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So the author of Ecclesiastes was a really sunny individual. Sorry, that’s a fib … he was actually kind of a negative person. Wait, that was another fib… Perhaps the most notable thing about him is that he was honest. Consider this selection from the current Lectionary reading:
says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.”
. . . I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are 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 that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless. – Ecclesiastes 1:2; 1:12-14; 2:18-23 (NIV)
Yeah, nice hearing from you, author of Ecclesiastes. Thanks for making my day so full and meaningful. I may have missed it but I think you forgot to remind us about weeds, mosquitoes, taxes and drivers who cut us off.
But if you think about it, the writer is making a sage observation: humans clamour all their lives to build and accumulate only to discover that everything is temporary and then are forced to leave it to someone else to use … someone who had nothing to do with accumulating it or realizing its sweat value.
The term ‘anxious striving’ from the last Ecclesiastes paragraph is applicable for so many of us. I can share all kinds of stories of people I have known who spent their lives working, saving, stressing, barely relaxing – and then they died.
I recall that when Cheryl and I re-wrote our wills we found ourselves getting into the ‘what ifs’ at one point. ‘What if’ such-and-so happens in this situation – who should get that portion? It finally occurred to us that we can’t begin to account for every possible scenario. Besides, money and possessions would mean nothing to us at that point and we wouldn’t be around to care about it anyway. That greatly simplified our will-writing.
It used to be important to me to be recognized, respected, understood and all that image/ego stuff but I have been slowly learning that the less important I am the more free I feel. The less I feel the need to perform and accumulate, the better I know myself – my weaknesses and limitations as well as my values and joys.
Of course I’m not saying we should avoid work or responsibility or participation. What I am saying is we spend too much time believing the cultural lie that our value is based on what we acquire or what we accomplish. To take it even a step further, I think we all deep down want to live quiet, simple, unnoticed lives but our pride won’t let us.
Humility is a beautiful, freeing thing because we don’t feel the need to impress or live up to outside standards that are imposed on us.
Can I be brutally honest? The most influential people in my life have ALWAYS been those who were gentle, kind, humble and satisfied to be a nobody.
And by the way, Ecclesiastes was apparently written by someone named ‘Qoheleth’. Nobody knows who he or she was either.
I want to be a nobody.