“What was the matter with Niggle? His heart was in the right place.”
“Yes, but it did not function properly,” said the First Voice. “And his head was not screwed on tight enough: he hardly ever thought at all. Look at the time he wasted, not even amusing himself!”Leaf by Niggle, J.R.R. Tolkien
Time is a great responsibility. Present becomes past. Present looks to future. In one way, our limited time seems so little. In another way, we have so much. And how we regret when we don’t use it well!
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s short story “Leaf by Niggle”, a man wastes much of his time. He is anxious about one thing: the Tree he tries to paint. It is an obsession, one that he cannot order to the better good of his final end. Although painting could have been a sanctifying part of his life, he tries to make it the only thing in his life. When death comes, he is unprepared.
In a type of purgatory, he is taught how to order his time well and what satisfaction comes from a small job done well in obedience. He gets long hours of silence and solitude in which to realize his failures in life. And he regrets.
In Jesus Christ, God comes to redeem us, to buy us back from our self-inflicted slavery. Here’s the amazing thing: Not only does God pour His graces upon us in the present. Not only does He take care to arrange our future for our best happiness. He loves us so much that He wishes to redeem the whole of us, even our past.
All those times we regret. Time wasted. Time ill-used. Time evilly-used. Times when we were ill-used. Times when we seemed worthless. All of it. He desires all of it for Himself. And He will redeem it.
How can He do this? What’s past is past. Can our current love for Him, the graces he bestows on our present, redeem our past failings and heal our past hurts?
For God, all things are possible.Matthew 19:26
Redeeming the past
Grace is the gift of God. Just as God is outside of time, grace can work outside of time. Although we do not receive conversion until after many faults, the graces accompanying our present can allow us to look back and see redemption where before there was none.
After God has corrected our faults, when we have grown in our ability to accept his love, we are able to look back at those worst times in our lives. Times we felt least lovable because of our mistakes or because of the way others treated us. And we can learn to love ourselves even at those times.
We have been perfected, though we are not yet perfect. We have grown in compassion and can forgive ourselves. We can see past the brokenness that we used to be, the brokenness we still are.
If we can love ourselves, looking back at those hardest of times, we must understand that God, who is all mercy, loved us, too. When we accept His love, accept that He loved us then, those times are redeemed. Grace flows from the present to those past times, supplying what was lacking.
Those memories of pain ease and become occasions of thanksgiving for the goodness of God.
He went on looking at the Tree. All the leaves he had ever laboured at were there, as he had imagined them rather than as he had made them; and there were others that had only budded in his mind, and many that might have budded, if only he had had time. Nothing was written on them, they were just exquisite leaves, yet they were dated as clear as a calendar.Leaf by Niggle, J.R.R. Tolkien
When Niggle gets farther into purgatory, he finds his Tree. It is no longer a painting, but a true and beautiful Tree. And a great gift is given; although he had come to the knowledge of how much time he had wasted in painting it, his current state of cleanness makes it possible to redeem that time. Each moment he spent on the Tree–even the time he should have spent doing something else–has become something good.
Each of moment has helped to create a leaf on the Tree that helps him and others to further heal and grow strong, to eventually enter heaven. His wasted time is redeemed, bought back. And it is a gift!