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Encouragement in Ecclesiastes?

June 7, 2021

I clearly remember the day, down to the minute, when I answered my phone and heard my sister crying as she said, “Mom didn’t make it.”  My heart dropped to my feet as I tried to process what had just happened.  We all knew that this was coming when Mom was moved to Hospice.  She had been sick for quite a while and had been in a lot of pain, but somehow, we still held hope that she was going to make it.  But she didn’t.  And that was emotionally and mentally devastating.

In the middle of the shock and grief we were experiencing, funeral arrangements had to be made, banks and credit card companies had to be notified, and the list goes on and on. It felt like we were on auto pilot and just going through the motions.  And then came the trauma of having to clear out Mom’s house. In no way was I prepared for the emotional difficulty of this task.  

It seemed that daily I would find something new that had been special to her: prayer journals with updates, projects that she had worked on many years ago that I had completely forgotten about, pictures she had created to help people learn and memorize Bible verses; I even found my First-Grade report card!  I had never realized or appreciated the passion she had for so many different things.  It was eye-opening!  However, along with the epiphany of finding out more about my mom than I ever knew, I felt a deep sense of sadness.  


All of the work she had produced, all of the hours she had spent on her creative hobbies, all of her personal belongings, everything that she owned had to be put in boxes, donated, or thrown away.  My heart was breaking.  “This is what life comes down to?” I asked myself through the tears.  “Our lives end up in boxes or moving vans?”  I began wondering about the meaning of life and really felt like I needed to communicate with someone who could understand what I was going through.  And I knew just where to look – Ecclesiastes!

I had always thought of Ecclesiastes as a very depressing book, so it just seemed like the natural place to start reading.  Although the author isn’t clearly defined, I like to think that Solomon played a huge role in its development, so I was ready to do some bonding time with the King!  Who better to understand my misery?  Immediately, I called my brother, who is a pastor and a great Bible “translator” and told him of my “great” idea.  He was a little concerned that I was using Ecclesiastes as a therapeutic resource because the author tends to lean toward negativity, but he agreed to help me out and said he would begin working on writing some study notes for me. 

As soon as I hung up, I turned to Chapter 1 and eagerly started reading.  Verses 2 and 3a (NIV) really jumped out: “Meaningless!  Meaningless!’ says the Teacher, ‘Utterly meaningless!  Everything is meaningless! What does a man gain from his labor at which he toils under the sun?”  

“YES!” I was thinking, “This guy REALLY understands me!” It was like he was reading my mind! I heartily continued reading and found in verse 14 that the writer of this chapter admits to having seen many things take place, but all of those things were meaningless, too.  I was really getting into this shared commiseration! As the old saying goes, “Misery loves company,” so I felt like I had found my new best friend, Solomon. I definitely wanted to keep this “friendship” going; therefore, I continued reading.  

More and more of his comments were resonating with me and making me feel like everything really was dark and dismal.  I was beginning to feel at home with my depression, so I finished the whole book in about 2 days because I couldn’t wait to see what he had to say next! But admittedly, there were some areas that I found confusing.

For example, in Chapter 5, Solomon (or the author) mentions that we need to take joy in what God gives us to the point of delighting in it because it is His gift to us.  Then again in Chapter 11, he says “Even if you live a long time, don’t take a single day for granted.  Take delight in each light-filled hour” (The Message). I read and re-read those two significant portions of Ecclesiastes because I wasn’t delighting in anything, let alone being thankful for each day.  I had just lost my mom.

In my confusion, I called my brother who had finished his notes on several of the chapters.  He encouraged me to read through them and take a second look at Ecclesiastes.  So, I did.  Suddenly, something started to change.  God opened my eyes to a different view, and as I studied the notes which were written verse by verse, I noticed things that I hadn’t picked up on before. I was finding that some of the verses seemed encouraging as opposed to the negativity that I had anticipated, notably in the third chapter.

In Chapter 3, the author writes, “I’ve also concluded that whatever God does, that’s the way it’s going to be, always.  No addition, no subtraction” (v. 15, The Message). My first time through Ecclesiastes, I found that to be a very rigid passage; I felt it was almost like a scolding.  But looking at it for the second time, I suddenly noticed that this verse is actually encouraging.  We don’t have to worry about what is coming up or what’s already happened because God has a plan – no addition, no subtraction! I was beginning to see a silver lining around the sadness and disorientation that had been surrounding me since Mom’s death.

I began praying that God would open my eyes to find some other encouraging verses in Ecclesiastes, and He did!  Mixed in with everything that seemed to point to hopelessness, despair, and maybe even remorse, were spurts of powerful uplifting insight!  

The wisdom of the author of Ecclesiastes continues.  He mentions throughout the book that the rich and poor will be judged alike (See Ch.6); people, good or evil, will face the same destiny – end of life – (Ch.9:2); and regardless of intelligence, we will all stand before Christ (Ch. 2:13,14).   I believe this shows that God doesn’t play favorites.  He doesn’t consider our financial status, our character, or even our educational background; we are all equal in His sight.  He loves us regardless of who we are or what we do.  I found that comforting, especially during this time in my life.

I started this journey through Ecclesiastes in order to feel justified in my heavy-hearted state of mind.  It definitely worked initially, but the deeper I dug into the book, the more I saw Solomon’s wisdom and encouragement. I learned that even in depression, there is still hope. I would have never imagined that I would find this book useful as a tool to feel positive and hopeful about the future; God works in mysterious ways…

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