Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart. Ecclesiastes 5, verses 18 – 20.
Ecclesiastes 2 ends with verses like these. So does Ecclesiastes 3. The writer of the book wanted us to know that, absent eternity, the best anyone could hope for would be to eat, drink, and find satisfaction in what we do. There is much the world has to offer so if this is as good as it gets, enjoy it while you can. There are people in my life who ‘get’ this point. It’s hard to sit idle and watch while people you care about dive deeply into all things partying. I guess this makes me one of the old fogies who is losing touch with his edgy side because I’ve lived this kind of life and walked away from it. Staying in it could have hurt much more than it actually did, but believe me: it hurt enough.
Please don’t walk away thinking this is judgmental, though I did judge what I thought to be best for me. Still, even in the thick of my hardest days, the nagging question kept prodding me: have you had enough? Without faith, life could get pretty bad pretty fast. It doesn’t take much to slide from “just one more” to “oh my God what happened?” How did I get here? Work is meaningless, riches are meaningless, pleasures are meaningless. The long and short of it is that everything is pretty much meaningless…unless…there’s that all important conjunction: unless.
Solomon understood this; he penned it. He understood that life need never be as bad as it could be. That unspoken, implied ‘unless’ is what gives the verse deeper meaning than just an observation on the bling lifestyle. Unlike in chapters 2 and 3, Solomon ends this chapter with a hopeful lead-in to the next. That lead-in reminds us of contentment, even of an act of worship. When we enjoy the gifts we’re given, we’re enjoying gifts from God. In reality, everything is a gift from God whether it’s the air in your lungs, the bed you slept on last night (unless you stayed out partying…), the job you just left or the computer on which you’re now reading. Everything is a gift; we are but stewards of those gifts during our time on this rock. What matters is the ENJOYMENT of those gifts, and the verses remind us that enjoying something – appreciating, using, being thankful for, deriving honest pleasure from something – is acknowledging God’s grace. God keeps us occupied with gladness in our hearts, and that gladness is a fruit of His Spirit. When we act thankfully, we’re actually acting in worship.
Long and short: even in meaningless things, God is kind and gives.
That’s good to remember, especially when we remember that, just as quickly as things can go wrong, so can they go right. Think about it: when you’ve had a really bad day, doesn’t it take just a little bit of kindness to turn it around? A smile, a nice word, a kind gesture: don’t they sometimes make all the difference in the world? Maybe the person who gives that gesture is thankful for the gifts in their lives. Perhaps they’re paying it forward. Whether we realize it or not, spreading the milk of human kindness is sharing God’s goodness with others. The hardest thing about living as a believer is actually doing it, but the easiest way to start is by simply being kind. That way, we get to take simply getting by with what we’ve got and let God transform it into appreciation for what & who we are, and then reflect that to others. It changes our outlook, our behavior, our attitude…our hearts.
Isn’t that important in a world that seems determined to beat the crap out of us at every turn? Bills to pay, children using drugs, neighbors that argue, depression, government gone amok, wars abounding, road rage, petty squabbling: name your flavor of dysfunction and we see it every day. Isn’t it important to beat these things back by living out kindness and thankfulness, working to see the good in things instead of all the negativity that’s more than self-evident? Solomon thought so. I do to. I think that means I’m in good and wise company.
The other night, I watched “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” What a desperately violent, provocative and edgy movie. I enjoyed it and found myself considering how the main character, Lisbet, was used and discarded by everyone in her life, how she was a victim who had inner resilience, something that kept her going. She was anything but a person of faith – she was the exact opposite in fact – but I see a parallel in that character and this concept. She kept going even through the worst life could dish out. In the end, even in disappointment, she became better. Life need not be hopeless, and even in the middle of hopelessness, if we let ourselves see it, there is hope and ‘right’ working to make itself known. And the hope, righteousness, and love are stronger than the hopelessness, even when we can’t see how that is so.