If you have not read the story of the Three Billy Goats Gruff–or if you’ve not heard it in awhile–go here first.
It was my senior year in college–second semester–everyone around me freaking out. We were all education majors–all in our “block” which was a 6 week time period of intense classes before student teaching. I roomed with an education major whose fiance was serving in the first Gulf War. I was surrounded by girls who were all moving towards student teaching–many engaged and planning weddings. It was an emotionally, hormonally charged time. One especially frantic day I called my dear friend, Carolyn, to see if I could run away (about and hour and a half away) to her house just to get out of Searcy. I needed new air–clear air–Carolyn’s air–which she graciously shared with me. We’d had a terrible ice storm in central Arkansas, and it was COLD. The sun came out toward the end of the week and melted some of the ice–but the water would drain over the roads all day, then freeze again overnight. When I told my friend, Lee, that I was going to be driving after dark, he was worried. Later that day I found the following sentiment written in his accountant’s scribble and tucked inside my campus mailbox.
“Watch for ice on bridges and trolls under them.”
It’s been about 18 years to the day, but that hurriedly scribbled note still makes me smile. . .the cleverness. . .the humor. . .the concern.
My year has been dogged by trolls–big ones, little ones, ugly ones, goofy-looking ones, mean, hateful ones, silly, idiotic ones, sneaky and conniving trolls, trolls in sheep’s clothing, trolls that seek to annoy and trolls that seek to do me harm–nearly invisible until the last second when, out from the depths under the icy bridge, they come screaming, screeching, bumbling, running, sneering, jeering to scare the living daylights out of me. Or to, at the very least, leave me “very warm and greatly astonished.” They pull my eyes from the lush grass of the hillside, and bring them, instead, to the precipice across which I walk.
I have learned that when I face times of stress, I need to be on my guard. I need to watch what I say and do.
I take it very much to heart when Peter tells me that Satan prowls around like a lion seeking whom he may devour. (I Peter 5:8)
I’ve been devoured before.
It is not fun.
I take it very much to heart when Paul tells me to be careful when I think I’m standing firm, because that is surely the time that I may fall.
(I Corinthinas 10:12)
I’ve fallen before.
It is not fun.
So, I try to plan in advance. I try to make sure that I am working extra hard to keep things lined up and in order–emotionally, physically, spiritually. I make sure my shoes are spiked and laced tightly as I traverse the icy bridge. (Ephesians 5:10-18) I hold the hand rail. I leave a travel plan so someone can find me if I get lost. I am watching for ice on the bridge.
But none of that matters when the troll comes jumping out–unforeseen–unheard until it’s too late. I falter. I slip and slide. I start to fall. Sometimes I catch myself. Sometimes I land on my knees, or my hands, or my rear-end. More often than not, I land on my face.
Life is just full of trolls. Illness–unplanned phone calls–last minute guests–forgotten paper-work–low supplies of milk or bread or laundry detergent–errands–errands–errands–silly worries and arguments–the mundane tasks of our days–lost socks–lost tempers–bad attitudes–guilt–death. Our days are bridges that we walk, and Life is the troll under the bridge.
All we are trying to do is to get to the lush, green grass on the other side. . .the promise of the place of rest where we can grow fat and frolic in the sun. The promise of peace. . .or the weekend. . .or the summer. . .or the promotion or new job or new house or new baby. But there are the trolls in the shadows–a never-ending supply. They pop up just as we are about to step off the bridge. They block our path and hurl vile threats and jagged stones and promises of a certain death.
Yet–just like in the story of old, we have an elder brother. A brother who can vanquish the troll. The troll can scare us–it can threaten–it can stop us dead in our tracks, but it cannot hold true to the lying words it breathes. It cannot devour us.
Jesus paid the price. Jesus conquered Satan once and for all, so even though Satan wants us to fall–even though he looks to find the chink in our armor–the missing spike on our ice shoes that will let us slip and tumble helplessly into his chasm of doubt and confusion and fear–there is someone who can keep us safe. Or, if we happen to fall, can help us back up again.
I’ve been battling trolls. I bet you’ve been battling your fair share of them too. I count my abundant blessings on a daily basis. I am astounded and amazed at the beauty of the life God has given me–but the trolls still shock and surpise–they still catch me off guard.
None of them have been too awful to bear–mostly the silly, annoying kind. But they make me tired. They wear me out. They make me forget to watch for the ice on the bridge, so I slip and stumble and fall.
I need to remember that the Good Shepherd has promised to get me across the bridge so that I might lie down in green pastures. He will lead me beside still waters. Even though I walk through the valley with the trolls besetting me–I need not fear.
I will not fear.