Many days I find myself working toward the picture of a fabulous life that is in my head. It has pieces in it like my children settled into their lives and relationships and living out of their identity in Jesus without fear or struggle; a relationship with my husband that is encouraging, supportive, comforting, effortless, and full of passion; a ministry and calling that are fulfilling to me and impactful to the people I interact with; a house that’s big enough to comfortably have people over and full of pretty things; a body that doesn’t hurt, but instead looks fabulous, even rolling out of bed in the morning (like in the movies). I know, I know… now my dreams are bordering on ridiculous. But a girl can dream, right?
As I consider my list, I see that there is some good stuff on it. Aiming for healthy relationships and lives is worthwhile. However, expecting to get to a place without pain or struggle does not account for the fact that I live in a messy world full of messy people. I think that it’s reasonable to think that some of my days will look like the picture above – or at least each day will probably hold a piece of that picture – but seeking that life as a goal will leave me frustrated or disappointed more often than not. Trust me, I know.
It comes to my mind every once in a while that it would be beneficial to be satisfied with a simple life. Have you ever read the book of Ecclesiastes? Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, tells the story of his quest to discover an enjoyable life. First, he sought wisdom and knowledge. He thought, If I learn enough and know enough, then I will surely find happiness. Have you tried that route? I remember the School House Rocks videos when I was a kid that declared, Knowledge Is Power. While I believe that to a certain extent, there was a point in my life that I discovered that too much knowledge can be debilitating. I remember standing in the grocery store paralyzed because I had learned something about almost every food there that made it off limits for one reason or another. Solomon states in Ecclesiastes 1:18, “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.” Maybe you’ve felt that after watching the news.
Solomon then tried pleasure – wine and laughter. He tried undertaking every project that he desired – building great parks, gardens, and buildings – and amassed great wealth. He attempted working hard and accomplishing great feats. None of it worked for him like he hoped it might. “I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun is grievous to me… 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?” (Ecclesiastes 2:17-19).
Solomon goes into more detail in his book about other things he tried, but I’ll spare you the details. It’s depressing enough already, don’t you think? I’m sure we could all give Solomon some advice about gratitude and looking on the bright side. Yet, if we’re honest with ourselves, I think we could also admit that each of us has days when it all seems kind of pointless. For some of us, that’s more often than others. For those of you feeling that now, I’m so sorry for the experiences of life that have brought you to that place. Depression and despair are hard to live with. Even God’s man Solomon, who was immensely gifted in a variety of ways, would acknowledge that.
I’d like to share with you a couple things I gleaned from Solomon’s search for meaning and fulfillment in life. First of all, “there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Not everything that I long for will happen today, and not much of what I am experiencing today will last forever. If today holds good things, it is an invitation to enjoy them fully as the gift of today. Clinging to them will not cause them to last longer but instead rob today of the pleasure it offers. I appreciate the invitation to look at my lifetime more holistically. There are times when my kids have been settled and unafraid, my marriage has been effortless, and my work has been satisfying. There is no reason to think that will not be the case again, even if it is not the case today. Yet I do not need to be frantic and driven about getting myself there.
Which leads me to my second point – “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and to do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil – this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13). This is the day I’ve been given, not tomorrow. Health, happiness, fulfillment – all are gifts of God that He intends to gift us with. Yet sometimes when we focus on the lack and the longing, we miss the gifts that are present today. I’m not suggesting that we act like we have something we don’t. If we’re lonely or hurting, God invites us to be honest about that experience and bring our pain to his loving arms. Sometimes a rant or a cry is exactly what we need the most.
But then… then I often find him directing me to the good things I have today. If he says that I lack no good thing, it must be true. How can I fully experience and enjoy the day I’ve been given and the gifts it holds? Pain sometimes causes me to slow down and linger in ways I wouldn’t if I could move faster. I am thankful for an opportunity to practice stillness. Loneliness has caused me to lean into God and discover a friendship with him that I never knew before. While my kids are not the friends I long for, they know me well and will give me hugs that bring healing to my heart. There will be a day when they are not around all the time.
Those are a couple of examples from my life. I’m sure yours would be different. I’m not suggesting that we love loneliness. What I am suggesting is that God has legitimate and specific gifts for us on the lonely days, or stressful days, or painful days. Remember that even eating, drinking, and finding satisfaction in our toil are a gift from God. If you lack the ability to do that, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask our good Father for that gift. In fact, I’m asking Him for that on your behalf right now. Praying for all good things, today and always. “I know that everything God does will endure forever…” (Ecclesiastes 3:14a).