There’s no going back to the Shire

So, walking through Takamatsu and experiencing the sounds (the cross-walk beep) and smells (a curry shop) of the city has put me in a thoughtful mood. So, I’ll give you a little of my life’s philosophy. As with most important things in life, it can best be explained with a reference to the Lord of the Rings: “There is no going back to the Shire.”

If you haven’t seen or read the Lord of the Rings and are worried about spoilers, go and at least watch the movies, right now, so that we can be friends again. After that, you can read this essay. Anyways, Frodo was a rather plain hobbit, and he enjoyed and loved his home in the Shire. However, he was given his quest, the quest of the Ring, and walked with his great burden to the mountain of fire. At one point as he prepared to leave the Shire, thinking never to return, he said (my paraphrase), “You know what? I can go on and complete my quest if I at least know there is a Shire that will go on without me. As long as I know that this place I call home remains, I can go on this doomed road.”

And he did. He left. He suffered. He grew. And he was wounded in ways that could not be healed on Middle Earth. On his journey, he was always saying things like, “Dear Sam, I don’t think that I shall ever see the Shire again.” And, “I don’t think there will be any coming back from this road.” I’m a Frodo. A quest came to me unlooked-for, and I have taken it, but I share his emotions. I often feel not long for this world. I feel like I can’t complete this quest… I empathize with the poor halfling a lot. To me, Japan has been and will continue to be a place of suffering.

However, Frodo did make it back to the Shire. But when he did, it was not the same. After returning home, he realized that he could not be content there. He could not return to the plain hobbit he used to be. During his journey, he longed more than anything to go back to the Shire, but when he did, it was not the same: it was not the home he had known.

We are such beings. I think that most people throughout life gain a sense of nostalgia or longing for a return to better days. Whether or not those days were actually better at the time is a question worth pondering, but in our memories they are idyllic. Childhood… college… young adult life…. falling in love… life when the marriage was good… we all have something we long to return to. However, if we are wise, we will admit that we cannot return to the past, and we must not attempt to, and we must not dwell on the past.

For me, that time was a year and a half hence, and I left the Shire to come to the mission field. My Shire was San Luis Obispo, where I went to college, and where I experienced bountiful joy and love in my church. I am still in touch with many of those people, but from this dry land of shadow, it’s not the same, and the Shire itself has often looked really nice.

However, here’s the scary part for me: in two and a half months, I’m going back. On the one level, I’m excited for my furlough, but on another level, it terrifies me. They say that adjusting back to your own culture is harder for many than adjusting to a new culture (and that’s been torture to me). You go back and expect all these great relationships with your friends and family, but you have changed, and they have changed, and it’s not the same; it’s an awful experience and you just want to leave America. To one who has been to Mordor and back, the Shire can be a terrifying place.

If I go back and things have changed in a bad way, and those relationships aren’t good ones anymore, then what? I don’t fit it in Japan, yet. And in a sense, I never will, because no matter how well I adjust, I will always be a foreigner here. So what do I do if I find that I no longer fit in back in the States?

Well, the only road that is left for me is the same as Mr. Baggins: over the sea. We Christians, we are such foolish creatures, sometimes. Our home is not the Shire, wherever that may be. Our home is Heaven. God has prepared a city for us. We look to the past as though that’s where we belong, or we are content in the present, but really, we haven’t seen our home country. We haven’t been to the place of our true citizenship. Perhaps the only times that we are in our right minds are when we are miserable, feel like we don’t fit in anywhere on earth, and finally look to the skies and remember that we’re not supposed to.

“There’s no going back to the Shire.” I’ll give you that one free of charge. But remember it, because there will come times when you want to. It is a good thing that you can never go back to the Shire, because if you could, you would never remember your true home. And you would not press onto the things that God has for you to do in this life. He gives us these unfulfilled longings to wash away the deceptions and lies of the world and to turn our eyes to Him. To turn our eyes home.

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