‘Tis a Season

“God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him.” (Ecclesiastes 3:14)

The author of Ecclesiastes, (aka “The Teacher”) provokes us to examine our lives. Today we’re discussing Ecclesiastes 3:1-15, which is actually a poem, and the most well-known part of the book. Seasons in this context aren’t like the seasons we think of regarding weather patterns. Chapter 3 focuses on seasons of life, and the events we encounter, and how our lives are really a series of seasons

In this poem, the Teacher basically lists different events that all humans are likely to experience. All humans are likely to know times of war, and to experience birth and death within families. We will plant and harvest through our vocations. We will build some things and will disassemble other things. Our lifetimes are more accurately marked by the seasons we experience than by just our birthdate. The seasons of our lives are not always predictable, and often the times of season changes are unforeseen. In fact, we can wake up one day expecting everything to be routine like yesterday, and in a moment everything changes.

What does the Teacher in Ecclesiastes have to say to us today? The spiritual journey is a life lived in tension. We enjoy many blessings but being a part of the kingdom of God is not an everlasting spa day. This divine tension is found in balancing the things we are unable to understand with the eternal truths we should always hold onto.

What we don’t know or understand – The “What, When and Why?”

We cannot always predict the what- what season is coming next. We cannot always know the when- when a season may suddenly burst in and disrupt our lives. Things like pandemics, accidents, natural disasters, and medical diagnoses, can come about unexpectedly. Even when we have a hint that something is on the horizon, no amount of imagination can anticipate the dozens of ways a single event can alter every part of your life. Living through a traumatic season will have residual effects throughout the remainder of our lives.

We are living in a season of COVID 19, a pandemic. While some seasons change with the fading out of the old season and the phasing in of the new, some seasons abruptly bursts through the front door and takes its seat right in the middle of our living room, without allowing us time to process it or to plan for it. Now, in 2020, we find ourselves in a season to “refrain from embracing,” (v 5), it’s a time to refrain from congregating, it’s a time to refrain from carelessly moving about in our community, it’s a time of job loss, it’s a time of anxiety, and for many, many people- it’s a time to die.

Not being able to anticipate the what and when of abrupt changes makes us feel increasingly unsettled the more we think about it. We can develop a heightened fear about what may come next, or we “wait for the other shoe to drop.”

The popular author, social worker, and researcher, Dr. Brene’ Brown, speaks about this. She explains that many people develop a mindset of what she calls “foreboding joy.” That’s when you won’t allow yourself to fully experience love and joy because you fear loss. She uses the illustration of a parent looking in on their child sleeping and thinking of how much love they have for the child. As the parent begins to feel the joy of that whole-hearted love, suddenly they imagine how horrible it would be to lose their child. That moment of joy triggers an immediate moment of dread. The fear of loss prevents us from feeling love and joy whole heartedly. In fact, many of us will obsess over that fear of loss, trying to prepare ourselves for the worst-case scenario. Dr. Brown, who has interviewed thousands of trauma survivors, points out that there is nothing you can do to prepare yourself for that terrible call, or that dreaded news. When we forbode joy, we waste time that we can’t get back being fearful of loss, instead of freely loving and enjoying our relationships.

We can’t know the “What?” and the “When?” The final thing we can’t know is the “Why?” In my opinion the why is the most haunting question we face. Why does the Lord allow certain things to happen or why doesn’t the Lord step in and fix things? We won’t understand the why because our minds can’t comprehend how God is orchestrating things for everyone involved. Many of us have lived bitter days obsessing over the question “Why?”  My experience has taught me that when you hear someone asking “why?”  about a difficult time, the most loving thing you can do is admit that you don’t know, because you don’t. When faced with someone who is hurting, well-meaning people often will say, “It’s the Lords will,” because that seems like a perfectly sound spiritual answer. That’s the kind of answer that can wrap doubts and messy feelings into a pretty package with a bow on top. But that answer isn’t comforting at all to a person struggling through the most tortured days of their existence. In fact, a response of “It’s the Lord’s will” sounds like a diversion to pivot the conversation toward something more comfortable for the listener. When we’re hurting, we are in tension, and we struggle to find meaning. We need to speak and express our pain. One of the reasons that people are often discouraged from speaking about their difficult feelings is that it’s hard to find someone who is willing to listen and to sit in that uncomfortable space with you. One of the bravest and most helpful things you can say as a listener is “I don’t understand what you’re going through or why you’re going through this, but I know you’re hurting and I’m going to stick with you through it.”

The things we can’t know about seasons of forced change can be haunting, but the Teacher of Ecclesiastes gives us 3 eternal truths that strengthen and encourage us.

