The Hobbit, a fantasy novel by J. R. R. Tolkien, is the story of Bilbo Baggins, a comfort-loving hobbit who is thrust into an unwanted quest for dragon treasure with a wizard and a group of dwarves. On the way, he faces all manner of hardships, from goblins to hostile elves to giant spiders.
Finally, the adventurers reach their destination: the mountain lair of the dragon Smaug. Bilbo enters through a secret door in the mountainside to face the dragon alone, while the dwarves wait outside. As he makes his way through the dark tunnel, he hears what sounds like a kettle bubbling on the stove. That noise grows into what seems like a giant cat purring. Suddenly Bilbo realizes that he’s hearing the sound of the dragon snoring deep in the cave.
Bilbo is petrified. He wants nothing more than to turn back, and he nearly does, but instead he decides to press on. Tolkien writes, “Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterward were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.”
We all face challenges where we want to run away before we’ve even had a chance to see what’s ahead. Dealing with dragons (or other scary obstacles) takes a whole lot of courage, and not always in the way we’d imagine. Bilbo’s testing point came in the tunnel. He had to face his fear and self-doubt even before he had to face the dragon.
These “dragons” in our lives don’t always seem like a big deal to anyone but us, and as a result, we often have to find the key to victory within ourselves. C. S. Lewis wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point.” Sometimes we have to simply not give ourselves room to wiggle out of doing what’s right.
If you’re anything like me, then you’re probably feeling that having this kind of courage is nearly impossible. As strong as we are, or try to be, we often lack the mettle that we’d need to overcome. So where can we find the courage to face life’s challenges?
Joshua 1:9 tells us, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”1 We can have courage because God is with us. He doesn’t send us out to face our dragons alone. He’s right there with us, backing us up, not only ready to give us strength and courage, but also promising to meet us there and carry us through.
Once you’ve asked God for courage, you have to choose to use it, even if you don’t feel courageous. It will be there for you as you step out. If you don’t have a ton of courage right now, that’s okay. Often, courage is simply putting one foot in front of the other, taking small, sometimes even tiny, steps forward. Every time you make a brave choice, you’re strengthening your courage and preparing for the bigger challenges ahead. Courage begins as a decision and grows as you consistently use it.
Bilbo had been building up his courage little by little throughout his journey. He fought fearsome enemies and won. He tackled difficult problems and found solutions. Each time he faced a challenge bravely, it was an investment in courage; and those investments paid off when it came time to face the dragon.
The King’s Guard of ancient Greece had a motto: “All men have fears, but the brave put down their fears and go forward, sometimes to death, but always to victory.” So face your dragons boldly.