Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 31. Ecclesiastes (2)
Eccles 1:3,9 What does man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun? …. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
My original intent was simply to cover the one meditation in Ecclesiastes but as time passed I found myself pondering on one of the specific things the writer said was meaningless. In the first study we considered a whole range of things that the writer of Ecclesiastes said are meaningless. Now we’ll just focus on one which is, possibly, one of the real things people feel today. I have linked verses 3 and 9 (which I think is legitimate to do) in the light of what I have been doing recently.
The other day, a Saturday morning, the sun was shining and, as we didn’t need to go out shopping and we had nothing else on our family agenda, I settled down to catch up on various jobs in our garden. Our garden is not the proverbial ‘back yard’ but is a three hundred foot long plot. It rained a day or so ago and the grass had grown and so I started by mowing the lawn. Then I had noted that the front hedge had grown and was bulging out over the front footpath, so I took an electric hedge-trimmer to it and carted away and mulched three wheelbarrow loads of cuttings. We also have several little ‘box’ hedges (low dividing hedges in the garden) and these too needed trimming and shaping. With the sun still shining I noted that a couple of fence panels desperately needed preservative applying and so an hour later, it was done.
Now late into the afternoon, I was sitting feeling a little weary when Solomon’s thoughts came to mind. Here was a classic example of what these two verses said. In two week’s time the lawn will need cutting again. In three months’ time the hedges will need attention again and in two years’ time the fence panels will need painting again. Whatever was the point of my activities that took a day, when given the passing of time it will all need doing again? Is indeed life a meaningless array of repetitious tasks?
It was at that point that I thought, what is the answer to Solomon’s jaded thinking? And so I sat there and considered how many meaningful reasons I could think of for following this repetitious cycle. Here are four:
Reason No.1: It needs doing! The fact is that left to itself my garden will run amok: the lawn would end up as a three foot high grass jungle, the front hedge would force people into the roadway, the box hedges would overcome the flower beds, and the fence panels would rot and fall down. Some of the things we do in everyday life are just things that need doing but that doesn’t make them less significant. When God originally said, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it,” (Gen 1:28) I’m sure He had this sort of thing in mind. In addition, because of the Fall, we are now constantly battling with a planet that would run out of control if we did not expend energy to deal with it (see Gen 3:17,18). Much of what we do is us taking control of the world around us. See a divine purpose in it!
Reason No.2: It is satisfying! After some more rambling Solomon concludes, “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.” (2:24) Yes, sometimes work can be satisfying. At the end of the day I looked at the various things done, and thought, “Good job! Stuff achieved!” and it was a good feeling. The Lord, having made us in His own image, has given us creative abilities and the ability to work and achieve things. Psychologist Abraham Maslow produced a Triangle or Hierarchy of Needs, the top need of which was about self-fulfillment – achieving one’s full potential, including creative activities. It’s actually how God has made us. It feels good to achieve and we shouldn’t be ashamed of that! When it comes to gardening, scientists, psychologists and health experts increasingly speak of how therapeutic and health-giving working in a garden can be. Are we able to see some of the things at least, that we are involved with on a daily basis, as things that contribute to wellbeing, ours and that of others? If not, look and pray and listen.
Reason No.3: We control our environment for good! I spoke of cutting the hedge so that people would not be forced into the roadway. A legitimate concern. Cutting the law, cutting the low hedges and painting the fence panels all help create a pleasant environment. Over the years, I have come to see that being creative with our garden means that we can bless people with it, whether it be ourselves sitting and appreciating the wonder of God’s creation as we look at varieties of flowers, hedges and trees and listen to and watch a whole variety of birds, or the grandchildren using it and repeating what their parents did in it decades ago, or friends who come in and sit and absorb peace and beauty. Not long ago I came across a little quip: Three things we each need to make us happy – someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for. Now I would want to put then into a spiritual context but they do apply generally as well. Do I find purpose in the things I do daily (something to do) and do I see these things going somewhere, creating an anticipation of something more or better in the days to come? (something to hope for).
Reason No.4: We use God’s gifts and enjoy God’s world – and thus bring pleasure to God. Whatever task we perform, great or small, we are exercising gifts or abilities that God has given us and we are operating within the world He has made AND it is patently obvious that He has made this world for us to enjoy. The whole of the modern fad of mindfulness is about being aware of the moment and in that respect it does us a favour by suggesting we slow up and take stock.
Now being realistic, many of us work in materialistic environments and often we are striving to survive, striving to make money to get by, and striving to cope with the stresses and strains of the job (and maybe the people we work with.) It is quite likely that many of us will be involved in repetitious jobs, jobs that (let’s be honest) don’t seem to change the world for good, but that need not mean that none of my four reasons above apply.
So to recap: at the most basic level, am I doing something that just keeps life going? Fine, that’s quite valid, you’re stopping the world falling down around you! Perhaps many people appreciate your end product but never tell you. Can you have a sense of satisfaction achieving something, even if it is shelves neatly filled, a park neatly tidied, papers delivered on time or a million and one other things we take for granted. As a child of God, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” (Col 3:23) Bless God with your heart attitude, perhaps as you serve others (That could be your boss, your fellow workers or even your employees.).
Consider how you can bring good to the environment in which you work, or maybe by your work, that somehow blesses others. Ask the Lord for wisdom how to do that (Jas 1:5). And finally, recognize your gifts and abilities and take nothing for granted. Thank the Lord for them and for what you do and enjoy being who He has made you to be. And above all, cast off the jaded attitude that Solomon had and which so many people have today. This is God’s world, His gift to us, and you are His gift to this world as well. Bless people and bless Him in what you do. We each have the possibility of bringing light into this world – even within repetitious work cycles!