By Chris D’Souza
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
...What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done;
and there is nothing new under the sun!
Ecclesiastes 1:2-3,9 RSVCE
Have you ever woken up in the morning and muttered, “Hmm, another day, same grind! What’s the use of getting out to work?”
Let me be honest. I have.
Qoheleth, the writer of Ecclesiastes (above), probably felt like a statue or tree that has witnessed hundreds of years of cyclical, seasonal monotony. “Nothing is new under the sun!”
We might accuse him of flirting with cynicism, maybe even despondency. But that is just how we know that the Scriptures are both accommodative and practical. They deal with real people displaying real feelings and emotions in a real world filled with both joy and sorrow.
Our God comes and meets us at the very point of our experience – our valleys, plateaus or peaks. The Bible doesn’t present a rosy picture or fake the experiences of its characters. It helps us reckon with our reality and offers us the grace to change.
It remains for us to invite God in.
Qoheleth is trying to make the point that that trust in one’s own ability to discover existential meaning in life apart from God will inevitably lead to bitterness, cynicism, and hopelessness.
As the philosopher Immanuel Kant pointed out, we perceive reality through our own experiences and thoughts. Here is where we can ask the Lord to straighten out our perceptions and realign them to the point of reflecting His own. This is what will bring about the shift in paradigm – from a world-encrusted focus to a God-facing one.
This is just what the Psalmist did. He begins by dwelling on the swiftness of this life almost as an affirmation of the message of Ecclesiastes. He observes the same repetitive patterns in nature and mulls over the transience of material things. But his quest lands him at the feet of God -- in prayer and petition, acknowledging Him as the Source of hope and fulfillment.
This ignites a spark of hope. “Each morning fill us with your faithful love, we shall sing and be happy all our days,’” the Psalmist proclaims. (Ps 90:14)
Yes, we have a real world with real frustrations to reckon with. But to match it we have a Real Savior who triumphantly said, “I have overcome the world!” To bring meaning to our work, let us reflect upon and imbibe the words of St. Paul: “ Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” ( Col 3:23).
Prayer to start the day: Lord, whatever the state of my emotions and perceptions today, give me a heart of wisdom to take the long range view. Help me see value in the work that you have blessed me with and keep me determined to fill up each day with positive, motivating thoughts so that I offer You the best I can with my heart, mind and hands. In Jesus name, Amen.
Chris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org