The first eternal truth we find in verse 11 is that “God has put a sense of the past and the future in the human mind.” In a different translation it is worded as we have “an awareness of eternity that we can’t comprehend.” Here we go again…. another thing that we can’t understand. No wonder the spiritual walk is a journey through tension because we want certainty without having to depend on anything. I think the sense of eternity is best understood as we have an awareness that we are part of the greater story of God and humanity. We know that our days on earth are numbered, but maybe the work we do or the influence we have isn’t limited by the days we live. The book of James reminds that our life is like a mist, here one moment and gone the next. We all know people who may have passed on, yet they still influence our lives. In the same vein, our influencers had people in their past who influenced them. These are glimpses of how time fits together beyond the days of a human life. This sense of eternity is among our richest blessings, even though we don’t see the full picture. God has invited us to participate in the work of the kingdom that stretches way beyond us.

The second eternal truth also found in verse 11 is that God makes all things suitable for its time. Another translation of the Bible says that God makes all things beautiful in its time. So lets talk about suitability. All things being made suitable in their time is a promise that no matter what season we face, it will be made suitable. It is going to serve a purpose.

So what about COVID 19? What is that suitable for? We don’t know, and that is part of the tension we live in. As much as we like to be optimistic, the data suggests that we’re not near the end of this season yet. Once a vaccine is found and this illness becomes non-threatening, we are still going to have multitudes of people suffering with residuals effects. There will also be decades of grief from the lives lost and there will likely be decades of latent economic effects on many people. Of course, just as with most disease and economic hardship, it will be the poor who will continue to suffer the most long-lasting impact of this pandemic season. Christian author Bob Goff says, “In God’s economy, nothing is ever wasted. Not pain, nor disappointments, nor our setbacks. These are tools that can be used later as a recipe for our best work.”

The final eternal truth is found in verse 14 and repeated many times throughout Ecclesiastes. The Teacher reminds us repeatedly, that only the work of the Lord will last. We live in a series of seasons, we gather, we build, we plant, we procreate, we celebrate, our life is full of activity. The only things that matters are the things we do for God, things that have eternal value. Is there anything wrong with enjoying “non eternal” things? No, in fact Ecclesiastes reminds us that there’s nothing better than to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Celebration and enjoyment are gifts from God. But we are quickly reminded that the fruits of our labor, our stuff, our celebrations, won’t be where we find our purpose. Chasing after such things is like chasing the wind.  We weren’t created to accumulate. We were created to be in relationship with God and to love people. I don’t want to limit my legacy to passing on a bunch of stuff. We were created with the image of God imprinted on us. We are equipped to do work with eternal value. The world needs the best of us, not our stuff, we have too much stuff already. It’s ironic that in many places around the globe people die from not having enough, while in the US the leading causes of death can be attributed to our insatiable desire for excess.

In verse 14 we see it written, “God has done this so that we will stand in awe before the Lord.” What that is saying is that in all the things we experience, we are reminded to remain in the place we were crated to be in. Recognizing that God is God and we are not, is the natural order that God set in place from the beginning. It is the safest place for us to dwell. Why are spiritual disciplines important? Activities like prayer, Bible study, stewardship, worship and living in community are where our spirits get exercised and trained. In these holy spaces, our spirits train to be in the posture we were crated to live in. It’s a posture of submission and dependence on God, the posture that the disciples of Christ are called to.

Rejoice in the Lordship of our Creator. We’re not responsible for having all the answers- and that’s great because we don’t know them. We are not responsible for everyone’s health, safety and happiness- and that’s great because it’s beyond our skill set to provide those things. The Lord has woven together a safety net for us. Some of the things that our safety net is woven from is our community, scripture, prayer and the presence of the Holy Spirit. That safety net saves us from ourselves.

In these days and always- may we look for opportunities to love and comfort others.

May we discipline ourselves daily- to be centered on the Lord and to be about the eternal work of the kingdom.

As we live in this tension- may find peace knowing God is with us- in all the painful and exhausting places this season calls us to.

Continue reading “‘Tis a Season”

Good to Know

Lent is over- Easter has come. We’re now a couple weeks into the Easter Season. Most people think of Easter as one great big Sunday. In the Christian church we think of  Easter as just the beginning of the Easter Season. The Easter season lasts for seven Sundays. Just as Lent leads to the Easter season, the Easter season leads to the celebration of Pentecost. I’m not wanting to get “in the weeds” about Christian calendars or religious traditions, I just wanted to explain why I’m still in this Easter mindset. I shared a lot of thoughts about Lent over the last couple of months and I want to wrap that all up. My focus during the Lent season was taking an honest look at the idea of darkness (sin, negativity, pain) and how it infiltrates our lives so thoroughly that we have a hard time recognizing it. You know how life is, you set out on a journey or a time or reflection without ever knowing what’s going to happen along the way, even if you hit your desired destination. There’s always something to learn.

