J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Leaf by Niggle” (a Precis)

In this excellent short story, Tolkien gives us an idea of how he views the work we do here on earth, and how it relates to our lives in eternity. It’s a potent story with the capacity to change our lives. When one comes to understand that taking a trip to town in the rain in order to run an unnecessary errand for his petulant, elderly neighbor, may actually affect his life in eternity for the better, then, perhaps, that man will start to live a little differently.

Tolkien’s portrayal of Niggle as grudgingly willing is brilliant. Niggle will do just about anything for just about anyone, but that doesn’t mean he’s necessarily happy about it. And he doesn’t expect anything in return, as the Second Voice was so adamant in pointing out. This is what changed everything for Niggle– he did what was right, and never expected to be treated differently for it. He didn’t do those things for himself; he did them because they were simply the right things to do.

The culmination of all Niggle’s errands and favors is, of course, when he arrives at the Place that had been prepared for him; or perhaps that he had been preparing all along. Everything there is the way it ought to be. Niggle knows—he has seen it or dreamed it all somewhere. Or maybe just shadows and forms of it. But now it is really there.

And of course, the Tree is there. The one he has spent all those years painting. Every line on every leaf, every last knotted twig is exactly the way he had envisioned it. Niggle is at long last laboring in and enjoying the fruit of his labors.

And so we get Tolkien’s point. Our work today does matter. We ought to be careful, lest we end up in eternity with nothing but piles of filtered Instagram photos. Instead, let us aim for a world filled with life and people and art and health and work and production and joy and love and laughter. A world filled with God. It is, after all, what we were made for.

And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.

Revelation 14:33

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