“Words, words, words! So many words! They are wearisome things;and yet people cannot refrain from speaking.” Ecclesiastes 1:8
When I got the idea for this series, I was in the midst of a personal crisis. I was working as a front desk receptionist in a small office. My job was to answer phone calls and emails, but there were many days when the phone never rang and I never received an email. It was a strange job.
Things like jobs which make us scratch our heads are often the perfect diving boards for new ideas. I was sitting in the office one morning in 2015, reading about the Syrian refugee crisis and nearly having a meltdown. Here I was, a middle-class American with a super easy job, sitting on my bum doing nothing for these desperate souls. I am an INFJ; we are designed to feel the pain of others, no matter the physical distance. We are designed to desire to help in some meaningful way. We are designed to try our darned best to fix the brokenness in the world. But it was 2015 and, thanks to social media and other outlets, the world was sitting on my desk. There was so much information, and yet so little I could do to help. This weighed heavily on me.
Seeing as I was a million miles away, had little money of my own (compared to what it would take to make a significant difference from a political standpoint) and technically had a workday ahead of me at the office, I was paralyzed. I was faced with a fork in the proverbial road. I could continue reading about the refugees, continue wishing I could help, wallow in my own disuse and inabilities. The only destination of this route would climax in a tearful puddle with the satisfaction that I had accomplished one thing that day: empathy. Or, I could close all the tabs, put the pain out of my mind and heart and carry on with my typical day. After all, there was little I could do and it wasn’t technically my responsibility anyway.
The problem was, my heart could only travel one path while in my mind I knew the reality of my life in America, my circumstances and geographical placement, could only travel the other. I was at a crossroad and I was was being internally dismembered.
I have some background with humanitarian work, as I often traveled to Haiti with my M.D. father as a kid. I had flashbacks to ridiculous donations and burdensome missionaries. I then thought about the spiritual needs of these people I was feeling so much sympathy for, and how they far outweighed the physical needs. I wondered how I could have ever served myself a second helping of…anything, while people starved somewhere else. I berated myself for ever complaining, I silently berated folks I heard criticizing the destitute and politicizing the clear words of Jesus. I considered what my small savings could possibly do for a refugee family and came up empty-handed. I asked myself for the millionth time if I should leave my family and spend my life serving overseas. I begged Jesus to forgive me for my apparent idiocy, as I could arrive at almost no real conclusions.
My mind then turned to Ecclesiastes, one of the books of the Bible I had always regarded with hesitancy. Ecclesiastes was written by the author of Proverbs, but Proverbs always seemed to make so much more sense. Ecclesiastes has always bewildered me, but I found some comfort in it that morning in the office. I nodded along with Solomon with tears in my eyes. What was the use, after all? What was the point of any of my efforts? Why feed one man, when another will go hungry? Why try?
Solomon was voicing the cynicism of my own heart in words I could never find myself.
We will talk more about cynicism later, but that day I had a revelation about vanity that changed my perspective on basically everything. And yet, I was still left with one question, and it was a big one. How are we supposed to enjoy this abundant life which Jesus said he came to give us (John 10:10) if the thief was constantly stealing, killing and destroying our every effort? How were we supposed to bear the fruits of the Spirit like joy and peace when all was vanity?
Not being one to either believe that the Bible truly contradicts itself or to give up easily, I resolved to find the answer. The result is the series I am now diving into. I agree with Solomon again when he says, “people cannot refrain from speaking,” and that when “one person may say of some great idea, “Pay attention to this; it’s original!”” That same idea has already been expressed; it’s been with us through all the ages. (Ecc. 1:10.) This series isn’t going to be original. It has truly been with us through all the ages. These thoughts are just Lady Wisdom, perched in a high place in your city, crying out in a new voice. No, not even that. Just a new inflection. Proverbs says she has been with us always, “The Eternal created me; it happened when His work was beginning, one of His first acts long ago.” (Proverbs 8:22.) She loves those who love her and those who search hard for her will surely find her, and their paths will be made straight and their pockets will be full of the good things of God, and they will be happy.
With promises like that, I would’ve been a fool not to pack my knapsack and immediately set out on a quest for this lady the ancient texts speak of. This series really isn’t anything new, but isn’t it the ancient stars that light our new year nights? Come, journey with me.
(This is the introduction to a new series at carolinerosekraft.com. Each month of the year 2016, I will share new reflections on a chapter of a Ecclesiastes. Please read along and share your own reflections in the comment section as we seek the “wisdom, knowledge + joyfulness” Ecclesiastes promises. All scripture references are from The Voice translation unless otherwise noted.)