I keep thinking about Denethor, the steward of Gondor. He is one of my favorite characters from The Lord of the Rings, because his story is such a powerful one. It resonates with me on an elemental level, this warning we have from the steward of Gondor given to us as a gift from Tolkien.
Denethor is the last of the line of stewards in the realm of Gondor, the last in a line of men who have protected the throne of the King from the dark lord Sauron whose chief desire is to rule all of Middle Earth. In his effort to outwit his enemy, Denethor begins using a palantír – a seeing stone of sorts that, in truth, only the incredibly powerful should dare to use – that can communicate with Sauron. Though strong enough to resist being used directly by Sauron, Denethor cannot withstand the darkness he perceives through the palantír and languishes into a severe depression. Still, he fights against the coming forces of Sauron with all the strength of Gondor he can muster. That is, until the dark lord’s army reaches the gates of the White City and all hope is lost. He becomes suicidal and attempts to burn his youngest son, Faramir, alive on a pyre. Only through the heroic efforts of an oft-foolish Hobbit, the sage wizard Gandalf the White, and the Gondorian soldier Beregorn is the steward’s son saved. But Denethor perishes, burning to death on his pyre with the palantír firmly held in his hands.
It’s a tragic story of human frailty and misuse of power. Denethor should never have attempted to look into the palantír. Though he had the legal right to use the stone as steward, he did not possess the intrinsic strength to use it. Only the men of Númenor – the rightful line to the throne of Gondor – were originally meant to use these stones. Denethor’s misuse of the stone resulted in his horrific death. In contrast, the rightful King of Gondor’s use of a palantír results in him outwitting Sauron, thereby allowing “the good guys” to ultimately win this epic battle between good and evil in Middle Earth.
I think I keep coming back to this man who abused the power entrusted to him, because it’s so easy for me to abuse the power entrusted to me. It’s so easy for me to start thinking that I earned what I have, and that this earning entitles me to keeping what I have and using it in the way I want – whether I have the intrinsic strength to use it rightly or not.
It’s not just about money and stuff either.
It’s about my position as mother and teacher. I tend to think I own these roles, that they are mine to use and excel in and to control. As a result, I have much anxiety in my life about these roles. If ever I have observed any truth in Scripture about those who commit idolatry, it is that idolization drives a person to a cyclical insanity that is pert near impossible to escape. In this vain attempt to control what is “mine,” I act like an utter fool.
If you know me yet haven’t actually lived with me, you’re probably shaking your head about now, because I play at this misuse of power pretty well. I keep a tight lid on the crazy and generally only let it out in private – most especially on the pages of my journals. But my husband has seen it, and so have our children. My parents and my brother have witnessed the insanity that is Amanda trying to control All The Things. It isn’t pretty. In fact, at times, I’m certain that I have been just as insane as Denethor feverishly trying to keep “his” throne from the rightful King returning to his people. Rather than submit to the King, he would rather determine the hour of his own death.
It is madness.
Yet, I haven’t this madness at all when it comes to being a wife or a writer.
What is the difference? Why do I hold to these two realms of my life so loosely, yet the other with a vice grip?
As I pondered this question, I realized that when I realized I was a writer, I realized that I had been given a precious and powerful gift: the ability to affect people with words, and I promised God that this gift would be used only for good and that if I wielded it for my own purposes, that I wanted Him to strip me of it. In essence, I made a covenant with God about writing, and I have – for the most part – lived by that covenant for the last 14 years. I have, of course, broken my promise from time to time, and He has disciplined me in response. But the covenant remains. I remember making it as clearly as I remember giving my life to Him when I was a child.
When I married, I also made a covenant with Him. My marriage covenant is not only with my husband, but also with God. I vowed that I would remain faithful, that I would forgive, that I would submit, that I would cherish, that I would endure until death. I understood that this marriage is for Him and about Him, not for us or about us. Our marriage is a living metaphor of His relationship with the Church. It belongs to Him.
But motherhood and teaching? Those I tend to cling to and hold too tightly, and I can feel a Denethor madness creep in at times that is crazy at best and dangerous at worst. I find far too much self-worth in these two realms. When mothering and teaching are going well, I am happy. When the kids are running amuck and I’m three+ weeks behind on grading, I am bat-crap crazy Denethor ready to throw myself on a pile of flaming wood and just end it all.
It is madness, this holding on to what is not mine.
The only thing I know to do is to formally make a covenant with God about motherhood and teaching. I haven’t actually done that, you see. I’ve said that they both belong to Him and that I am merely the steward, but I haven’t actually covenanted with Him about it. So, when He comes for what is His, I cling to what is “mine.” When the enemy comes after what is “mine,” I panic and frantically try to protect it in my power. All of this clinging and panic results in pain, anxiety, and heaps of such stupid sin.
I don’t want to be Denethor anymore. I don’t want my kids to hear his story someday and think, “He reminds me of Mom.” I want to live out who He has made me to be.
So, I am covenanting with God about motherhood and teaching. I am formally confessing my place as steward and His as King, and I believe with great conviction that this madness will dwindle as I dwell in my rightful identity as steward under submission to the King who has entrusted me with much. I believe this, because I see it in Our marriage and in Our writing, because I see this witness in Scripture and in the lives of those around me who rest in their identity as steward under submission to the King. I believe this, because He is King.