I’ve been thinking about the movie The Hobbit lately. Our family rewatched it a couple weeks ago and despite some significant departures from the book we all found it enjoyable. There is a part in it that especially stands out for me. I don’t even think it’s in the book (sorry to all you hard core Tolkien fans) but it is inspired in my view. Bilbo has just escaped his encounter with Gollum and is still wearing the ring that makes him invisible. He overhears Thorin tell the rest of the company that Bilbo has likely deserted them since he obviously misses his home so much. Bilbo listens to this and then reveals himself. And then he tells Thorin:
“I know you doubt me . . . and you are right. I often think of Bag End. I miss my books, and my arm chair, and my garden. See, that’s where I belong; that’s home, and that’s why I came – because you don’t have one. A home. It was taken from you, but I will help you take it back if I can.”
I love this moment. I love that Bilbo is honest in his yearning for home and all that this means to him. But I especially love that it is his realization that the dwarves don’t have these things that causes him to continue on the quest to get back their home.
Bilbo’s brief statement sums up what I think being truly thankful should look like. As we look towards Thanksgiving this weekend, I’ve been thinking about this. Does my thankfulness and appreciation of the good things I have drive me towards helping others to have enough? Does the fact that I live in the one of the richest countries in the world and never have to worry about clean water, enough food, and a safe place to sleep move me to do what I can to help others who don’t have these essentials? How do I live out these concerns, and how can I pass on these concerns to my kids? These are questions I wrestle with on a regular basis, and even more so as we celebrate Thanksgiving this weekend. And I don’t think there is an easy answer. While we are all aware of these sobering realities, we also live in a society that pushes us to be discontent with all that we do have, never mind worrying about those who don’t even have the essentials. And so in the midst of these concerns, I also perversely find myself struggling with being discontent despite the fact that I have all that I need and more. My children are of course even more vulnerable to the messages that seem to come at them from every angle – that they are not good enough, and that they need more stuff and better experiences to be satisfied. How do we fight against these messages? How do we live in a way that is truly thankful?
I think the exchange between Bilbo and Thorin gives us at least part of that answer. It seems that Bilbo became aware of how much he had only after he had spent time with the dwarves and realized that they did not have all that he took for granted. It was this realization that drove him to continue with them on their quest. I think there is something important here. What would it mean to help my kids to become more aware of the larger world around them, of those near and far who are struggling in ways that they have never experienced? Maybe part of it is encouraging an interest in different places and peoples around the world that are often overlooked, rather than only paying attention to them when catastrophe strikes. Perhaps an ongoing interest in the world beyond our borders will not only move us away from assuming that how we live here in North America is ‘normal’ but will even cause us to see that for all our ‘stuff’, conveniences and experiences we are lacking in areas that other cultures are rich in.
Perhaps (and this is the harder part for me) actually getting to know individuals whose primary focus is finding their next hot meal will not only move us towards doing what we can to make a tangible difference in their lives but also cause some of the ‘need’ for the latest gadgets to dim in comparison. Hopefully it will even lead us to question some of the ways our world works that contributes to these perpetual issues. Maybe involving ourselves in these different ways will help my kids to see people with personalities and interests and not just statistics or numbers and will cause them to feel some kinship and responsibility towards them.
This all sounds rather simplistic and idealistic I know. And yet at the same time it seems almost impossible to actually consistently live out these ideas. Except. Except that God is also at work. And in fact, God is more concerned about all of these issues and people than I am. And it seems that God often chooses to work through imperfect people, and likes to take our little steps, our humble offerings, and our imperfect gifts and use them to help bring about the work he is about in the world. So even though I don’t have it all figured out, even though I stumble as I try to live responsibly in light of these hard realities, even though I often fail, God is at work in the world and uses me even in my imperfectness. And that is something to be truly thankful for.