After carrying it as his own for sixty years, Bilbo has felt the weight and the slow-changing power of the One Ring. As he celebrates his Eleventy-first birthday, he has not aged visibly since he was fifty -- an effect of the Ring that leaves his friends and relatives puzzled (and envious).
But the Ring's effect on Bilbo's heart is deeper, and much more troubling.
As he packs ups his belongings and prepares to leave the Shire for good, he tells Gandalf he feels thin, stretched, and in need of a change. Speaking as an old friend, Gandalf counsels Bilbo to leave behind the Ring. Though Bilbo agrees at first, his heart changes suddenly and he lashes out in anger at Gandalf. Yet he is ultimately able to leave the Ring behind of his own free will.
“Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something.”
In what areas of your life do you feel stretched?
The obligations of home life or workplace responsibilities, the burdens of difficult relatives, or the pressure of day-to-day routines can often feel overwhelming.
But these are not the root of Bilbo’s suffering; in truth, he feels this way because the Ring is slowly working to possess him.
There are seasons of life or vocations that will ‘stretch’ a person in a healthy way, offering the opportunity to grow in holiness and sanctification through suffering; and then there are habits and lifestyles that will ‘stretch’ a person in an unhealthy way, drawing them away from the light of Christ and into darkness.
I'm in no way saying that all feelings of anxiety or being overwhelmed are caused by sin, because life often throws us into very difficult seasons that are outside of our control. And sometimes life itself can just leave you feeling exhausted.
But this isn't the case for Bilbo, and I'm beginning to see that it isn't always the case for me.
If we look at Bilbo’s attachment to the Ring as an attachment to sin, how does this change your understanding of this quote? To put it plainly, a well-lived life does not stretch a person in the way the Ring does.
As you reflect on the way the Ring stretches Bilbo, causing him to become restless and obsessive, allow yourself to look inward and reflect on your own unhealthy attachments
Ask yourself, have I ever felt this way? If so, what harmful habit or lifestyle am I holding onto?
Instead of allowing sin to possess our hearts, how can we allow ourselves to be stretched in a healthy way, growing in holiness through redemptive suffering?
If you are feeling stretched or running on empty because you're clinging to your own Ring, spend a moment reflecting on the way Tolkien describes Bilbo after he finally relinquishes the Ring.
He steps out into the fresh air, filled with a sense of relief, and begins along on his last adventure "I'm as happy now as I've ever been," he says to Gandalf.
And while Bilbo would not have been able to part from the Ring on his own, the loving counsel from a trusted friend encourages him and holds him accountable for his actions.
If you are struggling with a habitual sin or destructive habit, consider reaching out to a trusted friend or spiritual advisor.
And if you ever find yourself in Gandalf's place, remember his patient yet persistent counsel and try to do the same.