At Work

Monday Motivation—from J.R.R. Tolkien

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I am not uproariously excited about going back to work most Mondays, and I know I am not alone. We might take heart today by pondering one rather quirky word, unique to J.R.R. Tolkien.

Working with Words

Before we consider this motivating word, it is important to grasp an oft-overlooked fact. The maker of hobbits, rings, and other Middle-earth things held a high and holy view of work. Tolkien passionately espoused core truths as presented in Genesis 1. Such truths include God as Creator and humans as sub-creators. These faith foundations permeated Tolkien’s own literary work.

Fans are readily familiar with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The lesser known, albeit important backstory for all of Middle-earth, is The Silmarillion. So robust was Tolkien’s perspective on creative work, his leading cast of characters in The Silmarillion included a grand foreman, the leader and teacher of all things commonly laborious. The work of Middle-earth was not some willy-nilly, random activity. Instead, there was divine intentionality.

It is also clear in the way he describes work in his stories that Tolkien was devoted to excellence and integrity in his craft. So, of course, he crafted his own craft into his story. For example, some of the Elves were described as “delighting in tongues and in scripts…” He made certain that brilliant teachers and wordsmiths were included in Middle-earth.

Words with Transcendent Meaning

Tolkien readers are indeed very fond of the good professor’s creative making of words. Grounded in the colorful familiarity of our own wonder-filled earth, he infused Middle-earth with hairy-footed Hobbits, merry singing Elves, fiery rings, dastardly dragons, courageous Dwarves, and all sorts of Shire-things.

One word stands tall in the greater backstory. Tolkien’s inventive term, eucatastrophe, is philosophically and spiritually foundational. Originally devised with his famous essay, “On Fairy-Stories, the term combines the familiar word catastrophe (meaning a downward turn in one’s life condition and feelings) with the ancient Greek prefix eu- (meaning “good,” like eulogy, “a good word about someone”). The original Greek term for gospel is translated “good news” from this same prefix. Many Tolkien story scenes reveal characters discovering a “good turn” in their perspective, a “lifting of the heart” that can emerge in the midst of cataclysmic events. Even amid catastrophe, characters might encounter hope and joy!

Tolkien viewed this wonderful concept as applicable for our history, not just Middle-earth. He uniquely saw it as intrinsic to what he believed about God’s overarching, grand story. In his essay, he declared:

The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy.

On a back-to-work Monday, we might smirk and say, “That sounds mighty fine, Professor Tolkien, when you enjoy singing about resurrection hope on Sunday. But I am desperately dreading my Monday through Friday.”

Why? We are all-too-familiar with catastrophes at work. They can include a nasty, inconsiderate coworker, a grumbly client, that diabolical stack of paperwork to slog through, whole-person exhaustion, or a sudden market downturn.

Working with Tolkien’s Good Word in Mind

How about carrying Tolkien’s brilliant word into your workweek?

We can choose to watch for eucatastrophe.

  • Perhaps that extra-challenging situation might prompt you to discover a creative solution.
  • Maybe the conflict with a coworker can actually lead to more effective communication skills.
  • What if the complex staff meeting forces your team to work more closely and forge stronger bonds?

It might be that your current catastrophe leads you to look to God and rely on someone other than yourself. Are you due to grow some greater tenacity? Perhaps your own heart and character could encounter resurrection out of the dark tomb of your workplace catastrophe.

Tolkien’s tales deliberately set workers in “realms.” In The Return of the King, the wizard Gandalf announced to King Aragorn: “This is your realm, and the heart of the greater realm that shall be…it is your task to order its beginning and to preserve what may be preserved.” Wise old Gandalf was assigning workplace influence to humans, transitioning leadership to the “Dominion of Men.”

May we all work in such a way that we “order and preserve” in our realms today with an anticipating eye, eager to look up in the midst of every downturn (Gen. 1:28). Whether we are wordsmiths or silversmiths, may we, like Tolkien, seek to use our gifts at work with intentionality and excellence for the glory of our Creator God.

May we experience fresh motivation with the wonder of eucatastrophe!

Editor’s note: What are your gifts and why has God given them to you? Learn more in the Understanding God’s Calling curriculum, a high school homeschool elective course.

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