For he will not dwell unduly on the days of his life, because God keeps him busy with the joy of his heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:20)
Here is a good balancing verse for life. In today’s fast-paced, stressed out world, we often hear an emphasis on the need to rest, to be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10), to be like Mary in a Martha world (Luke 10:41-42). Amen and amen! Our busyness is oftentimes a hindrance to relationship (with God and with others) and an escape from dealing with the important matters of life.
But there is an opposite problem that is equally detrimental. Idleness. It is amazing how many old quotes dealt not with the sin of busyness but of idleness.
Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. (Puritan proverb)
Idleness is the Dead Sea that swallows all virtues. (Benjamin Franklin)
In idleness there is a perpetual despair. (Thomas Carlyle)
Ghandi also had a good quote in this regard: Purity of mind and idleness are incompatible.
Solomon would agree. When we sit around with nothing productive to do, we find ourselves drifting further and further into despair and depression…which in turn feeds more idleness. And the downward spiral begins.
Solomon’s cure? Get up and do something. And learn to find joy in the work that you do. Pour your heart and energies into it. Do the best job you can. Redeem the time. Make the most of your opportunities. Plant a garden. Clean the house. Build something. Learn to play an instrument. Stretch your mind with a good book. Volunteer. Minister. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men (Colossians 3:23).
One of my favorite movies is Groundhog Day. In the movie, Bill Murray gets stuck in one particular day. He can’t escape it no matter how hard he tries. He is caught in the futility of reliving the same day over and over. Once he realizes this, he first turns to full, unbridled pleasure. But this doesn’t satisfy. Next he turns to a prideful self-exaltation. This also doesn’t work. Then he turns to total despair and depression, even trying to end his life to no avail. But at some point he realizes that though he can’t change the day he is in, he can change his response to it. So he begins to pour his energies into making that day the best day possible. He learns to be aware of the needs around him, to seek to help people, to learn how to play piano, to find joy in each moment, and in the end the cycle is broken.
It wasn’t a perfect movie but it did illustrate the choices that we have in the futility and brevity of life on this earth. We can seek pleasure for pleasure’s sake. We can spend all our time focused on ourselves. We can fall into despair over life’s struggles and difficulties. Or we can find joy in the gifts that God has given us and make the most of the time that we have. I think that message is similar to Solomon’s advice in Ecclesiastes.
Life is short. So pray long. Work hard. Rejoice always. And rest easy in the hands of God.