A Dangerous Business

One of my favorite scenes from The Hobbit is at the beginning of the story. Bilbo is comfortably ensconced in his hobbit-hole, safe in his routines, his full pantry, his book, pipe, and chair by the fire. Unexpectedly there is a knock on his door, and then another, and then another, and on and on. Into his home tramps a steady stream of dwarves, guests he had neither invited nor expected, who take over his house, empty his pantry shelves, and begin to plan an adventure. Naturally, Bilbo is surprised, outraged, and exasperated. He never wanted this! He never planned this! Someone else has planned this for him: a wise wizard who knows his skills are needed—and who knows that Bilbo needs this journey.

The next day the travelers leave without him and Bilbo is left standing in his empty house, facing a decision. Does he walk out the door and take the adventure that has come to him, or stay in his safe, comfortable hole in the hill? Of course, you know what happens.

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Doors can be frustrating things. How long have I stood before closed doors, pounding, crying, pushing, waiting? How many hours have I wasted with my head leaning on what is shut to me, frustrated and angry? How many open doors have I stood before, trembling, shaking my head? How many gifts have I missed by standing in my gray fears, in my dark resentments? How many beautiful places have I failed to ever see? How many doubts have held me prisoner?

To walk through an open door is to receive all that is inside—or outside, as the case may be. To accept whatever greets me. What an adventure! So often I avoid the gift of the open door and stand instead before the one I think should open to me, or sit behind the one I want left closed at all costs. So many times I miss the adventure.

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At the end of the story Bilbo enters another door, a dark door that leads through terrifying passageways to a horrible dragon—and a treasure. Once again he faces a choice: safety and comfort, or adventure and unexpected gifts?

We love the story because he didn’t avoid the adventure that came to him. He took a risk. We love the story because we can imagine doing the same. Is he afraid? Yes. Does he suffer at times? Yes. Does he fail? Yes. Does he miss his safe home? Yes. But in the end, he is a new man—er, hobbit—stronger, braver, wiser, and with many more friends than he had before. And years later, when his nephew sits before that same door contemplating adventure or safety, Bilbo says his famous words:

“It’s  a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

A dangerous business, those open doors. But what might happen if you never step through?

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