“Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!”( Ecclesiastes 1:2b) Nothing quite like a dose of Ecclesiastes on Thanksgiving Day. In the midst of celebrating, spending time with family, eating more than I should, and reading a book about being more thankful, God’s Word calls out: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) The writer of Ecclesiastes clearly comes from BBF times. That would be: Before Black Friday.
After a couple more “chasing after the wind” verses, I opted for a walk. A beautiful sunny day in November, and a walk should be the cure for my ill. The writer of Ecclesiastes was wrong, right? There has to be meaning. So I walk into Needham, home of 2012 Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman. That seems significant, especially if I ignore that my nine-year old told me that gold medals are actually made up of more than 90% silver. I keep walking and see a very old sign pointing to a site for Needham’s powder house. My sister later informs me that the powder houses were sites on the edge of town where gun powder was made – on the edge of town so that an explosion wouldn’t ruin the whole town. Interesting, but not really significant. She also told me that the local pound used to be for stray pigs before it became a landing spot for dogs. Hmm, still not significant, but funny to think about.
“I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.”( Ecclesiastes 2:18) I kept walking, and I finally found it. Significance? Meaning? You be the judge. Let’s start with the white picket fence (not of wood, but it still counts). On either side are the solar-powered lights (conscientious). Behind the fence is a manicured hedge line. In the driveway are two shiny vehicles (car and truck, of course). But let’s not forget the pristine motorhome on the side of the house (who doesn’t want a home on wheels?) The rhododendrons in front of the house have been trimmed (seriously?), and there is a large pile of chopped and split wood to the side of the driveway. Hello? Americana called and they want there house back. I told you – I found IT.
It is the house that captures that elusive dream. It’s the secret home of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley (pretty sure they were working the grill in the fenced-in back yard), and Michael Jackson goes there for holidays. I almost knocked on the motorhome to look for Tupac, but that will have to wait for tomorrow. This is the home where, if you didn’t know better, you expect everything to be just right.
“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.” (Ecclesiastes 2:11) That is a truth that we just don’t want to believe. Although not all scholars agree upon Solomon as the author of Ecclesiastes, it clearly was a person who had it all. He oversaw “great projects” (2:4), owned more livestock than anyone in Jerusalem ever had, had slaves, hired singers (that’s why Tupac was in the motorhome – he technically doesn’t “sing”), and uses a word equivalent to “harem” that is found nowhere else in Scripture. And still, he felt empty. I don’t believe that the writer had simply become a grumpy old man who could no longer enjoy his pleasures. He speaks also of his pursuit of wisdom and comes to this conclusion: “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief” (1:18). What the writer seems to have discovered was that having it all is having nothing at all.
In the book Soul Detox, Craig Groeschel makes the point that to “have it all” you would have to own one of everything in the world. Then you would have it all – until the newer version comes out. That is a chasing after the wind; going after what you will never be able to have.
The seed of this message actually comes from a one-year old. An adorable one-year old. I hope that you have some time around one this holiday weekend. If not, observe one (I did not say “take one”). I was privileged to observe one last weekend. It is a precious age (minus the diapers- did my time already). What struck me is that, for the most part, a one-year old can only receive. They are in no position to take over the world. They will not claim your parking spot at 5am outside of Target. They receive what you give – especially from their parents. The reason that quality struck me is because I have come to realize what terrible receivers we are. Once we really start to walk and talk, we start the terrible path of independence (Watch out Eden, here we come). We learn how to say, “No,”..sorry, I mean, “No!” We learn how to master skills which translates into pride in our accomplishments. We then learn how to earn for ourselves, and accumulate for ourselves, and build houses with garages that wont even hold our trucks because we needed a bigger truck (plus we have all of Elvis’ clothes in there – that fat season of life is a killer). We, unfortunately and to my grandmother’s chagrin, are much like Calvin.
Calvin observes to Hobbes, “Look at all those ants. They’re all running like mad, working tirelessly all day, never stopping, never resting. And for what? To build a tiny little hill of sand that could be wiped out at any moment! All their work could be for nothing, and yet they keep on building. They never give up!” Hobbes notes, “I suppose there’s a lesson in that.” And Calvin responds, “Yeah…ants are morons. Let’s see what’s on tv.” Isn’t that us? Whether you are the ant piling up your sand, or Calvin who sees it all and doesn’t get it, you are missing the point.
