My sweet spot in life is my family. I especially love rainy Sunday afternoons, when the family returns home from church to a Saturday cleaned house without anything on the calendar for the rest of the day.
I assemble an array of healthy and unhealthy snacks, tuck as many kids as I can cram into the couch and we enjoy a movie and each other, luxuriating in a long afternoon of ease, with rest our only mainstay.
We might take a hike once the sky clears, or pull out a board game, even nap. Yet whatever the plan, peace reigns as we enjoy being in family.
Relaxed, we are easy to love. Communication flows with grace. Laughter erupts. Misunderstandings are quickly smoothed over as we choose the sweet gift of rest.
Contrast my Sunday afternoons to any Monday morning. We wake up and gear up, accelerating to keep up, as the demands to parent, work, organize, prepare and succeed strain our limited resources. School lunches are forgotten on the counter. Homework isn’t done. Crisis crashes into our neatly planned out agenda. Conflict snarls angrily. Words are misconstrued. Stress dodges our steps as we struggle to keep every ball in the air, like a bedraggled jester fearing embarrassment before a court of critics, both inward and outward, as always moving, we live frustrated and weary, plowing through days with more demands than time could fulfill.
Solomon did not live in the twenty-first century, but he certainly understood humanity’s propensity to strive and strain in this game of life, which he described as “vanities”. “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does a man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” (Eccles. 1:1-3).
The book of Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s search for the meaning of life. Solomon, wisest man of all the earth, considers many examples of life and states:
Do not be overly righteous, Nor be overly wise: Why should you destroy yourself? Do not be overly wicked,Nor be foolish: Why should you die before your time? It is good that you grasp this, And also not remove your hand from the other;For he who fears God will escape them all (7:16-20).
Note the key word here: overly. People can strive endlessly or utterly disengage but neither bring peace. Solomon saw both ends of this human continuum and resolved that in fearing God, peace arrives to our stressful lives.
As the man who followed his father, King David’s reign, Solomon understood all about the strain to measure up. Before the people of Israel, Solomon gloriously dedicated the magnificent temple to the Lord, and before this same nation, Solomon stumbled head first into idolatry, as he built Ashtoreth poles and Molech shrines to appease his foreign wives, a clear marker of disdain and compromise as a king appointed by God Almighty.
Throughout Ecclesiastes, Solomon wrestles for understanding from the various pleasures of life and comes up empty:
I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly, till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life. I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house. I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces. I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, the delight of the sons of man.So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun (2:1-12)
As Solomon sought to understand the meaning of life, despite pleasure, accumulation of wealth, works of great achievement, none brought him peace. The wisest man who ever lived battled through complex issues of social justice, untimely death, the righteous enduring violence at the hands of the wicked and could not make sense of any of it, often calling life foolish, vain, and worthless. This Hebrew king, who searched every wisdom of the world, finally came face to face with his human inability to understand. In humility, Solomon recognized only God could make sense out of the vast complexity and contradictions of life and his search ended with this conclusion:
Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all.For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil.(Eccles. 12: 13)
Crying “uncle” or rather, “God!”, Solomon finally saluted the Almighty as the sole reason for life on earth.
Just imagine the nation’s gasp, when this King announced “Fear God and keep His commandments.” It would be like Sadam Hussain announcing his conversion to Christ or Ghadafi selling all his assets to give to the poor. A change of heart in public view is rarely seen by global leaders, yet Solomon’s discovery of God as the meaning of life is publicly journaled in Ecclesiastes. Solomon, Israel’s king, renowned for his lust, idolatry, witchcraft and lasciviousness, with over seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines (1 King 11:3), this king who had pursued every vanity on earth, now declared to his subjects, “Just fear God. Obey Him. It’s the only place of freedom. It is the only advice I can give. Fear the God of Israel if you want a life worth living.”
In finding God, Solomon found equanimity. Equanimity is defined by Webster as “evenness of mind especially under stress and right disposition meaning, balance”. It comes from the Latin word, aequo animo, meaning “ with even mind”[i].
Perhaps, like me, you desire equanimity in life, for both the mess of Mondays and the peace of sublime Sunday afternoons. Solomon discovered internal steadiness when he chose to fear God and keep His commandments. Balance in the stress arrives when we choose to fear God, to seek His face despite the ongoing juggling act of life on the planet. Solomon’s profound conclusion in Ecclesiastes is that God is the answer to every quest.
As our hearts are captured by God’s love, it’s like being tucked under Mama’s arms on a Sunday afternoon, every day of the week, or nestled between Father and Mother Goose on a windy lake. Safe, protected, certain of His care, we move closer to Our Father when we reverence Him; there in that place of worship, the vanities of life do not crush us. Just as Solomon shifted when he chose God as his grid for understanding, may we discover this holy constant and prove it true through the grace and power of God.
Let’s pray: Lord, like Solomon, we have sought to understand life through our myopic lense of human understanding. Yet this day, Father, we choose to fear You and keep Your commandments, that equanimity will come. May peace abide in our choice for You, O God. May Your Spirit guide us to keep Your Word. May Jesus Christ be glorified as we live consumed by Your Love. And may we always follow You closely, Father, for there is the sweetest spot of life! Amen.
This Week’s Reading: Ecclesiastes 4-12
Next Week’s Reading: Song of Solomon 1-8
1. How do you handle stress on a Monday?
2. What is your sweet spot in life?
3. Did you struggle with some of the themes in Ecclesiastes? Which example bothered you and why?
4. How do we rest in God when stress is overwhelming? How does fearing God bring equanimity to your life?
5. Do you have a friend that you can confide in? Consider the picture of the juggling jester. Share with a friend where the triggers are that cause your balls to hit the ground. Then together, seek God to bring balance even in these areas.