Beautiful in its Time

I want to touch on a topic that I think all of us has entertained at one point or another. Well, all of us who are over the age of 25 or 30 anyway. Not that younger people don’t think about this, but there is a very clear moment that happens as you approach the middle of your life that you begin to think about the deeper things of life. A young person just starting out their life may not be focusing on what happens at the end of it. If you’re a young person reading this, I apologize if my generalization is wrong. I’m just saying that the weight of these things doesn’t truly hit you until you reach your mid 30’s.

I was curious tonight. It had been a while since I read the book of Ecclesiastes. When I finished my last article, I felt that I wanted to talk about depression in my next one. I asked myself what scriptures in the bible deal with depression, and the first thing that came to me was this book. This, quite literally, is the most depressing book of the bible. It was written by King Solomon in his old age. Yes, the guy who gave us the wisdom of Proverbs, built the temple, and basically put Israel on the map, looked back over his life in his old age and uttered the words “life is meaningless.”

The scripture I am going to today is found in Ecclesiastes 3. It’s a well known verse. The Byrd’s even wrote an awesome song about it in the 60’s. To everything…turn turn turn…there is a season…turn turn turn…and a time to every purpose under the heavens. I want to share this scripture with you because I think it’s beautiful in its own way. Bear with me, and I’ll explain.

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

15 Whatever is has already been,
    and what will be has been before;
    and God will call the past to account.

16 And I saw something else under the sun:

In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,
    in the place of justice—wickedness was there.

17 I said to myself,

“God will bring into judgment
    both the righteous and the wicked,
for there will be a time for every activity,
    a time to judge every deed.”

18 I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. 19 Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”

22 So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them?

Ecclesiastes 3: 1-22

I tried to figure out which parts I wanted to expound on, and we will talk about three parts of this verse, but I wanted you to have a chance to read the chapter in its entirety so that you can see and feel the full context of what Solomon is writing here. This is an old man reflecting on his life. This is a wise man who has followed his thoughts down the rabbit hole of “why are we here?” and trying to draw meaning from life. It’s something that most human beings have done at some point in their lives since the dawn of time.

The first eight verses are pretty straightforward. If you live long enough, you’ll begin to see that your life has certain seasons to it. This will occur as both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in the sense that the sadness you feel today is not permanent and that tomorrow you might feel joy and happiness. A curse in the sense that if times are good today, tomorrow that could all change on a dime. Anybody that’s ever lost someone close to them knows what this is like. The importance is to recognize that each phase of your life is but a season and that things are going to change. Sometimes change will bring good times. Sometimes it will bring bad.

But let’s go deeper into the verses that follow. I really see this chapter as a thing of beauty, but before I can explain why, I have to set the stage.

The Beauty in Pain

What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

When I was younger, I wanted to set the world on fire. I told everybody that I had no interest in marriage, that I wanted to travel a lot, and that I wanted to do great things with my life. Then, I got married. I got a job I hated. And I had two kids. Stuck in a town I hated, doing work that I found boring, and in a marriage that I was wildly unhappy with, I muddled along for a few years just trying to make ends meet. All those big dreams I had came crashing at my feet, and I saw my family as an obligation that was holding me back. It was too much for me at a young age, so I wound up getting divorced, going bankrupt, and moving back in with my parents. Talk about seasons of your life. This was my season of rock bottom, and I wallowed there for quite some time.

Over time I came to see, however, that those childish dreams of mine were a manifestation of the energy and zeal I had for life, but they were not indicative of what would truly make me happy. I often play a mind game where I think about what would happen if I could go back in time and change that one event: getting married. I wonder where I would be today. Would I still be living in this town? Or would I be somewhere halfway across the world? Would I be successful and happy? Or would I be miserable?

It only takes me a few minutes to start thinking about my kids. And when that happens, I realize that that one event was in no way a mistake. I love my kids more than life itself. My kids have such awesome personalities. They bring a lot of joy to my life. If someone dropped a time machine into my lap today, there’s no way I’d go back and change my past because I wouldn’t want to live a second without my kids in my life.