“Like the fool, the wise man too must die!” (Ecclesiastes 2:16b) I kept walking a little farther, still thinking about that house. In my head I knew that the house of Americana did not guarantee happiness. In my heart, I wanted to test that theory. You see, I’m terrible at receiving also. I am quick to see it in others, like my friend who felt “bad” when she received chocolate, but it’s hard to wrestle it out of my own life. I am the grown-up version of a five-year old who still wants to go to the store and get my own toys. Our materialistic world has us hooked. In the middle of the disaster called a football game, I saw a car commercial. Maybe you did too. The son pulls up in the driveway and is clearly home for the holidays. He comes in the house to find that dear old ma and pa have taken off in his car rather than greet their own child. It is an attempt at humor, but is absolutely awful. We need to start recognizing what is going on around us and call it exactly what it is – a lie!
I turned around to head back, pausing only to tell the nice man in the Lexus that I did not know where the football field was located. (Yes, I noticed that it was a Lexus. I’m on record in my high school yearbook as planning to own a Lexus by the time I was 30. Either my Dodge turns into a Lexus under a full moon, or I’m still 29, not sure which.) The ending of the sidewalk caused me to cross back over – right in front of Americana. Then I saw another “it” – something I had missed the first time because of the glare from the motorhome. On the white picket (plastic) fence was a Storm Troopers costume. Why is that significant? Glad you asked. Because my oldest son has the exact same costume. Why does that matter? Again, I’m glad you asked. It matters because of what God is telling me and telling you.
If you read, “Stop Drawing. Be Drawn” you read some pretty incredible testaments to God’s movement. Here’s one that I didn’t share. On Sunday morning, I was in the bathroom getting ready and so was the boy who had been expelled for bringing a gun to school. He would occasionally vocalize some rap lyrics as he got ready – nothing I recognized, my rap days are almost done. Then he said a line that stopped me: “I like to make myself believe..” That sounded familiar. What was that from? He kept rapping; I kept puzzling. Finally I asked him about that line. He rather sheepishly answered, “That’s one of my favorite songs..it’s by Owl City.” If you know anything about Owl City (the song in question is “Fireflies”), you might see why it seemed odd this same boy could sing his favorite rap songs and toss in lines from a West-Coast suburban insomniac. It did more than shatter my initial perception of him; it gave me a touch point in my own life.
Owl City is my oldest son’s favorite group. There is an Owl City station on our Pandora that drives me bonkers, and he persistently asks why I haven’t bought him a cd of his favorite group even though I have for his brothers (put it on your wish list, Caleb). So, for the rest of the day last Sunday, I wrestled with what it meant that my son and the boy who brought the gun to school loved the same music group. I started to get it, but didn’t get it clearly until today. The Storm Troopers costume clicked it into focus: the arbitrary will of God. What separated my son from the boy who brought the gun from the boy who lives with Elvis? The arbitrary will of God. What separates me from the lost man in the Lexus? The arbitrary will of God. Your anthill, my anthill, could be gone tomorrow. And if it is, what was the point? I contend that the point is to receive.
“Remember your Creator in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1a) The one-year old that I saw knew his parents and gladly received what was given. I wish I would do the same. I have a Creator who desires to meet my needs, but I am often so busy looking at the other tables that I miss what is in front of me. I seek approval and acceptance rather than allowing myself to be looked on with approval and acceptance. Why? I want to earn. I want to believe that I can accomplish something great. “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). I have convinced myself that the draw of Black Friday is related to our poor ability to receive.
For one, you look for things for yourself – to upgrade what you have our increase your anthill. Second, if you do shop for someone else, it is still really for yourself. I examined my motives and found this hidden deep: try it on for size, if it doesn’t fit you can stand in line to return it. The reason I look for really nice gifts for someone is to avoid the emptiness that I would feel if I gave them nothing. I am not enough to be accepted on my own, so I must give them something of value. See how a lie can twist something good? Even after years in the helping profession, even after getting better at giving, I still find selfish motives tucked into my actions. Pride. Desire to be accepted, to be valued, to have more sand on my anthill.
Lord, help us.
My favorite observation of the one-year old was that he would look at someone, smile, and loudly declare, “Da!” It was as if he wanted everyone to know that he was happy because of his father, and I know that he could only do that because he had been receiving the love of his father and his mother (I tried to get him to yell, “Ma!”- no luck). Do you do that? Do you loudly declare your love for your Father? Have you received His love? If not, if you feel bad that you didn’t get everyone else some chocolate, maybe you should stop for a minute. The reason you might feel that way could be because you think you have to have more to give more to be loved more. Wrong. That’s a lie. The one-year old gave exactly what he had received, and it was exactly enough: unconditional love. Receive that. Then give that. I think that’s in aisle G-O-D, and it goes on sale..oh, look! Right now!
For more reading on the arbitrary will of God, read Jonathan Edwards’ sermon at http://whatsaiththescripture.com/Fellowship/Edwards.Sinners.Angry.God.html
Loving Father, help us to kill the pride that creeps up within us. We desire to receive your love and to trust your plans for us. Be the Rock beneath our anthill, Lord, and hold us when we fall. Amen.