A good name is worth more than the finest perfume, and the day you die is better than the day you were born. In the same way, it is better to go to a funeral than a celebration. Why? Because death is the end of life’s journey, and the living should always take that to heart. Sorrow beats foolish laughter; embracing sadness somehow gladdens our hearts. A wise heart is well acquainted with grief, but a foolish heart seeks only pleasure’s company. (Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 VOICE)
I will close today with a few more thoughts about these words from the Teacher in Ecclesiastes.
First, I clumsily write these words mostly for my benefit. I truly struggle with grief. I miss Regina so much. There is an emptiness and void inside of me that I don’t know what to do with. It is dark. We had our not-so-good times during our almost 35 years together, but those aren’t what I think about. I think about the times we laughed, did things together, had fun with the kids, and solved problems together. I enjoyed eating dinner out with her – she so much liked not having to cook so she would always prefer to eat out somewhere. Good times. And now it’s all gone. So, yes. I hurt and wrestle with grief every day.
But second, and in spite of the black hole in my soul, I sense God’s strong and powerful hand on me all of the time. I can’t disregard the spiritual urges and coaxes that continually stream into my mind and heart. God is busy and up to something. I’m not sure just yet what he wants me to do or where he wants me to go, but I grow more sure every day that he isn’t done with me yet. I’m a wounded soldier and I am some damaged goods, but something moves in me that says that there are a few more things that God wants me to take care of before my time is up. I only hope that I can hang on long enough.
And third, I like the words of the Teacher but not because I see them as being moribund and depressing. Instead, I see them as steadying. As I discussed previously, some of us have spent a lifetime trying and attempting desperately to laugh and feel good all of the time. We want everything to be fun. And how has that pursuit worked out?
Instead, the Teacher tells us how we need to live and pursue a balanced life. He tells us how we need to be happy but also how we need to face and appropriately deal with the shadows of loss and grief. In being strong enough to see, sense, and balance happiness and grief, we become better people.
No one is sure who actually wrote Ecclesiastes. It might have been Solomon or it might have been any number of his advisers or counselors. Regardless, Solomon probably influenced – directly or indirectly – the words and ideas presented in Ecclesiastes. Here is the thing – Solomon or his people talk about the difficulties of life but they also talk about the goodness of life. Over thirty times in his Book of Proverbs, Solomon himself talks about being filled up with a quality and content life. For example:
– A joyful heart is good medicine (Prov 17:22 NASB)
– A joyful heart makes a cheerful face (Prov 15:13 NASB)
– But a cheerful heart has a continual feast (Prov 15:15 NASB)
Likewise, the Psalmist wrote:
– This is the day which the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalms 118:24 NASB)
No, the words of the Teacher are not meant to be depressing but, rather, they are meant to be words of balance. We need to learn how to equally and appropriately distribute our emotions – all of our emotions – across the broad spectrum of our lives. In balance, we will find contentment and humble satisfaction. Good stuff!
And finally, fourth. There are ways to do things and there are better ways of doing things. I get a kick out of the Red Green Show. Red Green is the guy who says that if something isn’t broken, you aren’t trying hard enough. I once saw an interview with Steve Smith, one of the creators of the show and actor who plays the irrepressible but over-achieving, accident-prone handyman Red Green. Steve said that the magic behind the award winning show came from the fact that the directors and writers were able to keep coming up with legitimate needs that a person might desire and then having the actors demonstrate reasonable but almost impossible solutions to satisfy the needs. For example, maybe a guy thinks he needs a rolling toolbox wherein to store all of his tools. Red proceeds to show us how to make a rolling toolbox from an old, discarded refrigerator. Or maybe a guy thinks he needs to get his van washed and cleaned. Red proceeds to show how to rig up water hoses in his garage in order to build a self-serve drive-through van wash. All of the needs are legitimate but the solutions are over-the-top and, while almost feasible, simply will not work! The solutions were good ideas, but they weren’t better ideas.
I also remember receiving Radio Shack catalogs when I was younger. Do you remember how Radio Shack would often market their product offerings and configurations as being Good, Better, and Best? For example, the Good amplifier would have three knobs and 10 watts of stereo power in a basic black console. The Better amplifier had seven knobs, 20 watts of stereo power, and a swell swept-metal case. And the Best? It had 50 watts of quadraphonic power, 21 knobs, LED back-lighting, and a titanium, water-proofed case. What a great way to shop! The idea was that a consumer could pick a better solution to his problem. After all, who would want just a Good product when, for a few dollars more, there was a better solution by purchasing the Better or Best product. Well, this might have been a slightly cynical way of marketing – it played on greed and envy. But you get the idea.
The Teacher talks about, in Ecclesiastes, better ways to live. Instead of being satisfied with what is normal, self-imposed, and seemingly satisfying, the Teacher tells that there is a better way to exist. Instead of going with gut feeling and instinct, the Teacher suggests a better way – face grief and pain head-on, square-on and master it! Take grief and learn from it. Let grief become a partner – not a nemesis. Master grief instead of becoming a slave to it. The better way, the Teacher tells us, will lead to a life of much more contentment, resolution, and humble happiness.
The better way. Let’s pursue it together.