A Cathartic Moment with Qoheleth on the Eve of Thanksgiving Week

A month ago I read From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life by Jacques Barzun. In the introduction he makes a fascinating comment about the modern era in which we live:

“It is a very active time, full of deep concerns, but peculiarly restless, for it sees no clear lines of advance. The loss it faces is that of Possibility. The forms of art as of life seem exhausted, the stages of development have been run through. Institutions function painfully. Repetition and frustration are the intolerable result. Boredom and fatigue are great historical forces” (Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, xx).

Now, Barzun is writing a cultural history and I’m not interested in evaluating his argument here on the blog. And you’re thinking to yourself, “There is hope, after all!” What interests me is how similar Barzun’s critique sounds to Qoheleth (or Koheleth) in the biblical book of Ecclesiastes. Qoheleth is the English transliteration of the Hebrew noun (קֹהֶלֶת) that the author of Ecclesiastes uses to refer to himself. In fact, the English word “Ecclesiastes” is actually derived from the Greek translation (ἐκκλησιαστὴς) of the Hebrew noun (קֹהֶלֶת). The noun is most likely a title (not a proper name) and means something like assembler, teacher, or preacher.

Check out just one relevant section in Ecclesiastes (1:1-14 ESV):

1 The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
3 What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
4 A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.
5 The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
6 The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind,
and on its circuits the wind returns.
7 All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.
8 All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
9 What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already
in the ages before us.
11 There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be
among those who come after.
12 I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem.
13 And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.
14 I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.

The gist of the paragraph is that in spite of relentless human activity, all things “under the sun” are full of weariness—they are both tiring and tired out. In the Hebrew text the biblical author’s point is strikingly clear. In verses 4-7 alone there are some fifteen active participles, suggesting that although there is a copious amount of human action, nothing fruitful really happens at all (C. Seow, Ecclesiastes, 112). While Barzun attributes this peculiar weariness primarily to the end of the modern era (and I’m not saying I agree with Barzun!), Qoheleth seems to suggest that this weariness is descriptive of human experience in general.

We often read Qoheleth and think, “What am I supposed to do with this text?” But the irony is that most of us have probably had the same thoughts as Qoheleth at one point or another. This is precisely what makes his message so powerful. Qoheleth speaks to the dark and sinister moments in our journey of faith, even if they are few and far between.

Have you ever felt like Qoheleth? Have you ever wondered after a long day of work, “Okay so what was the point of all that?” Do you ever ask yourself, “How is it that everyone is talking, nonstop talking, but no one is saying anything new or interesting?”

Sometimes we endure seasons where G.K. Chesterton is exactly right, we simply aren’t strong enough to exult in monotony (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy). We don’t want to be told to find joy in the little things because we’re simply too jaded by the overall picture. The chirping of the birds is no longer beautiful, it’s just annoying. The bubbling casserole on the stove has lost its legendary power to relieve the fatigue of the daily grind. Cleaning toilets, is well, just that, it’s cleaning toilets and it’s pretty gross. There are seasons when we become so disenchanted with human experience that the little things are, frankly, just not enough. We simply can’t make sense of how all of this is working or where all of this is going. It can get hard to push through when most folks dismiss disillusionment as madness or depression. Have you ever encountered this kind of season? Maybe I’m the only one.

What is most fascinating is that Qoheleth doesn’t solve any of this for us. Qoheleth’s teaching ends right where it began with “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity” (12:8). But the book doesn’t end at 12:8. In 12:9-14 the voice of the narrator (a second and anonymous wise man) sounds and indeed has the final word with his famous lines in v. 13:

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

Now I used to think this ending was sort of anticlimactic, but now I like it. I love how the book lacks a shiny red bow but calls us to orthodox faithfulness nonetheless. Usually when I’m jaded or facing a full-on existential crisis, my tendency is to stop praying, worshipping, and meditating on Scripture. In short, I just stop doing whatever I was doing before to connect with God and His people. But when we’re questioning it all and angry with it all is precisely when we need to push back against the darkness and confusion by engaging anyway. Now, I know I’m posting these words on the eve of Thanksgiving week. I know this might strike some of you as kind of odd timing. But for those of us who are facing seasons of restlessness or dissatisfaction, Qoheleth is a powerful and cathartic read. Qoheleth gives us a canonical excuse to be a little bit cynical for just a moment without allowing us to be too self-indulgent.

I was reminded yesterday of some of my favorite words in Wendell Berry’s novel Hannah Coulter.

