Saturday, June 10, 2017

Ecclesiastes 1:3 -- On What's in it For Us

"What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?"
Ecclesiastes 1:3

The whole book of Ecclesiastes is kind of a lesson about life, but this verse almost at the beginning struck me today because it is basically asking "what's in it for me?"  It's not really the most humble question to ask, but it gets the search started for the meaning in life in this book, and perhaps for us as well sometimes.  We want to know what good it will do us to work and invest our time and what the point off all of it is.  I think it is a question we ask especially when we are disillusioned with something in our lives and start seeing the pointlessness of all of it.  Why am I doing this job, or why am I working for this degree, or what am I actually accomplishing in life?  Spoiler for most of the rest of the Book of Ecclesiastes: it's mostly all vanity and vexation of spirit. :)

So why?  Ecclesiastes concludes with reminding us that we will return to God after this life, and that "the whole duty of man" is to fear God and keep his commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13).  And that is a good answer... but perhaps there is also more to it.  Let's remember that Alma calls God's plan the "great plan of happiness" (Alma 42:8), and Moroni reminds us that "he that is happy shall be happy still; and he that is unhappy shall be unhappy still" (Mormon 9:14), so at least one big reason we are here is to learn to be happy.  God gave us bodies and free agency so that we could learn all of this stuff, good and bad, and learn to choose the good and the positive and the happy rather than the other side.  Not in a "let's ignore the suffering of others" way, but in a "let's help others to find happiness too" kind of a way.

It's a little scary to think that if we're not happy we're doing the whole life thing wrong, and I don't want anyone to get more disillusioned about this rather than less.  Sorrow and suffering are not evil, and we are all going to have some sorrow in our lives.  Christ wept in his life, and suffered.  I'm not saying that we have to paste smiles on our faces and be fake.  I'm only saying that this *is* the answer to the "what's in it for me" question.  Happiness is in it, for all of us... it's why God sent us here, and what he wants us to learn.  That's what honoring God and keeping his commandments leads to as well, and loving God and loving our neighbor.  All of our stories have a happy ending waiting, as well as a happy now, as we do the work and learn to find it all around us.  We should always take serious things seriously, but it's also okay, and even good, to have fun and to enjoy our lives, as long as we are not breaking any commandments of course. :)

The job or the school might not get better, but there is a way to find happiness even there.  There is still going to be fear and uncertainty in life, but as we trust God, we can learn to be happy anyway and trust that things will work out okay.  Maybe the work we are doing or the thing we were trying to accomplish will turn out to be vanity and vexation of spirit.  It happens.  But we don't have to choose to dwell on that part of life.  We can try something new, or find a way to love and enjoy the people around us while we're doing the excessively boring thing. (I once had a summer job where we pulled staples out of things for 40 hours a week.  It *is* possible.) :)

Today, let's try to be less disillusioned with life, and to find some good in the world around us.  Let's get in there and seek happiness for ourselves and others.  God has lots of ideas about how to get there, and he really wants us to succeed.  It is what he is all about.  Let's follow his path and trust that he is leading us to something that is worth *every* second of all of it.  As we learn to trust the happy ending, the in between chapters will get happier too.  I promise. :)

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