There is a scene in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring wherein the hero, Frodo, is desirous of advice from a very wise elf named Gildor:
[Frodo asked]: “Should I wait?”
Gildor was silent for a moment….”The choice is yours: to go or wait.”
“And it is also said,” answered Frodo: “Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.”
“Is it indeed?” laughed Gildor. “Elves seldom give unguarded advice, for advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill. But what would you? You have not told me all concerning yourself; and how then shall I choose better than you? But if you demand advice, I will for friendship’s sake give it. I think you should now go at once, without delay…and I also advise this: do not go alone. Take with you such friends as are trusty and willing. Now you should be grateful, for I do not give this counsel gladly.”J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, 93-94.
This is a very insightful passage. A few thoughts to consider:
- As advice seekers–sometimes we desperately want a wise person to simply “decide for us.” We may throw our conundrum at their feet (often without enough information) and say, “Just tell me what to do!”
- If the person is truly wise–they’ll hesitate. Wise persons hate giving bad advice. So, they’ll often turn it right back to you: “What do you think you should do?” Or they may say “I don’t know.” Or, “Based on what you’ve told me, the decision seems neutral–perhaps it is neutral.”
- If you press them, they may ask you a battery of questions–trying to dig in deeper and attempt to weigh the pros and cons with you. This sometimes frustrates people–perhaps it seems like a waste of time, or that the questions aren’t relevant.
- There still may be a hesitancy–because the wise person is wise enough to know that they never have all the information. And even if they did, the future is only God’s to know with certainty.
- They may eventually tell you what they think you should do. Sometimes it’s easy. There really is an obvious answer. Often, it’s a lot more difficult, and there are may cases wherein the choice really is neutral–and more weighing will only lead to needless delay, loss of opportunity, or deciding by not deciding.
- My advice: Learn to trust careful counselors like Gildor. Their hesitancy is a mark of their wisdom, not a sign of flakiness or an unwillingness to help. Be patient with their questions. And try to be as honest as possible with your answers. At the end of the day, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” So the certainty we crave will always be elusive. Embrace the opportunity to pray to the “Only wise God” who gives wisdom generously to whomever will ask (James 1:5).