How does Easter change things? Let me start off by saying Easter changes everything. Easter symbolizes new life, new beginnings, new starts. Just as winter, seasons of loss, and all types of endings are necessary and natural, new beginnings sometimes brings relief and renewal. Forced new beginnings don’t always feel good. When I’m forced into a change I didn’t choose to make, I am often resistant and resentful of it. That’s how life rolls. The one thing I try to always be thankful for is the opportunity that comes from new starts. While I don’t always like the changes that life forces me into, I try to be thankful for the opportunity of change, the dynamic nature of life, that fact that opportunities for restarts do exist. I get challenged to think differently, see things from different perspectives, many times getting reacquainted with the maturity and humility required in learning to be a cheerful giver and a thankful receiver. These universal life lessons cycle around over and over.

I want to say just a few things about Easter. It’s not my intention to get into a big theological conversation about why Easter “had to happen,” or “did Jesus have to die.” There are other places where that is discussed and frankly there is plenty of wisdom to be found in all parts of the story. I believe that Jesus was the Son of God, he came to earth to show us what God’s love looked like in the flesh. I believe that Jesus made a lot of people uncomfortable with his teachings and people plotted against him to “shut him up.” Jesus was seen as a threat to the government and the church that he considered himself a part of. Jesus did lots of good things for many people and he taught about God’s love. Jesus was betrayed and denied by people he considered friends and he died from a horribly painful execution. Believers in Jesus hold dear the belief that Jesus was resurrected from the dead 3 days after his execution, and that is the bedrock of the Christian faith. It’s the reason why most Christian churches worship on Sundays, because that was the day in which Jesus was raised from the dead.

There are a lot of details to the Easter story. There have been countless retellings, reenactments, songs, poems and stories around this. There are many key lessons that I’m glad that I’ve learned.

  • It’s good to know that the Lord understands how I feel when loved ones betray me. It happens to us all.
  • It’s good to know that the Lord understands how it feels when I’m distraught, and despite their best efforts, the members of my support system aren’t always enough.
  • It’s good to know that the Lord understands how I feel when I’m begging and pouring out my soul in hopes that a heart-breaking situation will just disappear.
  • It’s good to know that the Lord understands what it feels like when others dislike me because they view me as a threat to how they believe, and they do deliberate things to hurt me.
  • It’s good to know that the Lord understands the agony of when I cry out and feel like I’ve been abandoned by Him.
  • It’s good to know that as I visit with a loved one with an unsure future that the Lord understands the feelings humans have when facing death and can comfort them.
  • It’s good to know that when I’m confronted with my bad deeds, I can look into the face of God and say, “I don’t deserve forgiveness, I’ve done so much wrong, but please have mercy.” Then I hear back from him, “You’re worth it to me, and I’m going to redeem you.”
  • It’s good to know that though my body will be one day committed to a grave, it doesn’t have to be the end of my story. The way I lived and loved will continue to dwell in the hearts of others long after my heart ceases to beat.

A couple weeks ago in church our worship leader sang an old song called “I Don’t Know About Tomorrow.” It made me think about the idea of “tomorrow.” For most of us in the congregation tomorrow was Monday, we had to go back to work. But there was someone in the world who tomorrow would be facing surgery. For others, Monday would be the court date for their divorce. There were some who tomorrow will bury their father. Others will be finalizing the paperwork for their bankruptcy. Someone would undoubtedly lose their best friend that day. Monday would be someone’s best day and someone else’s worst day. Whether your next new beginning/new start/personal Easter is forced on you or chosen by you, it’s good to know that the Lord understands rejection, grief, attack, betrayal, and abandonment. The promise of Easter is no matter how cold and lonely you find yourself as you’re trapped in a tomb, in a little while God is going to open the door and then you will have the option to walk out.

“While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” (Luke 24:36)

Be Brave

Be brave my friend. You are strong.

Feelings aren’t facts. To doubt is human. Your crowded mind hides your peace.

As the storm attempts to intimidate, stand your sacred ground. You’ve lived many days and learned many lessons. You demonstrated great courage by inviting uncomfortable truth into your presence.

Your legs are so tired. Your heart is so heavy. You wonder how much more you can stand. Moment by moment you struggle.

Cling to your faith to sustain you, move towards things that give you strength. Your long night will end. The dawn  will break all around you. Your steps will get easier. You will soon look down and realize that the chains that once imprisoned you have fallen off. Your ears will be filled by the hymn of life instead of a litany of despair.

When your eyes are so tired, it’s hard to see clearly. Believe my words. Trust my heart. Your new day is approaching. You’re smart enough to navigate this and strong enough to survive. I have so much hope for your future my heart can hardly contain it.

Be brave my friend. Your soul will be restored, and you will dance in the joy that awaits.