Every morning after my quiet time, I read Every Good Endeavor by Timothy Keller. He shared a story about the time when J. R. R. Tolkien had a hard time completing the manuscript of Lord of The Rings. One morning, Tolkien woke up with a short story, and wrote it with the title: “Leaf by Niggle”.
“Niggle is a painter. He is a perfectionist, always unhappy with what he had produced, often distracted from more important issues by fussing over less important details, prone to worry, and procrastination.”
I can easily relate to this. I can work and spend time unnecessarily on small details. I welcome distractions and to the life of me, I still take a break from that ‘work’ by playing mobile games or watching youtube videos.
“Niggle had a long journey to make (death). He did not want to go but he could not get out of it. He had one picture in particular that he was trying to paint. He had gotten in his mind the picture of a leaf, and then that of a whole tree. And then in his imagination, behind the tree: a country began to open out; and there was a glimpse of a forest marching over the land, and of mountains tipped with snow. Niggle lost interest in all his other pictures, and in order to accommodate his vision, he laid out a canvass so large he needed a ladder.”
We may have set a goal and a vision that we want to accomplish in the future. It can be for your family, your career, and could even be making a difference and change the world.
“He worked on his canvas but he never got much done. First, it was because he was the sort of painter who can paint better than trees. He used to spend a long time on a single leaf, trying to get the shading and the sheen and the dewdrops on it just right. Second, Niggle was constantly distracted by doing things his neighbors asked him to do for them. In particular, his neighbor Parish, who did not appreciate Niggle’s painting at all, asked him to do many things for him.”
The accomplishment of our grand vision could be put off because we are too busy with being a perfectionist. That we focus even on the minute, negligible things that in a way has no direct effect on the vision. Or we also spend time with efforts that help others and our neighbors.
“One night, Niggle was certain that his time was almost up but the Parish insists that he go out into the wet and cold to fetch a doctor for his sick wife. As a result, he comes down with a chill and fever, and while working desperately on his unfinished picture, Death arrived. Niggle wept, “It’s not even finished.” Sometimes after his death, the people who acquired his house noticed that on his crumbling canvas his only ‘one beautiful leaf’ had remained intact. It was put in the Town Museum.
Niggle was put on a train toward the mountains of heavenly life. On the trip, he heard two voices. Justice: You wasted so much time and accomplished so little in life. Mercy countered: You have chosen to sacrifice for others. As a reward, when Niggle gets to the outskirts of the heavenly country, something catches his eye. He runs to it – and there it is stood the tree. His tree, finished!”
You are Niggle, too. We all are. We have a grand vision of what we can accomplish in this world. We want to have a legacy, to not be forgotten. The world says that when eventually as Death arrives, everything will be forgotten.
But there is God! Every good pursuit in response to God’s calling will not be forgotten. “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain,” as written at 1 Corinthians 15:58.
Jut like Niggle, our pursuit could lead us to just a leaf in our grand vision. But if we did it with all our heart, and without neglecting the needs of others, we have accomplished a grand thing in the eyes of heaven. Timothy Keller puts it nicely in the book:
“Whatever your work, you need to know this: There really is a tree. Whatever you are seeking in your work – the city of justice and peace, the world of brilliance and beauty, the story, the order, the healing – it is there. There is a God, there is a future healed world that he will bring about, and your work is showing it (in part) to others. Your work will be only partially successful, on your best days, in bringing that world about. But inevitably, the whole tree that you seek – the beauty, harmony, justice comfort, joy, and community – will come to fruition. If you know all this, you won’t be despondent because you can get only a leaf or two out in this life. You will work with satisfaction and joy. You will not be puffed up by. success or devastated by setbacks.”
May you have a fun-filled work week! Enjoy the journey and find meaning in the work that you do.
Photo by David Clode on Unsplash