"Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity," (Ecclesiastes 1:2 ESV).
I have been challenged by Ecclesiastes for the last two weeks. Why do I work so hard? In the next verse, Solomon asks the very pointed question, "What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?"
The answer, I believe, comes in the form of contentment. Possibly you can relate to this same struggle.
I have strong work-alcoholic tendencies, finding myself buried in all sorts of busyness. No longer do I work long hours at my professional job – I've moved into semi-retirement, working there on Monday through Wednesday – and yet I very much fill my days and evenings. I am also the caretaker of our church's prayer garden, and the author/publisher of three books with more on the way. I'm trying to learn Hebrew, several challenging software products, and keep up with work at home. I wake up early and go to bed late, do not waste my time with television because I am far too interested in other things. And then there is my marriage – we need to spend more time together.
Possibly you know someone who has similar tendencies. Possibly this is, to some extent, a profile of yourself.
Solomon had tremendous wisdom and wealth, and yet he basically said, "So what?" Why have all this wisdom and yet have it wasted? What good was all the wealth that he accumulated? And he was right because his legacy was wasted on kings that spoiled what he created.
I mentioned that I am the caretaker of my church's prayer garden. While we have a volunteer staff that helps with this work, primary responsibility falls on me when work has to be done and some people do not show up. There was a wedding last Saturday in the garden, requiring all the preparation work to be done in a quality manner. What bride would want weeds to symbolize the partnership that she is stepping into? The work had to be finished.
There is an abundance of deep-purple columbine that are currently flowering in this garden. The marriage ceremony was conducted adjacent to a large grouping of them. Over the years, I have scattered the columbine seeds in various areas to promote an exhilarating richness over several of the flower beds. The effect is both breath-taking and relaxing.
In my book A Garden of Love, I associated these beautiful columbine with "Kindness", but I think I should have chosen "Contentment" instead. Here, in the depth of a garden where I toil for others to enjoy, I found a peace that too often alludes me. Solomon, after writing his famous monologue about "A time to be born, and a time to die, … " (Eccl 3:2-8), went back to his question about toil. "I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil – that is God's gift to man." (Eccl 3:12, 13)
The columbine flowers point downwards, not looking at the sky as many flowers tend to do, content to show their beauty to those that will find the time to discover them. More than masses of purple royalty, I had to get on the ground to enjoy them. I had to put aside my other agenda, to take the time to appreciate my toil. I had to be shown this gift that came from God; I only scattered the seed.
Why do I toil as I do? I believe God is saying to me, "To experience, to take time to enjoy, to hold dear and precious, to allow love to touch my heart and then to share that touch with others." This is my contentment.
End Note: The overall theme for this series of articles is flowers and plants, showing how they point to love. Sometimes I write 'how to' do something, other times the emphasis is a status update, or the article will be about how a plant or flower touched my heart. All of these writings are based on plants from the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in Syracuse, NY. Please consider some of the other blog articles: Index of Articles About the Gethsemane Prayer Garden.