what’s the point?
Have you ever tried really hard to do something well, have it succeed, and then had it fall apart? A project? An article? I remember writing something that was probably ten pages long on my computer and accidentally erasing it. Then I did the exact wrong thing in trying to recover it. It was just gone.
But sometimes it is even bigger. Back in my 20s, I started a brand new Young Life ministry at Western Branch HS in Chesapeake, Virginia. No one had heard of Young Life, kids or adults. Three years later, we had nine adult leaders, five committee couples who helped with fund-raising and promotion and gave me credibility, and a thriving weekly club meeting of about a hundred kids. We were thriving.
And then God called Lynne and me to move to Charlotte to lead the Young Life ministry here. I was excited about the future, but fearful about leaving what I had built. While the committee and my boss looked for months to find the right person to replace me, no one was found. I was afraid it would all evaporate, so I went to a wise and very respected Christian leader for consolation and advice.
He said (almost verbatim), “Palmer, imagine that you are a stick and this community is a bucket of water. For three years, you have stirred the water in that bucket. What happens when you take that stick out?” I pondered and then, hoping I was wrong, said, “Well, there is no hole where the stick was, and after a few seconds the water stops moving.” I hoped I was wrong. He nodded affirmatively, and said nothing.
I had wanted encouragement. He confirmed my fear.
In Ecclesiastes 1:3, the Teacher asks a question. “What advantage does a man have in all his work which he does under the sun?” Over the next eight verses, he says that he has basically no advantage. Verse 8 says about work that “all things are wearisome.” Three verses later he goes even deeper: “There is no remembrance of earlier things; and also of the later things which will occur. There will be for them no remembrance among those who will come later still.” Essentially, after a while, no one will remember what you did anyway.
That’s my fear, that my life won’t matter, no one will remember. I am a stick stirring a bucket of water that will leave neither a hole nor waves that last.
A year ago I “retired” from 40+ years of meaningful ministry. I have no doubt that God was in it, that some lives were deeply touched, and that I was doing what I was called to do. And I also know that in 50-75 years, no one will have any idea of what I did. After some amount of time, there is no hole and there are no waves.
Do you ever fear that? Do you wonder what difference you make? Do you wonder if you create a hole or stir any waves?
I have never read anything in Scripture that nails that fear so well. It seems true, but it also seems hopeless (which I have felt more than a few times in my life). And this is in Holy Scripture, which is maybe this one reason why we do feel it and fear it.
The Scriptures also bring the real Jesus to my real life. There is no question that the Teacher (as he calls himself in Ecclesiastes) has his finger on the pulse of real fears in real life. Now I wait, looking for him to tell me what to do with that fear. How does the real Jesus meet me there? That makes me look forward to the chapters that come (albeit with fear and trembling).
Check back next week for the third and final post in this series on Ecclesiastes.
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.