This Coronavirus thing is hard. It hits us in so many ways. Loneliness. Fear. Hopelessness. Irritation. I can’t see people. My “net” worth feels like it has holes in it. One friend said, “I had a 401K. Now it is a 201K!” I laughed when he told me. But I wouldn’t have laughed during those two or three crazy weeks when my retirement savings was disappearing. My kids still have jobs, but I have friends who no longer do. Second homes don’t help when I can’t get there. It’s just hard.
Covid-19 exposes the shallowness of the things that I often rely upon. Those things are vaporous. The pleasures they bring don’t last. They are fleeting.
Covid-19 leads me to ask some of the same questions as the Teacher. What really makes my life have meaning? How do I live in such a way that I find purpose and what God has in store for me?
My first mentor in the faith was a very smart guy. He taught me how to do relational ministry in Young Life. But he also taught me a lot about how to live life. One of his favorite phrases was “think it through.”
Every time we faced a problem – with a project, or program or in relational dynamics of a team – he would remind us to “think it through.” Implied in his direction was a belief that we could figure out the problem if we just put our minds to it. And often, I think that is true. But there are moments when my brainpower just fails me!
There aren’t many moments when I go that deep, deep enough to wrestle in my soul about what makes life worth living. When I have, the moments have been marked by despair. Being cut from varsity basketball my senior year about did me in. Breaking up with two or three of my closer girlfriends made me wonder things about me. Would I always be alone? Getting “let go” from a good job made me ask hard questions about whether I had what it took to make my life work. Did I have enough? What am I doing wrong? How do I rescue this life?
Ecclesiastes is a book about “the Teacher’s” search for meaning in life. Early in the first chapter, he writes: “I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the sun.” He was committed to “thinking it through.” He was going to give it everything he could to wrestle the issue of meaning and purpose to the ground.
His hope was in his brainpower. He was a philosopher of sorts. He read a great deal. He thought big thoughts. He checked out the best thinkers on life and purpose, and he did it really well. He was going to make a world where the Coronavirus makes sense.
“Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone… I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge. Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind.” “Thinking it through” didn’t work. At the end of all those books, all that research, all of those conversations with wise people, the Teacher got “nothing”!
I don’t know that I have ever been smart enough to even try that route. It kind of relieves me that it didn’t work. ☺ But where he went next, I could relate to.
“I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good…” The Teacher describes the places where he sought pleasure, and they weren’t primarily immoral, though that surely tempts many of us. He tried laughter and partying. He tried accomplishing big things, building big and multiple houses, acquiring a great yard, and lots of “help,” and lots of money.
“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor and this was the reward for all my toil…” Do you see what he saying there? I worked hard. I accomplished a lot. I was very successful in almost every way you can imagine!
“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Nothing was gained under the sun.”
Brainpower didn’t work. Pleasure didn’t work. Accomplishment and success didn’t work. Meaningless. Chasing after the wind. Nothing gained.
But then, at the end of the second chapter, he offers a little teaser of hope, a little direction toward meaning and purpose. But it is not a big vision, rather something almost mundane: “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God.”
Seize the day.
Enjoy what God gives you today in your work and in your provision. Feel the breeze. Taste your burger. Enjoy your space. Have fun doing the little things you get to do at whatever you call “work.” Be mindful of the moment, because God has given it, even in the midst of the Coronavirus. Even when there is no lack hopelessness and fear, even when failure becomes more of a real possibility, seize the day. Savor the moment that God has given you.
Palmer Trice is an ordained Presbyterian minister. He is married to Lynne, has three children and has been in Charlotte since 1979. In his spare time, Palmer enjoys golf, tennis, walking and reading.
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