There’s a fantastic scene in volume three of Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End where the titular elf, facing a powerful enemy, reveals her ancient age. By this point, we as readers already know that Frieren is quite old (the book marks the passage of time in terms of years since the death of an elderly hero who was once the ageless elf’s companion), but how old exactly, we don’t quite know—and neither does her enemy.
While Frieren’s age may seem inconsequential, it’s actually quite meaningful. Without giving too much away, Frieren’s age is connected to her great power, which has developed through centuries of lived experience and training.
Yes, centuries are needed to turn the talented Frieren into a mage of immense power and skill. Which is fine when you’re near-immortal. But what about when your years are limited? Sometimes, I feel like I don’t even have hours, much less years, to become a “mage,” an expert at the things I must attend to.
This lack of patience seems to be built into me. For instance, as a child, I wanted to master the violin. And I did experience dramatic growth, to the point where I wondered if, like Kaori Miyazano, I was a prodigy. But eventually, my growth came to a grinding halt. I became discouraged. And after several years of playing, I quit.
Frieran, too, is hasty as a “youngster.” Speaking to her new master, Flamme, about a technique to hide one’s mana (energy), the elfling huffs in the lackadaisical way that only she can about having to undertake the difficult technique. But Flamme informs Frieren that not only must she do it, she must do it permanently, and not as a short-term, temporary measure.
It’s not until much later, during Frieren’s fight, that the technique pays dividends, as it does subsequently for her apprentice Fern as well. Slow and steady wins the race (or demon battle), it seems.
This is nothing new to many of us. From the same tender age, we’re all taught that “patience is a virtue”; that we must put the hard work in to accomplish big things; that it takes time, commitment, and practice to be the best. It is even said that ten thousand hours of practice is needed to master anything.
However, I think contemporary culture has impressed upon us otherwise, in recent years. There are more individuals of celebrity, fame, notoriety, and riches—those who have “made it”—than seemingly ever before. Our consumption of these riches of the world through our eyes and fingertips makes it so very tempting to fall into greed and envy for lifestyles that seem within reach. No, ten thousand hours aren’t needed to master social media fame—just one or two good schemes, connections, tweets, or posts.
I struggle with this sometimes as I lead our ministry. As with Frieren, the long game feels so painful. I want to be the elvish mage with an immense amount of mana right now, and without the centuries of training, thank you very much.
Meanwhile, others with less virtue (at least to my prideful mind) get what they want in a seemingly instantaneous manner.
When I chase these worldly dreams though, intentionally or otherwise, I forget my purpose. I forget the truth. Scripture reminds me that I’m transformed by the renewing of my mind and not through a one-time purchase. I’m also told that the fruits of the Spirit will come as I walk in Christ, not through the application of some Miracle Gro and a single season’s harvest.
These reminders are promises from God, not simply a finite view of how becoming an influencer should work, nor even a practical guide written by a celebrity or billionaire. They are set by the God of the universe, and they can be counted on.
When I slow down, or rather, when I approach life and faith more purposely, as Frieren does in her training with Flamme, I see the fruit in my own life. I see how I’ve grown in self-control, how the relationships I’ve developed through ten years of ministry have produced their own fruit as well, and how people will consult with me now that I’ve grown to understand just how unworthy I am to advise others, whereas years ago, I complained that no one would listen when I had so much wisdom to give!
It took Frieren a hundred or more generations to learn and develop so that she could eventually teach others. In fact, Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End isn’t a fantasy action manga—it’s a coming-of-age tale, a wistful, nostalgic sojourn exploring how one person is affected by all those who pour their lives into her.
We are the same: we are the result of the Holy Spirit working in us; of the love poured into us by God, both directly and through others; and of the experiences imparted to us by the world around us.
And while leaps and bounds can happen, more often it simply takes time.
I can see some of the fruit now at 40, when at half that age I asked my friends where it was. Well, it was sprouting then too, but much of it just hadn’t ripened, it wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready.
You may be the same as me, wondering why “things haven’t happened” for you, whether they are the things of God or the things of this world. If it’s the latter, I implore you to work toward shedding your love of the world and receiving the love of Christ instead. I know it’s hard. It may not even be what we want initially. I’ve been there, and frequently return there too! But we know His promises and commands, and both they and He are good.
And if it’s the former, if you’re struggling to see the spiritual fruit, take heart, it is not too late. Still, you can rely on His promises. Still, you can remember the taste of His goodness and know that Christ is molding you, even if you can’t quite see it yet. Trust and have faith, and plenty of the latter. You’ll need it to move forward without whatever it is that you think would give you complete confidence.
And it’s very possible that the fruit will be ready to harvest before you even realize it, because you’ve been so busy farming it and building your faith. It will be there, ready, when the time comes for you, like Frieren, to face demons, whether they be those that lie within, those found in a culture that seeks to convince us to worship it instead of God, or those of the king of demons.
May you be ready in those critical moments after months, years, decades of worshiping God. May your “training” pay off. May your spiritual mana be charged. And may you be like Frieren, a mage trained by a master—in your case, the master—full of wisdom and strength to do the seemingly impossible and to help a world in need.
Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End is published by Viz.