“It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit.” J.R.R. Tolkien
If anyone understood the idea of fortitude, it was Tolkien. We all thrill at the moments when Gandolf, Boromir, Éowyn, and Merry face adversaries so fierce and terrible that victory seems impossible. Those mighty battles that keep us turning pages long into the night impress on us the valor of fortitude in a way that only story can accomplish. Although we will very likely never have to face real Orcs, dark wizards, and giant spiders, our own seasons of darkness and trouble that we will encounter are undoubtedly made bearable or unbearable according to the measure of fortitude that we have. It is a virtue cultivated in us by our parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, and others in our lives. The great stories that we read at Trinitas are just one way that we endeavor to instill virtue in the hearts of our young men and women.
Some may aspire to thrilling and exciting challenges like The War of the Elves and Sauron, but the truth is that our real challenges are not nearly so romantic. The third quarter of school brings about some challenges that require a fresh renewal of fortitude. Boredom, mundaneness, familiarity, and dull routine are every bit as much a formidable foe as Sauron. Determination, absolute resolve, and sheer grit are the weapons that must be pulled from the quiver to get us through these sometimes less-than-glorious times. This is as true for us as it is for our children. Tolkien understood these trials just as well as he understood the “special effect variety” of trials. How many pages of Sam and Frodo plodding along through tedious, wearying, drudgery does Tolkien use to illustrate this point? It is dull monotony that often leads us to the sin of discontentment, causing our eyes to wander to fictitious greener pastures just beyond our reach. I have been there, and you have too. If our kids haven’t been, they will soon. As parents, we often want to rescue our kids from the trials we have faced, but it is a futile task. “Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly toward heaven.” (Job 5:7) My Alabama translation: “Sure as shootin’, trouble is a’comin’.”
But Tolkien is not the only one who tells stories of great Fortitude. God himself does. From the heroic to the mundane, the stories of God’s people are there for us to learn from and imitate. Moses, David, Abraham, Job, Jesus, and the Apostles are all our examples of fortitude. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7) Was Jesus a quitter? I don’t think so.
It has been a tremendous encouragement to see the many ways that our kids have demonstrated this virtue so far this year. From stories of reaching the top of a climbing wall or to getting a second wind on that last lap in PE, to struggling through a difficult math concept, the lessons they are learning here at Trinitas are ones that will last through their lives. Conflict and tension are the ingredients that make stories great, and there is no doubt that our children will experience their share of that “greatness” during the thirteen years or so that they are in school. Enduring through times of trouble with friends, disappointments, and academic rigor can seem overwhelming at times, but it is precisely at these times that we can impress upon them the relevance of this important virtue. Teach them to embrace these challenging times and to be determined to be the hero of their own story.