In many ways, life is circular. As Solomon says, a man works and toils, only to give place to another generation who will work and toil; “One generation passes away, and another generation comes; but the earth abides forever.” The sun rises and sets, only to rise and set again. The wind whirls about, only to do it all over again. The rivers flow to the sea, only to be picked up and returned to do it again. “All things are full of labor…” and in that many people despair.
As a pastor, I know that the sermon I deliver on Sunday will end and, on Monday, I will begin writing another one. The pile of laundry you finished yesterday will give way to another one in mere moments. The lawn you mow in the spring and summer will shoot back up in a week. The weekends give way to another work week that will likely look much like the countless ones before it. Many people despair of this, thinking, “There must be more to life than this!” People grow tired of their work, they grow tired of routine, and some (tragically) grow tired of marriage and family. They think they are to find purpose outside of the circular pattern of life, only to enter a much more destructive circle.
Yet, we cannot escape the circular pattern of life. Depressed yet? We shouldn’t be.
Solomon said it’s all vanity, but we must pay attention to the conclusion of the matter: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (12:13-14). The vanity of the circle is not the problem; us thinking we shouldn’t be in the circle is the problem! Only God is remembered and honored forevermore and our desire to step outside of the order God has made in order to find “meaning” is nothing more than our desire to be God.
We, however, are made to enjoy and find meaning in the world as God made it. We must learn to find joy and purpose in the “vanity” of it all. It’s what we do in that cycle that matters; those are the things God will judge, and those are the moments in which we must learn to find contentment and beauty.
Every diaper you change, every blade of grass cut, every meal prepared, every wall painted, every class taught, board cut, patient you care for, commute you drove – those are the moments that matter. We aren’t supposed to look for meaning in being remembered by the world. It goes on. We are to embrace life as God has given it and live that life in obedience and love for God and what He has given us.
“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has already accepted your works. Let your garments always be white, and let your head lack no oil” (9:6-7). This is an exercise of faith. God is sovereign and we are not; infinite and we are not; eternal and we are not. But, in all of this, there is great comfort. The God who has created the world also maintains it, so our lives are to be lived at rest. It is not easy, but it is simple. Love Him, keep His commands, and rejoice in the life He has given.