says the Teacher.
Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)
You might hear me cry these words as I toil over a sudsy sink of pots, pans, and floating food bits <shudder>. At the beginning of most days I try to empty the dishwasher so the kitchen won’t be a complete disaster by the time dinner is over. But once the food has been eaten and the kids have been harassed into bringing their plates to the sink, I despair over the unending cycle of tableware.
Why bother putting the dishes away when I’m just going to pull them out again?! (This lament can also be applied to bed making and folding laundry.)
I know many will argue with me, but in my opinion, there is very little meaning in housework. I think toil is a good word for it.
- hard and continuous work; exhausting labor or effort.
- a laborious task.
- Archaic. battle; strife; struggle.
What is the point of this toil and labor? This is the question “The Teacher” asks throughout his book.
In Ecclesiastes, The Teacher examines the elements of life “under the sun” (Ecc 1:3) that we all strive after: Wealth. Wisdom. Pleasure. Toil. Power. He concludes over and over again (13 times!) that “This too is meaningless.”
And he’s right. Life on earth by itself has little meaning in itself.
Michael Williams wrote, “Usually when we or others talk about meaning in life, we mean personal security and significance – something that makes us feel valued, worthwhile, and fulfilled. We want to know that it would have made a difference if we had not been born. Life, considered by itself, cannot provide this information. We are forced to look for meaning beyond the creation. Meaning is found in living our earthly lives as part of a bigger reality governed by the presence of God.” 1
If we read Ecclesiastes carefully, we will see that The Teacher agrees.
We must turn our eyes not to our work on earth, but to heaven, to the One who created it. “Ultimately, the meaning of life does not reside in things that we think will bring us satisfaction, but in things that bring God glory.” 2 And according to Ecclesiastes, finding satisfaction in our toil is a way to glorify God on earth.
This afternoon I have a long list of time consuming, toilsome, to-dos. Rake up all of the beautiful leaves from my maple tree that are now mush on the ground. Dig a small trench for the tulips I’m going to throw in the ground, just to see the beauty that might come in the spring. And yes, wash a sinkful of dishes.