Sometimes life has a funny way of flipping on us. One day all seems to be going great and then it knocks us down cold with a sucker punch. If you have lived very long you know this to be true. Life is full of ups and downs or hills and valleys as some would say. If your life is anything like mine those hills and valleys seem to be happening in the same moment. I can't figure out if I going up or if I'm on my way down. Happiness in one aspect and sadness in another. And Sadness has a way of saying, "What do you have to be happy about anyway? Can't you see you're struggling here! You have no space for Happy in your life."
The thing is whether climbing up the side of a mountain slope or going down it is an equally difficult journey. Our legs ache and our lungs scream for air on the way up while we cringe at the thought that one miss step on a steep downward slope could send us tumbling all the way to the bottom. I'm not sure I really get the whole hiking thing but I do know that I appreciate the level path more than the rugged climb. Even if you are not a hiker, you can appreciate the picture of the trail opening onto a beautiful, lush meadow. Your breathing slows and your comfort level rises and you begin to think, "This was totally worth it!"
On my recent trek through Ecclesiastes I had to pause and think. In the midst of woe and meaningless whining about life, its struggles and its distractions we find Solomon encouraging us to find satisfaction in the simple things. He takes it down to the basic level each of us live at. Eat, drink and work. That's it. We can be content with what we have or we can strive, climb and worry our lives away to which Solomon would point out is "Meaningless."
Solomon also speaks to the things in life that come to us through no action on our part-the illness, the accident, the down sizing, the prodigal child- he tells us, "When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this: God has made the one as well as the other." And then he says," Remember that nothing is certain in this life. I have seen everything in this meaningless life, including the death of good young people and the long life of wicked people." [7:14-14 NLT]
Solomon is pointing out there is no checklist or formula to living the perfect life. "Nothing is certain." No matter who we are, how closely we follow the Lord, or how much faith we possess S*** Happens. I'm sorry if I am offensive but lets be realistic. When life gets hard don't you think, "This STINKS!"?
Woe is universal. It strikes us all. It doesn't matter if we are righteous or wicked we will meet up with it eventually. There is no escape. But in the passage from Ecclesiastes it says, "...consider this: God has made the one as well as the other." And that's when we think,"Really, Lord. I'm doing the best I can and now this! There is no hope here." But when the disappointment subsides and we can begin to see clearly again that's when we can actually can start to realize that God is indeed in those dark days as well working to bring about things that could happen any other way. Blessings in disguise some would say.
One 'undercover' blessing came to me at very critical time in my life as they always do. My dad was dying. His body was ravaged with cancer brought on by his lifestyle choices. No amount of prayer was going to turn the tide on this one. Nor did I even think God was working here. After all, Dad had indicated the church would fall down if he ever entered it. So to protect the other parishioners he stayed clear of the building on Sundays. It seemed as though he had turned his back on God. The real truth is he felt unworthy but a few months before my dad's death came a new revelation.
On one of my last visits my dad was calling each of us aside and presenting us with a gift of a personal item he held dear throughout his life. His hunting knife, his hat, his rifle, his watch went to various siblings. They were just things he knew we would like or he just wanted us to have to remember him by. When he got to me he said, "Sis, I don't have anything in my box for you." I shrugged it off with, "That's OK, Dad," knowing his love was really enough. But then he went on to say he wanted me to know he had made his peace with God and he had finally trusted him with his life.
Oh, My God! [reverently, of course] You are truly a God of miracles! I cannot tell you the pleasure I found in hearing my dad's profession of faith. A long season of prayer was answered and a daughter's broken heart restored. And that's not all. When it came time for his passing God blessed me again by allowing me to be with Dad when he saw the light of heaven. He pointed it out to me but my eyes that were still anchored to this earth could not see it. He went on his way to an eternal life with Jesus. A beautiful thing, indeed.
You know, I think I beg to differ with our wise man, Solomon, on the point that nothing is certain in life. I believe you can know for certain what the future holds. For instance, I know for certain that God is with me whether I am in good times or bad. [Deuteronomy 31:6] I know that because of his presence I will survive the bad times. [Psalm 16] But not only that. I will be blessed through them. There will be joy in them. Perhaps not about what I wanted or expected but joy all the same. I will look back and realize it was not a meaningless exercise but a time when God's power and glory as well as his love and compassion were on display in my life. [Romans 8:18, 28] And I have no doubt God will continue involve himself all aspects, good and bad, of my life. That is something I can count on. His ways are certain.
At the end of this particular portion of Scripture in Ecclesiastes Solomon states, "It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all [extremes]." I believe he is talking about grasping the good and the bad that comes to our lives. Hold them in your heart. Look for God and his wisdom in each situation. Know that God is at work bringing not just a good but the best outcome. This is what brings that sense of ease even in the midst of turmoil. When we do this it is like that experience we talked about in the beginning, the stepping onto that peaceful meadow. Trusting that God is in control of all situations allows us to stand in awe of the beauty he is creating in and around us. When we do we will surely find ourselves breathing out, "Now, this is totally worth it."