“We suffered the thoughts of the nights and at dawn woke up and went back to work. The world that so often had disappointed us and made us sorrowful sometimes made us happy by surprise” (Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter, 147).

Sometimes we’re not strong enough to exult in monotony, but if we continue to be engaged with the world God loves and persistent in faithfulness despite our sorrow or dissatisfaction, who knows, we might just stumble on joy.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Rena says:

    Melissa, I absolutely loved this post!!! Hits me right where I am… Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  2. 2
    Melissa says:

    Preach it sister! Boy, do I ever need to hear/read those words. Thanks so much for the encouragement!

  3. 3
    Mari says:

    Hi Melissa:
    So good to see a post from you!
    This was a wonderful post. It is okay for us to be down, upset, restless, not sure if what we are doing even matters, but we can’t wallow in it. You are correct, if we hold tight to our faith, to those things that keep us in fellowship with God, then we just might be surprised at the joy and peace we have in the midst of our restlessness.

    ~Blessins~
    Marita

  4. 4
    Hannah Lee says:

    Wow. What an incredibly written post today, Melissa. It’s funny how we are after the “big bad wolf” is finished howling at our door– We’ve stepped out of one catastrophe, by God’s grace, only to find that there are many smaller wolves nipping at our heels because we let them. A true full blown attack has been saved by our Lord, but something sneaky is waiting to slither its way in and steal what happiness we have. By allowing joy in, we can knock those wolves right away, we just have to find it and hold on to it. And be thankful for what is in our lives that God has so lovingly given us.

  5. 5
    Sister Lynn says:

    Hi Melissa!!!

    Your post brought to mind several things one of which is Marcel Proust’s quotation:
    “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes…”

    Monastic life is designed to be monotonous, routine, scheduled …in a way it forces that cathartic moment you wrote about above. We have to push through it to see with new eyes something deeper. Then…. every moment can speak to us of God.

    Its not something I have attained but I hope to! I can see it in some of our elder sisters who just radiate joy and the simplest and smallest things. It gives me hope.

    Hope you are well!! Happy Thanksgiving to the Fitzpatrick, Jones, and Moore families. we love you!

    blessings S. Lynn

    • 5.1
      Melissa says:

      Sister Lynn, Proust’s quotation is one of my very favorites. But, I sort of wonder if Qoheleth speaks to moments when even this feels daunting or impossible. I always value your opinion and comments because you are coming from a unique place. I’m excited to learn more from you! Sure love ya!

      • Sister Lynn says:

        Yes, Proust is perhaps a little light for the depths that Quoheleth addresses…

        The deeper thing that your post brought to mind was the “acedia” that the desert monks spoke of in the early days of Christianity. It can be defined as boredom with all things spiritual. The early writings speak of the monk’s restlessness and endlessly seeking the distraction of something new. It happens today too and sadly, the distractions are all to easy to come by. The cure the monks of old recommended was good old hard manual labor. Amazingly … it works. Somehow really sweating,working hard so that you are really physically tired loosens the knots in the heart and frees it to seek God more fully.

        Blessings to you!!! S. Lynn

        • Melissa says:

          Now, THAT is extremely interesting! Much to think about here!

        • Shelly E says:

          I’m sorry to butt-in on your conversation but I was just reading through the various comments and your post really struck me. I particularly love what you wrote about how being ‘physically tired can loosen the knots in the heart and free it to seek God more fully’. I can relate to that analogy. I see that first hand with my son who has autism. By getting him moving and doing physical tasks, it moves him out of his emotional state of feeling cranky and defiant to a place of obedience and calm. Much like what your last sentence said.

  6. 6
    Michele says:

    Yes, I have asked those questions. I wish I could get my head around all that you wrote, but I am just not up to it.

    Praying all at LPM & Siestaville have a blessed Thanksgiving

    • 6.1
      Melissa says:

      I hear ya, Michele. Also, are you coming to Houston in January? If not, let’s set up a time to chat via phone about the question you asked me yesterday. I think it calls for a real conversation! Let me know if you are down. Love.

      • Michele says:

        I sure hope to attend SSMT2! I’d love to catch up with you. I have not booked flights yet, but God has been providing, so I am hoping He will work it out again.

        NES did call me back and assigned me a faculty adviser, so that should help. They appreciated my feedback that their MA is not independently sufficient for pre-PhD as they market it to be. I am not overly concerned about it all, because I know my motives and God’s abilities, but it feeds into this unnerving season of nebulous wandering.

