One of the hardest parts of working with students over the years has been watching them make poor decisions for their life and react to minor events in major ways. I imagine this is the same pain that every parent goes through. This desire to protect them against all the evil in the world and the wish that they would listen to your advice are overpowering at times. For deep down you know that they need to take ownership and experience life themselves in both small and big events. However, standing back and watching them go through the ups and downs when all you want for them is to see the joy can be agonizing some days.
I couldn’t help but notice that the author in Ecclesiastes chapters 11 & 12 understood this as they continually remind the readers to remember God and enjoy life while they are young, because life doesn’t always get better as we get older. Those of us who are more seasoned in life can attest to that truth. What we thought was a “big deal” when we were young is not even close to the “big deals” that we deal with as adults. Our views of pain, suffering, troubles, and frustrations all change as we experience more of life.
As someone who works with students daily, both in my day job and at the church, I always want the best for them. I want them to see the world is bigger than themselves and that they can control their actions, emotions, and how they respond to the world around them. As humans we often want the best for ourselves and those that surround us: kids, grandkids, siblings, parents. We want them to live a healthy and happy life. We desire for them to approach every day full of life and joy, finding the beauty of all that God has created, whether that be a sunset, puppies, rain, a good book, anything.
However, in a world that is full of sin, natural disasters, destruction, and emotion, finding that joy and celebrating God can be very difficult. I was caught off guard by the strong language that was used to describe dealing with these negative emotions in chapter 11 vs 10. The NLT says, “refuse to worry” – be “unwilling to accept” it, as Merriam Webster says it. The NIV says, “banish anxiety…and cast off the troubles,” and the NASB says “remove grief and anger.” If you look at the origin of the word, it means to depart from, to abolish, to reject.
I’m not sure when the last time was that I actually worked at rejecting or abolishing a thought or complaint or anxious moment that came into my brain. Often we let the thoughts fester slightly; we allow them to sit and stew instead of instantly rejecting them, not even accepting them into our train of thought. When we get angry or judgmental, do we abolish it, reject it? As anxiety and worry enters our hearts do we banish it, not even allowing it to sit for a moment?
Many days I struggle to see God’s beauty and experience His joy. I wonder why can’t I see it; why am I not a joyful person? But I have seen that it is not that I don’t see God’s beauty or His love, but it is that I am so full of worry, anxiety, judgment, negative thoughts, and depression, that even with all the good I see, there is no room for it to fill me up. To see God more clearly I must say NO; I must abolish and banish the other thoughts that cloud my day. It’s not always about “choosing” joy, but it IS about choosing to NOT listen to all the negative thoughts and desires that occur. It IS about choosing to NOT let an event overtake our life.
At the end of Ecclesiastes as a summary of the book the author states,
“Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.”
And in Matthew 22:36-39,
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?
Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Our duty as mankind and followers of Christ is to love God and love people. But we can’t do that if we are bogged down by the “Eeyore complex” or the “glass half empty” view of life. To have room in our lives in our hearts for God’s love and His joy or to see His beauty all around us, we must FIRST rid our lives or anxiety, judgement, complaining, worry and all other negative thoughts. This action is not a once and done; these things will continually find their ways back in, but we have to be ready to banish them, to reject them, and to refuse to let them take over and steal the ability to see and experience all that God has in store for us.
Elisabeth Evenson and her husband Daniel have both been a part of Hope for years. Elisabeth started serving with our youth 12 years ago as an intern. After a few years of serving youth in Vermont she returned to be an assistant director for Youth@Hope, at which point she and Daniel crossed paths. When she’s not working and serving our youth, you might find her enjoying a great sunset or cooking or baking something tasty to give to others.