Whether you serve in ministry or have a secular job where your everyday work is a form of ministry, we can all become discouraged at some point. It could be a pastorate or mission field where it’s difficult to find anyone open to Christ. It may be a career or project that remains incomplete or just never turns out right.
I recently heard someone share a story about a moment of doubt for J.R.R. Tolkien as he was writing his famous Lord of the Rings series. Tolkien had undertaken a monumental task, albeit with great intentions — he hoped his tale would tell the story of his God in a way that would reveal truth to many people who wouldn’t otherwise consider the message.
But Tolkien was struggling to get the work done, and as time and the bombings of Britain in World War II closed in, he fell into despair, wondering if he would finish or if all would go to waste.
Tolkien took a break in that darkness and wrote a short story about a character called Niggle. Much like Tolkien, Niggle had embarked on a project: a painting of a beautiful landscape that was taking him a long time to complete. As he got older, though, Niggle feared he wouldn’t finish the painting before he died.
Niggle had tried to be diligent, but other people had needed his help. Rather than spending his time devoted to the painting he thought had so much worth and beauty, Niggle was regularly distracted by the everyday needs of people around him. His schedule was not his own, and his days were sidetracked by giving others a hand. He ended up dying with the painting only partially finished. Of all his attempts, just one perfect, intricate leaf survived from the tree at the center of what was to be a beautiful work of art.
The worries of Niggle’s life, though, where he spent so much time concerned that his work would not be finished, vanished when he arrived in Heaven. There before him was his painting — his complete tree. The time he had spent pursuing the calls for help that God put before him had turned into eternal reality, where the picture he could only imagine on earth turned into real, forever worth.
“There really is a tree,” the person said of the many visions and hopes we all have but fear will never see completion on this earth.
There really is a tree. There really is a hope — a God Who knows our hearts and motivations. While we often labor without knowing whether our work has impact, God promises something more. This God sees fruit where we see only planted seeds. This God smiles at results where we know only fleeting conversations. This God sees trees where we have only blank canvases.
“Do not tire in doing good” (Galatians 6:9).
Or, as I tell myself instead these days: There really is a tree.
Jen Slothower, Class of 2006, is the editor of The Victory Journal. She writes for the New England Sports Network in Boston.