        And yes, difficult season and working through some deep things right now. Thanks for caring, I appreciate it. I love you too. Give Winston a hug for me. 🙂

        • Melissa says:

          Michele, I care a lot! So keep me posted on January and if you are not able to come then let’s schedule a phone convo! I know exactly the kind of season you are referring to! Keep on keeping on! Love.

  7. 7
    Rosalie says:

    Timely and well said.

  8. 8
    Janet says:

    Fantastic post, Melissa! I am so in the fog of disillusionment, hoping not to end up slipping into the slough of despair. This is just what I needed today.

  9. 9
    Joyce Watson says:

    Despite the monotony, it would be absolutely wonderful to see God just show up to give us a good “in the midst” experience! Maybe, a “joyful shoutful presence” with singing and praise to God!
    It is as if…
    As a flower of the field, so he flourishes
    For the wind passes over it and it is gone.
    Where’s the joy? Where is place we remember that kept us close to God and out of the wilderness? Where is the place that kept us from running dry and longing for God? Where the love we once had for one another that was encouraging, up-lifting and helpful?
    Sometimes, I pray for a mountain or even a valley. For a yearning is burning inside, I want to “live in the land of the living” and to break the bonds, to let loose and to surround myself with God’s work__to really get out and do what pleases Him__to be His Servant!
    We need eyes to see, ears to hear, mouths to spread the gospel, and hands to serve in God’s work__that is when God shows up. For His Glory! For Him we do all things and endure all things!

  10. 10
    Karene says:

    Melissa, I’m in the process of writing a seminary paper on the differences and similarities of a “dark night of the soul” and depression. Qoheleth’s writings sound similar to the feelings of both. I have certainly found myself there. But God in His grace has allowed me to move beyond it and rediscover joy in Him. I think your closing quote and paragraph are why. Thank you for your thought-provoking post. I might even use Berry’s quote in my paper. I love it! God does surprise us with Himself, even when we think all is monotony and He feels absent.

    • 10.1
      Melissa says:

      Karene, This sounds very interesting. I’d love to read your paper. Where are you in seminary? Have you read Berry’s “Hannah Coulter”? One of my favorite books. All my best to you.

      • Karene says:

        Hi Melissa, I am in my second year at Talbot School of Theology in So. Calif. But I am going at a slow pace since I’m your mom’s age, still have teenagers, and am also involved in ministry. Working on my master’s in Spiritual Formation and Soul Care. I have not yet read “Hannah Coulter,” but at your recommendation I definitely will! Thanks!

    • 10.2
      J says:

      Karene,

      I would love to read your paper as well.

  11. 11
    Jan says:

    Thank you, Melissa, for such a timely post. I had not been able to put words to my restlessness and your post did it beautifully. Thank you! Happy Thanksgiving to LPM!

  12. 12
    CJ says:

    Below is the “Our Daily Bread” for today (Becoming Bilingual), which also speaks to Melissa’s post. Why are we dissatisfied? Are we doing the job we are supposed to be doing for His kingdom? Are we seeing opportunities (new situations with new eyes) every day and not realizing what we are seeing? Can we actually be blinded by our faith?…by our denominations?….by our translations/interpretations of what is right and wrong?….by our standards? Does God give us opportunities to see things from different perspectives with a new set of eyes…and we are missing it because of our dissatisfaction/discontent in “cultural” realities? Let’s realize the opportunity in this season of our culture and keep working towards eternity in God’s kingdom. It’s not about me, it’s about eternity in God’s kingdom!!

    Becoming Bilingual (Our Daily Bread)

    In Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, “For we are also His offspring.” —Acts 17:28

    Is it possible—in a society that seems increasingly indifferent to the gospel—to communicate the Good News to people who don’t share our faith?

    One way to connect with people who are unfamiliar with the things of Christ is to become culturally “bi-lingual.” We do this by communicating in ways people can easily relate to. Knowing about and discussing music, film, sports, and television, for example, can offer just such an opportunity. If people hear us “speak their language,” without endorsing or condoning the media or events we refer to, it could open the door to sharing the timeless message of Christ.

    Paul gave us an example of this in Acts 17. While visiting the Areopagus in Athens, he spoke to a thoroughly secular culture by quoting pagan Greek poets as a point of reference for the spiritual values he sought to communicate. He said, “In Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring’” (Acts 17:28). Just as Paul addressed that culture by knowing what they were reading, we may have greater impact for the gospel by relating it to people in terms they can readily embrace.

    Are you trying to reach a neighbor or a co-worker with the gospel? Try becoming bilingual. —Bill Crowder

    To earn your neighbor’s ear
    And prove you really care,
    Use terms he understands
    To show you are aware. —Branon

    The content of the Bible must be brought into contact with the world.

