by: Chris Kaufman
Have you read the story "Leaf By Niggle"? Unless you're a hardcore J. R. R. Tolkien nerd like me than it's probably unlikely you've heard of it. It's a short story written by the guy most famous for the classic Lord of the Rings series. If you haven't heard of it, I'd like to give you a brief synopsis, since I think it's unlikely that you will have time to read it, and this story is certainly worth your attention.
This story follows the life of a painter named Niggle. Niggle is working on what he desires to be his life's master piece, a painting of a large tree with various leafs that are all unique. Niggle wants to devote the majority of his time working on his painting and making it the most beautiful thing he can, but he gets distracted often by various chores he must preform. As time goes on Niggle realizes that he has a trip that he must prepare for, but preparing for his trip takes time away from his painting so he puts of his trip preperation.
Eventually, Niggle's neighbor who is disabled needs help running errands and Niggle being a good neighbor takes time away from his painting to help. However, while helping he realizes that the time for his trip has come and he hasn't prepared for it. Niggle must take his trip away, there's no other option for him. Niggle stays away from his home for a long time for various reasons and while he is gone his incomplete painting falls into disrepair. Eventually, Niggle's house is taken over by others and his painting is destroyed, all but one leaf which is placed in a local museam.
Eventually, Niggle finds his way into a new land called the land of the Tree and Forest. It's here that Niggle is reunited with his old neighbor he helped before who he finds has been helping cultivated this land. Niggle realizes that the imperfect painting he had spent his life obsessing over was actually a real reflection of this place he finds himself in. The "Leaf By Niggle" has become a reality far beyond any of the beauty of anything he could ever paint.
Okay, I know that was a lot to read, and congradulations you made it through. But what does it all mean? This stroy is Toliken's metaphor for life and death. Niggle is obsessed with his creation, something that many people would see as a silly hobby or pass time. Certain Niggle's obsession couldn't be as important as the chores and mundane labor that he has to preform. Of course, Niggle should be spending his time preparing for his trip, because it's this trip that represents death in Tolkien's story. Since he never prepares, he goes away unready and the thing that he spent his life trying to create ends up being destroyed and wasted.
So by now you're probably thinking you know where this is going. The lesson of the story is that Niggle should have spent his time preparing for his death right? He should have gotten his things in order and followed Jesus right? That's the metaphor, right?
But it's not the moral of the story. Instead, at the end we see Niggle's tree ends up being real. He and the neighbor he helped end up creating a beautiful garden around this tree where travellers come from all over to rest and be restored. The moral of the story is that Niggle really has been preparing for his trip the whole time and he didn't even know it. Niggle was building the Kingdom of God the whole time.
"For now we see only a reflection, then we shall see face to face."- 1st Corinthians 13:12.
I don't know about you but I often relate to Niggle. I feel like the mundane stuff I have to accomplish gets in the way of all my big visonary ideas for the Kingdom. I often feel like my life is stuck in a car during road construction. Sometimes, I feel like I should be preparing for my big death trip, but all I do is take joy in my mindless hobbies. Should I feel bad about that?
I grew up in the church. I have heard sermon after sermon about saving "just one more life". I've seen that Schindler's List clip so many times it's hot seared into my memory. Because of all this I often feel like nothing I do is ever enough. Like I'm one bad day away from eternal damnation and if I don't do every single thing I can every single second of the day I won't end up being called a "good and faithful servant."
Friends, this belief isn't Biblical, it's imperial. American ethics tells us that if you don't work until your fingers bleed, you're lazy and deserve all the bad you have coming for you. But Jesus tells us something different; "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuble than they? Can any one of your by worrying add a single hour to your life?"- Matthew 6:25-27
The story of Niggle is a good reminder for us that even the things that seem pointless in this life can reflect the beauty of God's Kingdom. Notice too that Tolkien only tells us about a few things Niggle does, mundane errands, painting his tree, oh, and helping his neighbor. Wouldn't you know it, that neighbor ends up in Tolkiens afterlife with Niggle helping complete the true vision of his paintings.
What lesson should we learn from this? That our life is more than the work we put into it. That our jobs don't define who we are and are not as important as the reflections of heaven we work to bring about in the here and now. That the things we do in this life aren't the end all be all, because what we see now is just a dim reflection of the world to come. And perhaps, stopping our neighbor instead of grinding away at our work is one of the greatest things we can do to build the Kingdom both now and later.
"Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."- 1st Corinthians 13:8-13