Everyone keeps asking if we are “settled in” yet.
“We are physically settled in. But we are yet to be emotionally settled in,” I reply.
What really does “settled” mean anyway? When I hear that word, I actually first think of it as a science word. I have in my mind a raging river, carrying rocks and particles of all sizes for miles and miles until finally, the water dries up, the rocks accumulate, settle into place, and cement together. Apparently the technical term is “sedimentary rock.” Limestone, sandstone, and shale are all examples of a rock that never started as a solid singular piece, but nature had its way through decades of time, and eventually the sand settled and stuck. Bam. Solid. Settled. Sedimentary rock.
I’d say we achieved “sedimentary rock status” for some years in Nebraska. But even still, I’d say probably only physically.
Have we ever been emotionally settled?
But the real question is, is it possible for anyone to ever actually be settled? And on top of that, is it even good for a person to be firmly “settled?” Or is that state of matter only good for geology?
“All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.” (Ecclesiastes 1:7)
What is “normal?” What is a regular routine? What defines our lives and lifestyles?
Yes, we have patterns of living that make it appear that we have mastered some sense of settling. But then a kid gets sick, a pandemic hits, catastrophe strikes, rain comes pouring down unannounced, or someone you love dies.
Life is predictable… until it’s not.
“All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.” (Ecclesiastes 1:8)
We arrived in Minnesota full of zeal and wide-eyed excitement. But only after the initial adrenaline started to abate, did I find myself looking inquisitively into my husband’s face and asking, “What are we doing here? What on earth are we actually doing here?”
I know what I am doing here physically. I am physically doing all the same things that I was doing back in Nebraska pretty much. I’m still doing the dishes, training the kids, changing diapers, going on walks, reading my Bible, hanging out with people, on and on. And I know what Bobby is physically doing here: seminary. Duh. Of course.
But what are we really doing here?!
This week we were faced with a very hard decision. In summary, the Lord put before Bobby two ministry jobs in two vastly different contexts, and our insight felt extremely limited. The decision forced us again to ask the question in a whole new nuance, “Why are we here? What are we doing here?”
Well, the Lord moved our hearts in a very mysterious and peculiar way, and the decision has come and gone, and I find the adrenaline of that new decision abating yet again. I don’t feel satisfied. I don’t feel settled. So I turn to Ecclesiastes.
I know the book of Ecclesiastes is a strange one to most of us. It’s one of those books that makes you raise your eyebrows. Is that verse true on how God sees the world, or is the author being cynical regarding how we experience the world? I absolutely love the book of Ecclsiastes. Not because I understand it. I actually love it because I don’t understand it. When I read Ecclsiastes I feel like it listens to me. Not literally. Of course I am not talking audibly to my Bible. No, but Ecclesiastes listens to me. It describes life in the way I feel life. It doesn’t make sense, but life doesn’t make sense. It speaks to how I feel. It puts words into things that I can only sense. And I can’t explain the meaning behind all of the chapters and lines, but for some reason, when I read it, I just get it. I get it, but don’t get it all at the same time. It draws me in. It satisfies the unrest I feel concerning life. It listens to me.
“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— this is God’s gift to man.” (Ecclesiastes 3:12)
The preacher has spoken. Although the thought process in Ecclesiastes goes all over the place, this line is repeated nearly every chapter. This is his big conclusion on this crazy thing we call life. The preacher tells us to be joyful, do good, and take pleasure in our toil. That’s God’s gift to us.
Again he says, “So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?” (Ecclesiates 3:22). And one of my favorites: “Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil – this is the gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 5:19)
Folks, to be honest, I really do not see or experience “pleasure in all my toil.” Nor do I “accept my lot.” I question my lot, and I analyze my toil. I try to figure out my lot by asking a million questions and try to discern all the reasons why my lot is my lot. I plan out my toil, toil over my toil until my toil is full of sweat. I plan-out my toil perfectly in to-do lists and schedules. But rarely, do I ever enjoy it nor take pleasure in it.
I like Ecclesiastes because it challenges me to see life in a way I feel I ought, but don’t naturally do. Oh, if I could only listen to Ecclesiastes the same way that it listens to me!
I don’t know what we are doing here. I don’t know if I will ever know what I am doing anywhere. “For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other… All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.” (Ecclesiastes 3:19a, 20) One thing is certain: I am going to die someday. My lot will end. My toil will end. I will feel the dusty truth of life.
I think that’s why the preacher tells me that my lot and my toil is a gift from God. God has given me this life as a gift. It’s a limited gift. It will end. And that should motivate me, especially in my youth, to enjoy it and rejoice in it.
Why do you think companies advertise their “limited edition” products loudly and obnoxiously in neon letters and dorky jingles? Because it forces the buyer to feel the need to capitalize immediately on its goodness. It forces the buyer to take action before it’s gone.
Well, Ecclesiastes is like a “limited edition” advertisement on life. It laments on the fatal nature of life, but then concludes to capitalize immediately on its goodness. It’s not always clear and clean. It doesn’t always make sense. But we can accept it and rejoice in it. Not as a duty. Not because that’s all there is. But we can receive life, in whatever capacity the Lord gives it, as a gift. Not as a means to get to something else. But as an end itself.
So I don’t know what I’m doing here in Minnesota, but I do know what I’m doing. I’m doing the dishes, training the kids, changing diapers, going on walks, reading my Bible, hanging out with people, and being a seminary wife. And I can choose to either do all of those things unsettled, confused, and begrudgingly. Or I can choose to enjoy them, accept my lot, and take pleasure in my toil.
Dolly just asked me if I would help her dig for worms. It’s 7:00 am. If you need me, I’ll be out worm hunting, because that is the lot that my morning has provided. And I get to receive it (dirt under my fingernails and all) with joy and rejoicing.
“And I commend joy…” (Ecclesiastes 8:15a)