  13. 13
    Gena Roberts says:

    Oh, Melissa – thank you! Part of feeling disenchantised (is that a word?) is feeling like there’s something wrong with me. I truly appreciate your words and hearing that I am not alone. Even more, I needed the reminder to seek after Him with greater diligence when I am in these restless and dissatisfied times instead of burrowing under the covers and feeling sorry for myself.

    Reflecting on the coming week of Thanksgiving – I know I have so much to be thankful for, but have not been “feeling” it. I commit here to push through how I feel and find the joy and gratitude that is waiting for me. I pray the same for you and yours!

    • 13.1
      Melissa says:

      Gena, You are most certainly not alone! Qoheleth depresses a lot of people but for some of us it resonates very deeply. For me it is one of the most encouraging biblical books, probably because I realize that I am not alone. And it’s just so different. Even though it is an ancient book, it is incredibly modern in so many ways. Great to see you on the blog. Hope you have a surprisingly light-filled Thanksgiving!

  14. 14
    Diane Bailey says:

    Beautifully written. Don’t we all feel the pain of monotony? But the frustation does provoke us to move and find more!

    • 14.1
      Melissa says:

      Hi Diane, Thanks for your kindness. I agree with your last sentence that the frustration can provoke us to find more.

  15. 15
    The Apple of His Eye says:

    EXACTLY!!! and frankly I think it’s absolutely perfect timing.

  16. 16
    Callie says:

    This brought back memories of my Wisdom Lit class in college with my absolute favorite professor (Dr. Estes). I love how you conflate excellent scholarship with personal applications!

    Callie @ A Chance To Die

  17. 17
    Sheila says:

    Thanks for that post. Food for my weary soul.

  18. 18
    Shelly E says:

    Oh, Melissa…how I wish we could sit down with a warm beverage and discuss this! I loved what you posted. Your posts are always full of amazing insight (it obviously runs in your family!) and it makes me stop and THINK.

    I have definitely experienced seasons of disillusionment and dissatisfaction in my life that have made me question God’s plan, voice my anger to Him, cause me to feel numb when I pray. But I am so thankful He was able to handle all of my emotions and temper tantrums and patiently wait for me to calm down and ease back into relationship with Him.

    My determination to block out the frustrating feelings actually made me pursue Him even more when I was able to “get out of my own head”. Those times of running away have made my testimony what it is today.

    Thank you, again, for sharing your thoughts. I hope you know just how blessed we all are by your presence on here.

  19. 19
    Melissa says:

    Shelly E, Thanks for sharing your great thoughts and your kind words.

  20. 20
    Jennifer D. says:

    Melissa,
    That is exactly what I needed to hear. I have struggled with holidays since my dad passed away, a little over a year and a half ago. Holidays haven’t felt the same. However, God has been so faithful in the little things and His presence is such a comfort. I was reminded this morning that for some reason it is so hard for me to let go and trust. I worry about not being good enough or doing it right. His Spirit has been whispering His love to me and it amazes me that HE is so faithful when I am not. You call to draw near to Him during the hard times is a good reminder!
    Bless you!

    • 20.1
      Melissa says:

      Jennifer D, I am so sorry to hear about your dad. I pray that the Lord would somehow make these holidays special and sacred for you and your family! All my best.

  21. 21
    Lindsee says:

    “…but if we continue to be engaged with the world God loves and persistent in faithfulness despite our sorrow or dissatisfaction, who knows, we might just stumble on joy.” Amen, sister. Amen. I love that.

    The way your brain works makes my brain hurt. Which is why I’m so happy your back. You challenge me, friend! Can’t wait for much more of this.

  22. 22
    Elaine says:

    Excellent post! I particularly like the closing quote and your comment. I’ve been reading about happiness this year and the little attitude changes that I can make to refocus and enjoy the life God has entrusted to me. I love the surprise of gladness.
    Elaine

  23. 23
    Christy says:

    Not only is this well-written and moving, but most thought-provoking as well.

    I’m intrigued by two aspects, first the possible relationship to these writings and depression, as Karene pointed out.

    And secondly, the implied meaning bubbling under verse 1:13… “And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.” I don’t have time to do a word study of it (I’m at work), but several questions jump out at me: Maybe the sense of dissatisfaction comes from seeking out all that is UNDER heaven, when we should be focusing less on the physical realm and more on the spiritual on? If God gave us this restless searching as an unhappy work to be busy with, isn’t there scripture to support that He also wants us reign in the “busy-ness” and focus on what’s important? Could it be an opportunity for us to demonstrate our love for God and our faith in His ways by not letting the vanity, busy-ness, and redundancy of life get in the way of His Glory?!

