who was consumed by the ring and its power. Self-pity can become “Myyy preciousss.”
My son’s comment about Aragorn and Isildur coincided with my preparations to teach through the latter part of John’s gospel. In John 20:22&23, Jesus speaks to his disciples after his resurrection and grants them the Holy Spirit and then goes onto say that they would possess the authority to grant and withhold forgiveness, an awesome responsibility however you understand that passage of Scripture (and there are many interpretations of it.).
As you read Chapter 21 about how Jesus restores Peter following Peter’s denials, you realize that Jesus didn’t withhold forgiveness, He initiated the granting of forgiveness. More than anyone who ever lived, Jesus could have thrown himself a pity party, but it was his glory to bestow forgiveness. It was why he came to live and die.
Self-pity is like a ring of power to me. It promises to grant me a temporary feeling of power, but ultimately, it will destroy me from the inside out. The challenge is to resist putting it on, when the opportunity is presented to me. The challenge is to reveal the offense quickly for the sake of granting forgiveness.
Too often, I succumb to the temptation, but through forgiveness granted the power of the ring can be destroyed and my soul can be healed.