In the intro scene of Netflix’s Hilda, we watch our heroine come upon a troll rock—trolls turn into rocks in daylight, if you’re unfamiliar—in the forest near her house. She explains to her nervous deer-fox pet that trolls are only dangerous once the sun goes down, but if they tie a bell around the troll’s nose, they’ll hear the bell ring if the troll wakes up and “then,” she says, “we’ll run for our lives.” Hilda spends the entirety of the day sketching the troll rock, as she’s never been able to be this close to one, and subsequently gets chased down the mountain by a very unhappy troll after dark.
For a long time, that was my approach to anything I thought was mildly interesting: become obsessed until it was about to consume me, then run away screaming.
Everything fascinates Hilda. Throughout the series, her favorite phrase is, “I can fix this,” whenever someone is facing a problem, stranger or friend. Whether it’s invisible elves trying to evict her and her Mum from their home or moderating an argument between several weather spirits, there is no challenge Hilda shrinks from. But every one of those challenges is nearly too much for Hilda to take on. She and I share another thing in common: we like to do things ourselves.
Last year, I had to rearrange my priorities. I was involved in so many things that I had loved when I started. But once it became too much, I was committing to them because I felt a sense of misplaced responsibility—probably ego. If I wasn’t the one doing the things, who would do them? Surely no one else cared as much as me? Surely no one else could do them as well as me? And if I stopped, well, would those things even continue to exist?
Spoilers—Madeline is not the be-all and end-all of the universe.
Periodically, my husband tells me things that I should be concerned about in my life, like how I was spending more time on my volunteer responsibilities than my actual paying job; how I had adopted the diet of a three-year-old when I’m a healthcare professional and know infinitely better; how I have neglected not only my household responsibilities but also our relationship. I would listen and tell him that he was right—something needed to change. But I didn’t change, so things got worse.
It’s not as obvious as some of the lessons Hilda learns, but one of the most important is to trust and rely on other people in her life in order to make things happen. At one point, she’s discussing her concerns for a situation with a friend, and he points out that she should perhaps allow for contingencies instead of holding herself to an impossible standard. Hilda gets frustrated with him.
“But that’s awful!” she tells him. “Why even make a promise at all? You’re admitting defeat before you even start.”
“No, you’re protecting yourself against defeat,” he says.
“You know, this isn’t much of a pep talk. Can’t you just say, ‘You can do it?’” she asks.
“Sure,” he says. “You can do it! Statement for encouragement purposes only. You may not actually be able to do it.”
After that conversation, Hilda goes to face one of her biggest challenges yet: wrestling a ghost. By sheer force of will, she’s able to get what she wants from the ghost; however, it still doesn’t solve the problem and she nearly loses a friend over it. In her zealousness to be the one to solve everything, she lost sight of what her friend actually needed in that situation.One of the most important lessons Hilda learns is to trust and rely on other people in her life in order to make things happen.
Scared that I was pushing my relationship with my husband to the point that I was endangering it, I finally made some changes and went to counseling. I started to painfully remove responsibilities from my life and take better care of myself. Now, I try to eat vegetables every day and go to yoga at least once a week. More importantly, I decided to make the most important relationship in my life actually the most important relationship in my life. It shouldn’t take fear of losing it to do that.
Unfortunately, when Hilda almost loses her friend, she’s still not ready to regularly rely on the people around her. At one point, she confronts a meteorologist who’s become so obsessed with solving problems and controlling her environment that she’s done something awful and gotten herself in major trouble. Hilda is facing what her own future will be like if she can’t relinquish some control and responsibility.
I stepped down from a few responsibilities and curbed my investment in several others. I said “no” to several opportunities. And nothing fell apart; the world did not end. Fantastic things happened without me being involved. Turns out people are much more capable when they aren’t overcommitted.
Beforehand, I was rationalizing what I was doing because much of it was ministry, and surely if I’m “doing it for God,” I get a pass and can ignore the rest of my life, right? But that’s not the example we’re given in the Bible. Jesus said “no” to people when they asked him to do things that, feasibly, he could have done that weren’t his priority. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a warhorse. He took time to recharge his human body and take care of it. He’d go off by himself or with a few close friends to pray, even take naps.
He didn’t overindulge in these things, though. He kept himself in good enough condition to continue his ministry. And yes, he’s God-incarnate, so of course he could maintain that balance perfectly. I’m not expecting to be able to do that, but I’m grateful for a perfect example of what that should look like.
I’m not there yet. Because of my obsessive tendencies, it’s going to be something I struggle with for a long time. But like Hilda, if I can start trusting the people around me and letting go of my ego, I can be much more successful with that balance.