    We should call this Philosophical Friday!

    • 23.1
      Shelly E says:

      Christy,

      I love what you wrote! I so wish we could all meet up and discuss this further.

      Blessings,

      Shelly

    • 23.2
      Warm in Alaska says:

      I liked what you had to say about “under heaven” – also the connection to possible depression. Just a couple days ago I saw where upwards of 25% of American women are on some form of mental health medication (for depression, anxiety or attention-deficit challenges). Hmmmm….

      Yes, Let’s christen today Philisophical Friday! I’ll make the coffee!

  24. 24
    Cindy says:

    Melissa,
    I received this post in my e-mail and I knew it had to be you that wrote it!
    I am completely relate to your post. This summer I spent a lot of time reflecting on the book of Ecclesiastes and God was so gracious to give me Matthew 6: 28-34 at the same time. We become so enslaved to the things of this world and what becomes important to us is not of importance whatsoever. God used Ecclesiastes and this portion of Matthew reminded me that my entire purpose on this green, blue planet is to seek first His kingdom. Only then will this trip around the sun lend us any kind of meaning.
    Even after this, I must admitt that I still struggle. And I still find myself asking these questions…
    This morning I tried to overcome that by inviting Jesus to join me for coffee. I sat on my living room sofa, made a nice comfey place for Him and we had a conversation. His presence is what makes the mundane tolerable.
    Thank you for this post. It really spoke to me!
    Cindy

  25. 25
    Melissa says:

    Christy, these are really interesting thoughts. I’m with you on thinking that 1:13 is key to understanding this text!

  26. 26
    christina says:

    Melissa, it’s such a treat to hear your voice here! My one year of seminary was a highlight and over too soon; I appreciate learning from your more extensive study.

    This post is a gift to those who perhaps feel obligated to feel thankful but don’t, which only adds guilt to the depressed emotions. That’s not where I am this year, but I’ve been there before and so appreciate your words and timing.

    The Chesterton reference is from my absolute favorite passage in _Orthodoxy_. Made me smile. I’ll have to reread that bit of Berry, though.

    There have been so many marvelous quotes and ideas in the comments already…. May I add one more? You probably know it already, but there’s a C.S. Lewis passage in Letter 8 of _The Screwtape Letters_ which speaks to the same need to persevere in our Christian life when the pleasant feelings evaporate:

    “Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives [i.e., ‘communications of His presence,’ from earlier in the letter]. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs–to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than in the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best” (HarperCollins edition, 40).

    “Duties which have lost all relish” seems to be the same sort of experience Qoholeth and you describe. This passage endears itself to me because it meets me in that dry place and shines a light of hope on it. It uplifts even the dryness for me to know that I can please my Lord there.

    Sorry for the ramble. May the Lord lift your spirits and those of your readers who are not feeling particularly exultant. Blessed Thanksgiving to you.

    • 26.1
      Christy says:

      Ohhh… thank you Christina! That passage from CS Lewis really speaks to what I was trying to express regarding the dry times being an opportunity given to us by God for us to demonstrate our faith evenly more fully.

      I love it when multiple authors draw the same themes and interpret them through different texts. So rich!

    • 26.2
      Karene says:

      Christina, thank you so much for including the C.S. Lewis quote! I still have not read that classic book (I’m embarrassed to admit). But Lewis’s sentiments are the same as St. John of the Cross’s in “Dark Night of the Soul.” Now I have even more references for my paper :). I so wish we could all get together to discuss this in person! (Where did you go to seminary?)

      • christina says:

        My husband and I attended (he graduated from) Dallas Theological Seminary. Where are you studying? I’m thankful the Lewis quote found ready readers. “Dark Night” is still on my to-read list, so we’re even. 🙂 If you have not yet read the posthumous Mother Teresa book, “Come Be My Light” I think, it also profoundly bears on the same theme. Some of the best stuff is in the endnotes, if you read it.

        Grace and peace to you in Jesus!

  27. 27
    Melissa says:

    Christina, Thanks so much for taking the time to include the Lewis quote and your own insights and observations. Made my day! All my best to you.

  28. 28
    Amanda May says:

    I love how real you are, Melissa. Even if what you are saying is a little (a lot!) over my head, I hear your heart…and it’s beautiful.

