Meditations in Meaning & Values 11: To what end?
Eccles 2:17-19 So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.
Unless we have either won or inherited a fortune, one thing that experience of this world shows us is that we have to work to provide for survival. If we are disabled we may rely upon a benign State to provide for us but otherwise, work is the lot of each of us. In a search for meaning, although many of these things overlap, I am sure many of us will be familiar with the question that drops into our mind in the middle of a rat race, why am I doing this? I have used that common term, ‘rat race’ because as online dictionaries describe it, it is ‘a way of life in which people are caught up in a fiercely competitive struggle for wealth or power.’
Now it may be that for many of us we would say that that is an overstatement of what we experience on a daily basis, but the truth is that life in business is today very much more pressurised than it used to be – and that is saying something. In one of my earlier careers, working in the City of London, I used to say that if I went on holiday it would take me three days in which my mind could slow down so I could enjoy the holiday and three days in which to get back up to speed once I returned to work. Since the financial crisis of 2007/8 many companies would acknowledge that the pressure to compete and the pressures to look for economies and efficiencies has increased.
I believe it is a very real question to ask in this part of history in the West, what is this all for, why am I doing this, and at what cost? Many years ago, when I worked in the City, my firm moved their office within London so that it added half an hour Underground travelling time to my already hour’s journey to and from home every day. As I already indicated I had a quite high pressure job. We were about to start a family and I began to think, “If I continue this job I will never see my children and when I do I will be too tired to be there for them.” After much thought and soul searching (for when you are in a rut it is often very difficult to climb out) my wife and I decided that I would opt for redundancy, which I did.
For nine months I sat around looking for a job while we moved house, had our first child and I started building two new rooms in the roof of our new home. Not wanting to move back into London the options for a job were somewhat limited. Obviously we prayed about it but during that period was only the second time in my life when I have felt depressed (I’ll speak about the other at some other time). At the end of that nine months a job opportunity came up teaching in a local college which I went for. Now to cut a long story short I have changed my career (not merely job) four times in my life and every time my salary initially dropped by a third but our standard of living and quality of life went up considerably. Now in ‘retirement’ but still active, I look back with an amazing sense of God’s provision for us, and His blessing having been on our lives. I believe he gave me my first job in the city, blessed it but then led us out into something better, and then something better, and then something better. In one sense I feel more fulfilled today than I ever have done before.
Am I unusual? I don’t think so. More and more we hear of people who have done similar things. Our youngest son was a Cambridge educated lawyer, again working in the city. Again starting off a young family, he asked the question, what am I doing in all this? At the time he was often in the office by 7.00am and didn’t leave until at least 7.00pm and often 9.00pm, even once or twice working through the night. One day he said to me, “Dad, what am I doing? I work all hours I can, I have a good salary but I am taxed at 40% and cannot afford to buy a house locally?” In answer to his question he had himself headhunted and he went to work in the Cayman Islands as a lawyer with an equal but untaxed salary and where he finished work at 6.00pm and was home with his wife and two children within ten minutes. It’s a tough life on an island with temperature about 30 degrees and sandy beaches and warm clear sea!
Now I have moved from theology to testimony in this meditation because there can be positive outcomes when we ask the questions and seek the Lord’s wisdom and guidance. Does God want us to be working all hours of day and night? I don’t believe so. Does he want us to be available to our partners and our children? I believe so!
Solomon’s jaded thinking led him to wonder what the point was in accumulating great wealth which he would have leave to someone else who may not use it all wisely. I have observed that our parents – pre-war children who grew up with privation and so suffered what I can only call a spirit of poverty in later years. They earned money but because they had been through difficult times they hung on to it and never enjoyed it or made use of it. Jesus taught, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt 6:19-21) Where we have inherited from that generation, or where we are part of a world that provides a good income, it is so easy to fall into the ‘spend for pleasure’ mentality and although obtaining pleasure through your wealth is not a bad thing, it is if that is all that happens. We noted in the previous meditation Maslow’s final addition to the needs pyramid – experiencing altruistic or spiritual goals.
Here’s a radical suggestion: sit before the Lord and surrender your life and your wealth to Him and say Lord, please open my mind to alternatives. Am I doing what you want me to do, or is there something better you have on your heart for me, or is there a better way for me to be doing what I am doing now? Show how to use our money wisely, show me if there are ways you want us to invest in people and bless people. It might be a completely new day!