Learning Accountability from Frodo and Sam
Great literature, film, and art can inform our souls and educate us in the school of virtue. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, voted “the greatest book of the century” by a 1997 poll in Great Britain, is rich in great themes and theological lessons pertinent for our modern time. Of particular value for we travellers on the road of chastity is the virtuous friendship of the hobbits Frodo and Sam. Their example can educate us in accountability and self-sacrificial friendship with three important lessons.
It may sound simplistic, but Sam was chiefly Frodo’s friend. (Ok, well, Sam was Frodo’s gardener, but that’s beside the point). A good friend is committed to seeing the best for his companion and this friendship keeps Frodo and Sam marching onward in the face of all obstacles, especially when their endurance runs low.
You have to, at some level, enjoy being with your accountability partner and have a foundation of friendship. While your partner can certainly be a mentor or role model, if you don’t enjoy each other’s company and other activities together there is a risk of a purely “therapeutic” relationship emerging that can diminish a healthy companionship.
Tolkien understood friendship as a proper virtue in itself and source of great strength, not an unnecessary add-on to the human experience.
Perseverance—Even to the Point of Annoyance
Whenever Frodo tries to shake off Sam or leave him behind, Sam tenaciously finds his way back to the side of his friend. In the face of drowning, starvation, despair, and even against the face of evil itself, Sam never abandons Frodo. If only we had such resolve when it came to our accountability!
Frodo also has to receive the friendship of Sam and understand that the perseverance of Sam ought to be seen as a blessing and not an annoying curse. Even when he wants to go it alone, Frodo realizes that his journey is too treacherous to muscle through on his own. Sam, likewise, surely knows he’s coming off as a pest, but he knows that safeguarding his friend overrides any discomfort Sam may experience.
I know that all too often life “gets busy” and accountability can be treated as a simple check-in and not treated as a life-threatening battle. It’s tempting to brush off our partners or those who have entrusted themselves to us for oversight, especially when we enter the discomfort of bringing up matters of chastity.
But we must persevere. We must not grow lazy or become so consumed with the rat race of our work that we neglect our responsibilities to our loved ones. We must endure, even to the point of annoying those persons God has entrusted to our care.
Loyalty to Death
“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
In one of the most moving scenes of the entire work, a beyond-exhausted Frodo collapses near the finish line along the banks of his Golgotha—Mt. Doom. Sam looks upon his friend who has carried so much pain and agony with him, embodied within the Ring of evil they have set out to destroy. His choice is clear: “Come, Mr. Frodo! I can’t carry [the Ring] for you, but I can carry you!” Sam carries his friend up into the mouth of the volcano and to the climax of the story.
Do we take this battle with our lust seriously? Do we recognize the spiritual realities at work, particularly those forces that desire our ruin? Unable to remove the habits, addictions, or agonies of our friends, will we still journey with them to the point of carrying them through the dark patches and times of despair? Will we allow ourselves to be carried when we’re too tired to fight? Will we abandon our friends to the shadows or lift them out into the light?
The Christian parallels and lessons for accountability are many within The Lord of the Rings, particularly in the steadfast friendship of Frodo and Sam. May we all be blessed with such a friend who cares enough to accompany us there and back again on this journey of life.