  29. 29
    Tanya Moore says:

    Amazing post, Melissa! I know you make your Mom proud. Glad you are one of my teachers. Can’t wait for your additions to the James study. We are starting in January!

  30. 30
    Tomi says:

    Thank you Melissa!

  31. 31
    Traci says:

    Thank you Melissa! This post speaks to me right where I am! I feel guilty during those times when mundan life brings no joy! I know I should find joy in the little things . This reminds me to just keep close to God and keep engaged in life! I love the phrase “stumbling into joy”. Thank you for your words!

  32. 32
    G.J. says:

    Melissa – As one just coming out of an incredibly painful season of church life and ministry (unprecedented for me personally as well as for our church), may I thank you for this post? There really were days when it was hard to push through – disappointment in people wore me out. But may I say (on this side of it) I wouldn’t take anything for the hard season? I’ve learned so much about myself and my God – and I’m the better for this journey.

    – we serve a faithful God who never changes
    – His mercies really are new every morning
    – there is comfort in just doing “the next thing”
    – His grace comes according to the need (not stored up)
    – He loves me even when I get jaded
    – love is the more excellent way
    – seasons are just that – seasons – we aren’t stuck

    I’ve always loved Prov 13:12 “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” I’m in the “b” part now – the desire fulfilled.

    Thank you for taking time to write such a cathartic post! (I love that word cathartic.) I “stumbled on JOY” today as Zeke and Madie Ruth and I ran through some fall leaves and Zeke kept picking up pretty ones and showing them to me. His delight became mine. God uses small things (even red and orange leaves) and the delight of others (most especially grandchildren:))during times of despair.

    I’ve not read Berry but I may have to soon as I loved the quote from Hannah Coulter.

    Much love,
    Jan

    I’m just finishing Nehemiah – I’m going to read through Ecclesiastes next. You’re an incredible writer.

    • 32.1
      Melissa says:

      Mrs. Jan, I had no idea that you’ve been going through this kind of season. I actually thought of you when I wrote this post because I thought you might give me a hard time 🙂 I’m grinning. Thanks for blessing us with your insights. I heard the recent news about your church–I’m thinking congratulations are in order?! I love you!

      • Jan says:

        Melissa! Yes! Our news is “exceedingly abundantly above” all that we could ask or think. Our team was even given data from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary supporting pastors that return home in that they have longer tenure, successful ministries, etc. I’m beliving God for that. He & Jeremy are peers so that will be great for them as Jeremy is close by as well. And after our weekend at the mansion – you know the family! 🙂 It’s so good especially for our staff who all have long ministries, us with 24 years. 🙂

        The fact that you didn’t know is another miracle – I’ve been quiet and found peace in solitude (and in my garden). I’m truly amazed at the goodness of God. Your Mom knew – she’s so good for me.

        And listen here missy – the only hard time I’m giving you is that you never made it to our farm for a visit. But there’s always another day…

        Much love,
        Mrs. Jan

  33. 33
    Charlotte says:

    Melissa,
    This is related to “Mercy Triumphs” which I am going through solo at this time. I had to smile when I was reading your article about the Jerusalem Council and you addressed your readers as “y’all.” We Southerners always get ribbed for that term, but, hey, I point out that the English language does not have a word for a plural “you” whereas many other languages do. So. Anyway, I had to circle it when it showed up in the theological discussion. Can’t you just hear it: “Verily, verily I say to y’all . . .”

  34. 34
    crimeanmsnry says:

    It is interesting how we each look at your post from our own perspectives and
    standpoints. I recently read a FB status and the writer was complaining because
    on her husband’s birthday they had to go to the DMV and spend said amount
    of money on five tiny little stickers. She said, “It is sooo wrong.” I noted that that was one
    way of looking at it but that another would be that most people in this world don’t have the
    need for even one tiny little sticker.

    “Oh, Father, help us not only to be thankful during this month or coming week, but to
    daily find joy in the chirping birds, bubbling casseroles, and the cleaning of the toilets.
    We have wildlife to enjoy and food to nourish and bathrooms where using them is not
    an exercise in strengthening our thigh muscles as we hover over the hole in the ground,
    AND we have running water with which we can flush away the waste. Open our eyes so that
    we can find contentment and satisfaction and joy in this life and not crave and scratch for that
    which is but vanity, vanity. (And please forgive me for being cynical and judgmental.)”

    Dolly

  35. 35
    Amy says:

    Thank you for posting, Melissa. I’m in a particularly busy season of life right now and through it all I keep saying what’s the point? Am I really doing anything of eternal worth? I want to quit my job but I wonder if there is just another set of worries on the other side of that. And I know there are. I will be wishing I had something to keep me busy and provide more money. It’s just frustrating learning to be content, and like Sister Lynn mentioned above, learning to see things with new eyes. Thank you for the encouragement and empathy I found in this post.

