“Next I began some enormous projects…” Ecclesiastes 2:4
Early yesterday evening found me sitting on my floor with my laptop, a cold cup of coffee, my wallet and my phone. I was sweating through the same shirt I had worn the day before, my hair was unbrushed and I hadn’t had dinner. I was buying an ISBN number and barcode, two things I never knew I would learn so much about, and emailing folks asking them to endorse my new book (hence the sweat!) My Bible study leader called me and I let it go to voicemail. I was busy and I didn’t know what to tell her. I hadn’t done any of my homework and Revelation 17 isn’t exactly a text you can just jump into with Sunday School answers.
A little while later she texted and asked if I could talk. My phone buzzed and I took the call. She is seriously the sweetest. We talked about trichotillomania, not isolating ourselves and how she wanted me to come to Bible study anyway, unprepared and unkempt as a I was. And she asked me how she can pray for me.
I told her about the book I have just written, am almost done illustrating and am trying to self-publish. I told her it is just a big, big project on a tight deadline. “I work best under pressure,” I told her. “So I am doing this to myself! But still, pray I don’t get overwhelmed. It’s just a lot of work and a lot of new stuff.”
This conversation led me to backtrack a little in Ecclesiastes. It’s March now and I’m eager to break into chapter three, but there was just so much good stuff in chapter two that kept coming back to me. In Solomon’s journey to find something worthwhile and lasting, he does what many of us do today. He threw himself headfirst into his work.
“Next, I began some enormous projects, building my own houses and planting my own vineyards. I designed impressive gardens and parks and planted them with all kinds of fruit trees. I installed pools of water to irrigate the forests of young saplings. I acquired male and female servants; I even had servants born into my household. I had herds of cattle, flocks of sheep and goats—more than anyone who had ever lived in Jerusalem before me. I amassed a fortune in silver and gold, and I stockpiled the treasures of kings and provinces.” Ecclesiastes 2:4-8
I doubt Solomon would’ve seen my children’s book as enormous or even “big” compared to his projects, houses, vineyards, parks and livestock. In reality, it’s not. But Solomon was using a man-made measuring stick for his accomplishments. Though he tried to find satisfaction in his work, he realized he was really trying to find satisfaction in accomplishments. You know, those gratifying little check-marks on your to-do list. Gold stars.
“…my work was it’s own reward!” Solomon concludes in verse 10. Even becoming “far greater than anyone who had ever lived in Jerusalem before…” did not please him. And I love verse 9: “And still, wisdom never left my side.”
Then “The Teacher” reflects on what will become of all of his grand projects when he’s gone. Whether wise or foolish, rich or poor, we all face the same fate: the grave. Here, I picture him blowing a house of cards all over the royal feasting table. He’s done. Life is too hard, and meaningless. “I began to hate life.” He confesses.
And what’s more, he hates all the work he has done. Soon he would die and leave all of his earthly treasures, be them vineyards or cattle or gold, to whomever comes after him. It was all too true in the case of Solomon. His son, Rehoboam, would take the throne after him and his foolish reign would lead to Israel’s division into two kingdoms, never to be united again. His reign also brought civil war and the Egyptian invasion. Surely much, if not all, of Solomon’s great projects were razed during this era.
Wisdom is truly satisfying to the wise, but I’m not 100% wise. Sometimes my foolish heart looks for satisfaction in other ways. This issue epitomizes the plight of the Israelites throughout the whole Old Testament.
I had an unconventional upbringing. Though my parents were loving and attentive and made me feel valuable, I sometimes wanted approval from others even more. Sure, my family told me I was pretty, but maybe if I just had clothes like that other girl, I would be beautiful in the eyes of the world. Sure, I was told that I was naturally gifted and intelligent, but I sometimes wanted the grades to prove it (my parents never graded.) I knew I was a writer, but I wanted to hear it from the mouth of a acclaimed author, not just my grandparents. I knew I had worth, but I wanted to be seen as worthy by men. The list goes on.