You see, I learned that all things become beautiful in time. At the time, divorce and bankruptcy were the worst things to ever happen to me. At the time, I was miserable and depressed, believing that my life was over. At the time, I wallowed in regret. But I picked myself back up, dusted myself off, and began rebuilding my life. The next five years were some of the best years. The event that I consider rock bottom became a springboard for a new season in my life. I fixed my finances, went back to school, took a new job, and moved to a new town. I spent time with my kids. I built my new career. I made new friends. I dated. I experienced many things that I thought I would never experience once I got married. In time, my situation became beautiful.

I want you to know that the reason why your situation may seem like it sucks today is because you don’t have the whole picture yet. There is more to this story. You are creating this story every day. This season of your life may be filled with hardship or sorrow, but in time it will become beautiful. The world is your furnace…it’s the soil for your struggle. And in that struggle you have the ability to find happiness and goodness. This is the gift that God has given you: that you eat, drink, and find satisfaction in your toil.

The thing that my divorce taught me…over the course of many years…is that there is beauty in the little things. The simple things. My youthful self wanted to be a rock star…to set the world on fire and travel the world. But those things alone don’t bring happiness. Happiness is found in the toils of life. It’s found in the moments when you’ve been crying all night and, at the end of it, your body sends antibodies and endorphins to lift you up. There is no greater joy in that moment when you wake up after a season of hardship and realize that LIFE IS GOOD. Without the bad times, we wouldn’t appreciate the good things in our lives.

We see change as a curse. We look back and yearn for the “good ole days.” But this is an illusion. The good ole days had their share of hardships, just like today. The difference is that the memory of those days gets twisted over time. It erases a hardship here. It tweaks a moment there. When we look back, we are looking at the illusion that our mind has created rather than feeling all the feelings we felt in the moment of the experience we are looking back on. THIS IS THE GOOD OLE DAYS. Today. You will find joy in your toil. You will find joy in being with the people you care about. You will find joy in living your purpose. You see change as a curse, but God has given it to us as a gift. Life may bring about change, but the things of God are forever. He sees the full picture. You get the snapshot that we call the present. All things are beautiful in time.

The Beauty in Perspective

15 Whatever is has already been,
    and what will be has been before;
    and God will call the past to account.

16 And I saw something else under the sun:

In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,
    in the place of justice—wickedness was there.

17 I said to myself,

“God will bring into judgment
    both the righteous and the wicked,
for there will be a time for every activity,
    a time to judge every deed.”

Solomon talks about the beauty in the toil, but then he shifts gears a bit. Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes he talks about this same theme: that there is nothing new under the sun. That whatever is has already been and what will be has been before. He’s essentially saying that, while the things that are happening may be new to you, it’s more of the same in the context of time. We see humanity repeat history over and over again.

If there’s ever a place where this is the truest, it’s in Hollywood. It seems like everything made today is just a remake of something made in the past. We complain that Hollywood has run out of ideas. In the movie, The Amazing Spider-man,  at the end the teacher talks about the types of stories in literature. She states that she had a professor who told her once that there are only ten different plots in literature. Then she says that there is only one: Who am I? So, even IF Hollywood chose to do new stuff, it wouldn’t be new in the context of the different types of plots that exist. After all, Avatar is just Dances With Wolves on another planet.

Then he goes on to say that in the place of judgement and justice wickedness exists and that God will judge every deed in time. If you notice, the word “judge” in this context is a verb. It’s an action. If you look at the dictionary definition, the word “judge” just means “to form an opinion about” or to “make a decision about” (as in a court case).

In the context of the verses, Solomon is saying that everything will be brought into judgement in time. This is a subtle way of saying that ALL of your actions have meaning. Solomon is being paradoxical. Later on he will lament the fact that everything is meaningless, but in this verse he’s saying that every deed will be judged by God himself. This looks like a paradox, but it isn’t. What is actually being conveyed here in this chapter is that in this moment of your life, there are two contexts to your actions. The first is the context of the whole universe and all of time. In that sense, your actions here are but a blip…a vapor…here today, gone tomorrow. But if you zoom way into the context of your life, your actions have profound meaning (as they will be judged by God).

This is beautiful. It shows the power of perspective. It gives insight into the nature of depression and how it plays with your mind. I’ve battled with depression off and on for my whole life. In my most depressed moments, I notice that my mind will take me to that place of insignificance. When you realize that in a hundred years, it’s unlikely that nobody walking the earth at that time will even know you existed, it begins to play with your mind. You start to look at life as meaningless and without purpose because your existence here is such a tiny blip on the radar of time. There are trillions of people who have walked this earth before you that you will never know.

