July is a busy month for our family. We have birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays to commemorate, each bringing its own sense of joy and reason to celebrate. As I watched my 91-year-old mother laugh with my soon to be 30-year-old daughter, I was immediately transported back to her birth. As my 86-year-old mother-in law-bent her head close to hear Jim tell a story, I reflected that I have been married and a part of her family longer than I was single. As my son and his new bride marked their third year of marriage, I remarked to my daughter-in-law’s mother that it seems impossible that it had been three years. So much life has been lived in what seems like a blink of an eye.
One of the birthdays we celebrate in July is my husband’s. Jim and I are the same age, so we hit the age milestones together. We have been married close to 31 years. We have celebrated and cried as we have built our life together. We have seen seasons come and go. We had to learn how to navigate each season as it came, never sure how it would end but knowing who held all our days in His hands.
This was not a milestone birthday year. We are smack dab in the middle of our fifties (well okay, closer to our late fifties). What struck me this year, a year marked by blissful routine, is that time is a one-way street. We cannot turn the clock back. I must admit as I age, I have come to agree with Mark Twain, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Not because I begrudge the young the energy I once had or the sense of wonder in every new first they encounter, I just wish that the wisdom that comes with age could somehow be transferred to those on the front end of their journey. I wonder how my life would have been different if I had the insights about life I now have.
Chapter 2 of Ecclesiastes ends with Solomon once again lamenting that life is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. My heart breaks for him. How thankful I am that I know the ending…stay tuned for his conclusion in the last chapter of the book; it makes the journey worth it. Solomon has only just started to dissect life in the early chapters of the book. As each facet has the spotlight turned on it, he decides it simply is not meaningful. Then, in a moment of clarity, he gives us an insight so true, so profound that when I finally embraced its truth, I found it a guide post for living. These simple verses give us a framework that keeps us from being overwhelmed by life.
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
He starts out with the summary statement, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” I wish I had embraced this truth as a much younger woman! I was such a Martha. You know Martha, the woman that Jesus pointed out was distracted by many things. I wanted it all, and I wanted it all at once. I did not have the wisdom to know that life is made up of seasons. The wisdom to know that I could not cling to a season for longer than it was intended. That I needed God’s strength to not get bogged down in a season I was meant to walk steadfastly through. To know that God is glorified as much in the process as He is when the final goal is accomplished. To know that to reap, I needed to sow.
Verses 2-8 are so freeing. Solomon’s words give us freedom. Freedom to laugh, freedom to cry, to work, to rest. To set boundaries and to tear them down. God, through the pen of Solomon, is giving us a glimpse of “above the sun” thinking. We need to apply wisdom to our circumstances and put the lens of eternity over them. A common Tracey-ism is “in light of eternity does this matter?” Heck, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Will this matter tomorrow? In 2 weeks? In a year? Once I started to use this grid, I found I could discern what path I should follow, what decision was best, what I should pursue.
Without Ecclesiastes 3 thinking, I was routinely disappointed, confused and discouraged. I had yet to learn that there were no cookie-cutter answers in life. Each circumstance had more than one appropriate response. More than one possible outcome. More than one course of action. I needed to take time. Time to consider. To pray. I could impact the world for God, in my own little corner, in my own little world (thank you, Cinderella). Work took on a new meaning when I realized that it was not the task at hand as much as the people I did it with that mattered. When I was a young mother, I needed to find new ways to minister. I found coordinating a Sunday Morning ministry made the most sense since our kids were in the children’s program. As I am aging, I have had to learn to say “No.” I cannot do what I once could; both my brain and body are slowing down. That does not make me a failure, it shows my humanity. All kingdom work brings God glory. Conversations on the sidelines of kids’ soccer games have been replaced with conversations playing cards at the senior center. Conversations at small group have changed from how to parent to how to be good in-laws and grandparents. It is all part of the normal ebb and flow of life. We need to embrace each season for what it brings and what it teaches us.
These verses are also a source of protection. We can use them to protect ourselves from the lies of the evil one. We know that with life comes death, joy, and sorrow. God is telling us not to expect a life filled with sunny skies and fair winds. We will experience every one of the scenarios that Solomon paints. In these verses Solomon seems to break free of his “woeful” view of life and see the big picture. We live in a fallen world. We need to take the good with the bad. Job says it best: “shall we accept good from God but not the evil?”. These verses help me navigate life without blaming God for what simply is. They also help me know that in most cases “this too shall pass.”
The one-way nature of time is a reality. The best we can do is embrace that truth and live accordingly.
Paul tells us in Philippians 3, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Paul did not allow seasons of failure to define him. He did not let seasons of persecution stop him. Paul did not grow lazy in seasons of plenty or despair when he knew want. He sang praises in prison and sang praises when in church. Paul, much like Solomon learned there is a season for all things. May we all join them!
Tracey Paradis and her husband Jim live in King of Prussia. Tracey serves as the Director of Women’s Ministry at Hope Community Church and does her best to fill her days with people, ministry, and at least one bout of uncontrollable laughter.