My adult life has been just as unconventional. I told my mom the other day as we enjoyed sandwiches in a quiet restaurant, that I don’t know what will happen in my life, but I definitely know what God’s plan is. Almost without fail, whenever I am faced with a decision or a fork in the proverbial road, God gives me the same map. If one path goes up to a mountain top where I will be visible and revered, I know my map is going to lead down the windy, shady trail whose destination I cannot foresee.
Even though I have always made it clear that I don’t want to go to college, I sometimes think about getting a degree just to show the world I can do it. Why not surprise them with a Master’s or Phd while I’m at it? And even though my marital status has everything to do with being as picky as stubborn as a baby mule (if you follow my metaphor,) I sometimes wish I had a handsome husband, just so people would believe I’m appealing and pleasant. Even though I choose to stay at home, I sometimes want to be independent just prove to the world that I can be.
The foolish part of my heart wants to be “far greater than anyone…” And yet, wisdom never leaves my side. I may do so reluctantly, but I tighten my hiking boots and venture down the dimly dappled path each time.
Deep down I knew I wasn’t going to marry very young. Down the dappled path of singleness. Deep down, I knew I wasn’t going to be published by a big name in 2012. Down the dappled path of self-publication. Deep down I knew I wasn’t going to become the next Pioneer Woman and have millions of people following my blog. Down the dappled path of writing for a few.
There are no gift showers for single women. There is little respect for the self-published author. There are no awards for consistently writing blog posts only a few people read. There are on prizes for folks on the low, dim path.
But oh, how much worse would it be to be on that mountain? To have the accomplishments, the diplomas, the golden ring, the accolades, the applause and spotlight and glory? How much worse to say, “Well, here I am. I have arrived. This is what is is to be ‘something’ in this world.”
I’m sure if I were on that kind of mountain top, my heart would feel as if it were in the center of the earth. I would wonder, along with King Solomon, “What exactly do people get out of all their work and all the stresses they put themselves through here under the sun?” And I would finally understand why celebrities are constantly chasing the winds of drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, relationships, awards, treatments, reinventions and even suicide. A 1995 study showed that the average lifespan of someone considered a celebrity was only 58, compared to the average lifespan of “regular folks” which was, at the time, 72. The article where I found the statistics ended with these ominous, Solomonic words:
“Today, men seek the kind of approval that applauds not their actions, but their personal attributes,” Lasch continued. “They wish to be not so much esteemed as admired. They crave not fame, but the glamour and excitement of celebrity. They want to be envied rather than respected. Pride and acquisitiveness… have given way to vanity.” The Other Side of Fame
Do you see what this means? When we chase after approval from others, when we do things just so maybe we will be envied by lookers-on, we are striving for something that is satisfying, but it gives away (yet again) to vanity. That awful, empty word. That word the dictionary defines as “a lack of real value.” We are searching for value, begging for value, and we might accomplish all we set out to do…and yet, the result is a terrible, echoing hole where our value should be.
This post is getting long and this topic could literally turn into a thick book, but before you close this page and go and jump in a lake because “all is vanity,” I want to say one more thing. Wisdom truly is satisfying and it has never left my side, because wisdom is Jesus. Jesus, who brought us into the upside-down kingdom. He was a prince who became a pauper, the God who came to serve. He taught us to love those who hate us and to bless those who curse us. He said that to die is to live, to be poor is to be blessed, to give is to receive, to lose is to gain. The first shall be last, the least of these shall be lifted the highest, the humble shall be exalted.
I am not always obedient. My foolish heart tugs this way and that. But wisdom never leaves my side. And again, I stoop to go through the low gateway and I leave a few more friends behind. The blue ribbons get tattered and dull, I misplace my trophies and moths eat my fancy clothes. Lower, lower I walk in this upside-down planet, and somehow I wind up in high places.
“The Eternal Lord is my strength!
He has made my feet like the feet of a deer;
He allows me to walk on high places.” Habakkuk 3:19
Caroline Rose Kraft