What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. – Ecclesiastes 1:3-4 (NRSV)
If the writer was discouraged about the purpose of toil in ancient times, how much more now? We scurry like squirrels, tethered to work by our phones, crowding every moment of the day and night. For what gain?
The sun rises. The moon sets.
The wind blows. The rivers flow to the sea.
And there is nothing new under the sun.
Some of us assign purpose to our work: a heavenly calling or an inherent yearning that makes toil meaningful. Some of us resign ourselves to toil for survival: another dollar for food, for rent, for education, for rainy days, for the privilege of rest. Some cling to toil for identity; others cling to toil for fear of boredom or uselessness. Some look to work as a means of life- and self-improvement.
And the sun rises. And the moon sets.
And the wind blows. And the rivers flow to the sea.
And we toil for nothing that is new under the sun. The earth has witnessed it all. The sun has never risen on a day when we didn’t labor in both just and unjust ways. The moon has never watched over a night in which people didn’t bless as well as curse their work.
And therein is the good news: There is nothing for you to prove to the earth. Or to the heavens. Or to God. You can change course, change jobs, be unemployed, climb the ladder, run the rat race, strike, retire. The earth still recognizes you as dust from its own being. The heavens still know you as the offspring of stars. God still loves the holy breath within you.
I wish purpose wasn’t so elusive, God. I wish every life season came with a rationale. But until such a time comes, I am grateful to be known by heaven and earth.