There were times in my working life when I used to read Lord of the Rings each year to counteract my feelings of being low. When the stresses became too much and the frustrations built to a climax, I would turn to the story told by J. R. R. Tolkein of the Rings. He wrote of the courage of the little people, Hobbits, and the wisdom of Gandalf the Wizard, the strength and fickleness of men, the grace of elves,  the strength of dwarves and the evil that threatened the whole earth. 

I carry on my key ring a Lego figure of Gandalf, the one among the wise who appreciated the little people, and who was prepared to sacrifice himself for the sake of protecting them and all of life in that age. 

I am reading the story again in my retirement, because again life seems full of stress, frustration and the heavy burden of responsibility. Once more I am inspired by the vision of what a few individuals can do, and amongst them the smallest and most insignificant. I need the encouragement of hope when the temptation is simply to give up and retreat into my own little world. 

Sometimes it is a joy to give service. But sometimes it is hard and draining. Then it is vital to have friends who understand and stand with you, sharing what they can of the burden and giving encouragement when I have to do the work myself. 

After a very difficult meeting a friend phoned the next day to express their appreciation for the ‘heavy lifting’ I am doing in the role of trustee and to persuade me to share some of the burden with others. It makes all the difference to know someone cares. Like Frodo having Sam Gamgee as a constant companion and stalwart friend. 

Family and friends can be so supportive too. These circles of support are vital for our mental and physical wellbeing. Like a ring of standing stones they provide an encompassing presence of peace and love. 

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