    • 35.1
      Melissa says:

      Amy, I can definitely understand where you are coming from. Thanks for your vulnerability. My husband and I have had many discussions about the daily grind and the struggle to find satisfaction in it! Definitely not an easy discussion. All my best to you.

  36. 36
    Erin says:

    Thinking about the ending of the book: the admonition to fear God. Lately I have been thinking about the fear of the Lord; there are so many references to it and promises associated with it. Do I really know how to do it? Do I really practice it or understand it? For me, I think the answer is no. (I think this because I believe God brought it to my attention, so if I was awesome at it, it probably wouldn’t have come up.) To fear God is just the beginning of wisdom – am I anywhere close to wise?
    Anyway, I’ve been thinking all those thoughts lately – and reading your post, I thought, “Wow – right at the end of this somewhat depressing (yet maybe validating) book here is this command that on the surface seems kind of cut and dry and maybe a bit boring – BUT because I was already thinking about, “What does it really mean to fear God?” I read it kind of like a promise, or a treat, or a secret tucked in at the end. Now, person, you just fear God (if you can even figure out what that means.) Kind of exciting. Thanks.

    • 36.1
      Melissa says:

      Love your thoughts, especially your last several sentences. Thanks for saying hello.

    • 36.2
      Cindy says:

      Erin,
      Wow, thank you for this post. This same question of whether or not I fear God has been brought to my attention as well. I even asked Him, “Do I fear you and what does that even look like?” I am with you when you say your answer is, no. I have also had that same thought circulating through my brain…”To fear God is the beginning of wisdom.” Perhaps this is in response to my prayer for wisdom. How does one fear God, what does that look like, and how do you fear Him whom you love so dearly? Thank you for posting your thoughts.

  37. 37
    Karina says:

    Hey Lis!!!
    I love this post! I feel like I drift so easily into seasons of disillusionment & dissatisfaction. I am very prone to fixing my eyes on my circumstances despite how many times the Lord has blessed me & provided for me in the past. I feel like the mundane things in my life will last forever & that I’ll somehow miss out on God’s plan for me. I do tend to push away from those disciplines of the faith in those times. As MB(Momma Beth) would say, I sometimes have a broken “want to”. What do you in those times to push past those feelings & still fully engage in with God?
    I miss you & the family! I might be in Houston over Thanksgiving. Hope I get to hug your neck! Maybe we can get coffee. I should be back in January too!

    Love in Christ,
    Karina

  38. 38
    Angie says:

    Thank you Melissa and Siestas for this conversation. I love listening to (reading) this “deep stuff” and really love it when I understand some of it too (which I am today!). You ladies are the best!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  39. 39
    Tara G. says:

    Timely…we’re moving into winter here in Ukraine and the monotony of one gray day after another against the Soviet apartment building skyline coupled with culture and regular life can force one into a head on collision with the YUCKS.

  40. 40
    Melody Reid says:

    Melissa,
    You are hands down the smartest person I know.
    Love you and your precious brain.
    Melody

  41. 41
    Lee Ann says:

    I had to read through your post twice to absorb it all, but thank you for the reminder.I have printed and pinned above my desk at work, a paragraph from a previous blog you wrote on monotony and a quote from G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy about God perhaps being strong enough to exult in monotony, but our sin prevents us from seeing things in the same light. The passage you quoted from his book has often made me change my attitude about the work day. Thanks Melissa!

  42. 42
    Barbara Head says:

    I have never been accused of NOT being wordy but for this moment after reading your post I simply do not have the words to tell you how much I like and appreciate this post. I have been through many years of life and through many seasons. Right now I am going through a time of difficulty finding true joy. Thank you, Melissa, for opening a space to ponder.

  43. 43
    Susan says:

    As a MN farm kid who labored manually day in and day out, when I consider seasons of monotony and toil, I think harvest. I know it’s coming.

  44. 44
    Warm in Alaska says:

    Thanks, Melissa, for letting us “sometimes-cynics” take a breath. A short one – ’cause I do have toilets to clean, a casserole to bake (actually fish tacos) and A TON OF LAUNDRY because I have now tried to make peace with the fact that I will apparently always have A TON OF LAUNDRY to do.

    So be it.

