There is a fantastic scene in the final installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy when the wizard Gandalf comes face-to-face with a Nazgul (the Witch King of Agnmar), who has been terrorizing the city of Gondor. He raises his staff to challenge the Nazgul. The Witch King throws off his cloak to expose his crown of fear and raises his sword of flame. With the barest of effort the Witch King shatters Gandalf’s staff.

Gandalf is taken aback, momentarily stunned. He has wielded his staff to thwart much evil and destruction, it is the repository of much power. But it fails him here. What will he do next? Will he just crumple up and die, as the Witch King says he is about to?

No, he doesn’t. Taking advantage of the arrival of the cavalry from Rohan, Gandalf gets up and continues to rally the citizens of Gondor to the defense of their city, exhorting them to hold strong in the defense of their city, even in the face of a terrifying and merciless assault.

I have a friend, and I wish he was the only one, who recently decided to leave the Church and forsake his covenants after yet another dating relationship ended. He had put all his faith and hope in himself happily married with children, and after this particularly painful breakup, he lost that faith. It had happened too many times before for him to keep the hope that it wouldn’t happen again. He didn’t want to remain single in the Church the rest of his life, and he had no remaining hope that he could be anything but that. His staff shattered. He had a choice then. I could pick himself up and fight on with what remained, or he could say, “Well, that’s done for then. I’m outta here.”

This is just one example of many I could choose. There are people who go off the rails after a divorce, or after the physical or spiritual loss of a child, or after a financial disaster. There are those who leave after being gossiped about and lied about. None of these things are fair, or deserved.

The tragedy, of course, is that my friend’s desire to be married and have a family were good things. So is reading our scriptures, having regular meaningful prayer, studying the words of the Prophets, obedience to the Word of Wisdom, the Law of the Fast, the principle of tithing, and so on with the many wonderful gospel principles. But none of these, not even all of them together, is always going to work They cannot prevent misfortune, death, disease, emotional torment, isolation, or failure in any of its many forms.

My title here isn’t if your staff shatters, but when. I believe each of us will be faced with a moment (or perhaps more than one moment) like this. We are told that good is stronger than evil, and that good will prevail. I believe that, not because of any preponderance of evidence, but because I choose to believe it. There will be times when good won’t look stronger than evil, where what in the past you have used with much success will shatter and have no effect. I say this because this has been my experience. It is at this point when enduring and continuing adherence to the gospel will not seem like the sensible or logical choice. That is when I faced my greatest choice. Will I continue, diminished, to fight on the losing side, or will I switch sides and try to negotiate a separate peace?

Faith is a power, but before it has any power for us, it is a choice. And that is where its greatest power is as well. Choice is the only thing we have true power over. We can say yes or we can say no. Such a little thing, but it makes all the difference. Faith means choosing the good even when evil is vastly stronger. Faith means fighting on even when the cause is lost. Faith means picking yourself up and fighting on even when your strength and power have failed you. It is insisting, against all evidence to the contrary, that there is light, even when all around you is darkness.

What is your staff? What would you do if it fails you in your hour of greatest need?

You can see the scene I refer to here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCwVBBLx7dE. Note to Tolkien geeks: I am aware that Gandalf’s staff shattering and momentary collapse isn’t in the book. For the reasons elaborated above, I like Peter Jackson’s movie portrayal anyway.