However, the more you zoom in, the more you begin to see that your actions in the present moment have profound meaning. Within the scope of your life you will touch many people. Your actions today will shape those who will be here tomorrow. You may not know all those people who lived 100 years ago, but you remember your grandparents. None of my grandparents are alive right now. Their names have been erased from the databases of the living and they exist right now as but an obituary and a tombstone. To those outside of my family, nobody will ever know who Herb and Judy or Frank and Lola were.

But I remember. My first memory is of my grandfather giving me a piggy back ride and giving me those pepto-bismol tasting little red mints. I remember my grandmothers babysitting us. I remember the time my brother and I went after her with a baseball bat like we were going to hit her (and the worst spanking of my life when my parents found out). I remember her teaching me how to make fudge. I remember my other grandmother telling me hilarious stories from her youth. These people shaped who I am today, and I, in turn, shape those who come after me. The world doesn’t know who they are now, but I will carry the memory of them with me until I die. In this way, their influence outlives them.

My point is that when you begin to feel the pointlessness of life, it’s because you’ve zoomed out too far. You’ve made life impersonal and, thus, inconsequential. The way back from that is to start paying attention to how your actions have meaning in the context of the present. When you ground yourself to the present moment, everything has profound meaning. The more you see your life in the context of the present moment, the happier you will be.

The Beauty in Purpose

18 I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. 19 Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”

22 So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot. For who can bring them to see what will happen after them?

This might be the only place in the bible where you’re going to see an author talk about how humans and animals are on the same level. Solomon makes an observation that the humans have no advantage over animals because, in the end, we both die. Then he poses a question: “Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” What a weird question for someone in the bible to ask. Doesn’t the bible talk endlessly about what awaits us when we die?

It seems Solomon was having an existential crises. It’s like all his wisdom has drawn him to the conclusion that his life was meaningless and that there was nothing beyond it. He’s showing his human side here. He’s showing that side that is in all of us, the one that questions our existence and the meaning behind it. In the end he concludes that there is nothing better than for a person to enjoy their work.

I could write a whole book on this. He’s talking about the notion of purpose. If you find yourself in a state of hopelessness, it’s because you’ve lost your sense of purpose. Viktor Frankl wrote a fantastic book on the subject — A Man’s Search for Meaning. He concluded that purpose is not about your circumstance. He noticed that the happiest, most adjusted people in the concentration camps of World War II were the ones who found meaning in their misery. The ones who decided to make the best of the situation and help others. From this book, he created a whole branch of psychology known as logo-therapy (therapy designed to help people find purpose in their lives). One of my favorite quotes comes from that book:

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Stephen Covey talks about it in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. He talks about the space we have between the moment something happens to us and the moment we respond. In that space we have the power to choose our reaction. Solomon is the founder of that notion, and it’s written right here in this verse. He’s saying that there is no “man behind the curtain.” This is it. This is life. It changes with the seasons. It holds no major meaning in the scope of the universe. There’s no big secret to discover. There is only the present moment and what you decide to do with it.

It’s an odd thing to see in the bible, because the rest of the bible seems to imply that your purpose is to serve God and to do his will. I don’t think that Solomon is meaning to contradict that. I think that Solomon is expressing his innermost struggles and the path he followed that led him to this existential crisis. At the end of the book of Solomon he concludes that the duty of all mankind is to fear God and to keep his commandments.

Life will bring you down. Hardships will come and go. But there is a greater meaning and purpose to all things. However, we are not able to see that greater purpose because we are chained to the present. Life will go better for us if we choose to focus on the present and trust that our actions and our work are part of that greater plan. One day we might know how our actions fit into the grand scheme of things. Right now, however, your job is to focus on your purpose. To enjoy the little things. If you want to be happy, you have to see the beauty in your pain and toil, tweak your perspective to the present moment, and develop a deep and meaningful purpose for your life. Every moment of your life will one day be revealed to be beautiful in its time.

If you enjoyed this post, feel free to leave a comment below. Also, please share it with someone who could use encouragement. Thank you for your patience and God bless!