    Thank you for the phrase “orthodox faithfulness nonetheless.” I love that. Sometimes when the mundane presses down, I think: it’s this mundanity that weirdly connects those of us in this generation most closely with all those who’ve come before us in every other generation. I think there is something hidden and profound in learning to simply enjoy God and people in the midst of the mundane. Even Eve had laundry to do.

  45. 45
    Kim Vest says:

    That was unexpected and beautiful.

  46. 46
    Molly says:

    I love this post.

    I learned so much…and I have felt that, just so much but nothing too.

    Well done Professor Fitz

  47. 47
    Carolyn says:

    Hey, Melissa,
    Our pastor is preaching through Ecclesiastes, so I enjoyed reading this in light of that. You could look online at a couple of the recent sermons. They’ve been so good.
    Miss you and hope you and your family have a blessed Thanksgiving!
    Carolyn

    • 47.1
      Melissa says:

      Hey Carolyn! So great to hear from you. Would love to catch up with you one day. I want to hear how your new job is going! Dr. Litfin says your Pastor is really wonderful. I’d love to check some of the sermons out. Love to all the Litfins.

  48. 48
    Kristi Walker says:

    I know that feeling. I know it exactly as I’m experiencing it right now. I’m a homeschooling mother who more often than not is filled with intense gratitude at the graciousness of God and His provision so that I can stay home and educate my sweet children. I genuinely believe it’s a calling for our family.

    However, there are some days when I question if I am doing the “right” thing or am I really just slamming my head against a brick wall while my brains jiggle around. It sounds funny and some days it is…but, there are other days when the seriousness of what we are believing God for really overwhelms me. Yes, there are days when I wonder if He will really come through for us. Will our kids love Him more than anything in the whole world? Will they love their neighbor as themselves? Will they realize the whole point of education is to bring Him the glory He deserves? I’m ashamed to write that, but some days it’s true.

    We have our children’s education in our hands. We have chosen this. We are the stewards of four eternal souls!! I am a deer caught in headlights some days. And then, just when I’m sure that I have misunderstood or misheard, or just plain did what I wanted and God didn’t have a thing to do with it…I will wait, and God will almost always send a sweet gift, just for me, in the form of a child who has the light bulb go off just over their precious heads. Their faces light up; they GET it. And I was here when they did. And I am thankful, again.

    …now we’re off to band practice… 😉

  49. 49
    Punky Tolson says:

    Thank you, Melissa! I echo and amen your post, sister. It took an adventure in breast cancer (and a little spin through the chemo mill) to open my eyes and my heart and be honest with myself about the realities of Qoheleth’s life in my own. I seemed to think that because my husband and I are in full-time vocational ministry (in Dallas) that “work” somehow wouldn’t, couldn’t or shouldn’t get to be… a drag. What the Lord showed me was that I needed to truly “get a life” by learning to enjoy life by enjoying simple things in my life again. An ministry became a joy once more. I openly praise God for allowing me the gift of breast cancer to help me get a life again… and a new “breastplate of righteousness” to boot. Just sayin.

    You keep it up, girl… I love how your mind works for His glory!!
    xo – P

  50. 50
    Marie says:

    I’m not sure that I can put my thoughts into comprehensible sentences after reading this post, so deep did it reach into my heart. I love “Q.” I love that he’s cynical, weary and depressed. I love that because I understand it so very well. What I love even more is that we’re given permission to express these kinds of negative thoughts and emotions in the safe presence of God. There are moments when I am positively sure that He has wrapped His arms around me and says, “Just let it out.”

    I don’t think these times of weariness are abnormal or even sinful. This world and we in it are under a curse; nothing is as it should be. I’d say that our dissatisfaction is one of the greatest evidences of God’s existence. We want – maybe even need – so much more. Our souls cry out with longing.

    What is the point of cataloging another book? Of swallowing today’s round of medications that are supposed to prop up my weak body and crazy mind? Of listening to the same gripes of coworkers and friends? Perhaps there isn’t always point, something profound to take away. Maybe that’s the wrong question. Instead, I wonder if we should ask ourselves if it’s all right if there isn’t a point to be grasped. Maybe there are times when we just have to walk instead of dance.

    I don’t know for sure, but I think there could be…a great release, for me anyway, to be able say, “I can see no point, but I can see God.”

    • 50.1
      Melissa says:

      Thanks for your wonderful comments as usual, Marie. Love what you said about there being times when we may have to walk instead of dance. I’ve been following some of your journey of late as well and I’ve been meaning to write you. Many things that you have shared have been very moving and thought provoking. Thanks for sharing your life with us. Happy Friday to you, dear.

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