It has been far too long since my last post, and I apologize for the long absence. The semester definitely ramped up in intensity, and I chose to prioritize a few other things. Now that it’s December, I find myself constantly thinking about the joy of the Christmas season. I keep telling people around me that December is my favorite month, and that’s purely based on the joy I find in the expectation of Christmas. It’s advent. I love the anticipation of the Christmas season, the fun of holidays with friends and family, the smiles and sounds of the carolers, and the refocusing on the most wonderful gift the world has ever been given: Jesus Christ.
In this time of year we often hear the phrase, “‘Tis the season,” and admittedly I always want to respond with, “To be jolly. Fa la la la la, la la la la.” (I really hope you sang along as you read that.) Whether or not you think of the song, it’s a wonderful reminder, and I love its open-ended nature. “The season” for what? It could be a season of giving, of joy, of rest, or peace, of selflessness, and much more. Now, if you’ll allow me to hijack that phrase, I think it has an even deeper meaning that transcends just one month of the year.
God puts us in different seasons our entire lives. Looking back, I’m sure you could label a majority, if not all, of the last ten years of your life as a variety of discrete “seasons.” Some of those seasons thrill us. Sometimes we have a turning point in our careers and find that we experience a newfound fulfillment in our work that brings us joy. Perhaps it’s getting married or having kids that brings a new season. Getting into a certain school or graduating from school might be an accomplishment that brings a new season as well. Unfortunately, not all seasons are quite so blissful. Some of them really aren’t even remotely fun. It could be a death of a loved one that brings a prolonged period of sadness. Perhaps things at home with parents, spouses, or kids are tense and unhealthy. Maybe loneliness or depression creep in and overwhelm for a time of life. In the Bible we see Jesus tempted by Satan in the Wilderness (Matthew 4), Job experiencing unfathomable trials (Job 1-2), and many other examples. Seasons define pretty undeniable ways of dividing up the significant chunks of our lives, and they come in many forms.
Going back to the “‘Tis the season” that got this all started, how should we respond to our own seasons? Joyous, blissful seasons are pretty easy to tackle. Experience the happiness God has granted you. Frankly, in a season of joy you probably won’t find the need to remind yourself to be joyous. It’s a pretty natural and inevitable response. It’s the other seasons that are tough. It’s the other seasons that often leave us most introspective, most wondering how we’re supposed to respond, especially if our default response is difficult to manage.
So let’s tackle those tough seasons. Honestly, I can’t think of anywhere better to turn than Ecclesiastes:
1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
9 What gain has the worker from his toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
There’s so much to glean from this passage, so I really hope you find the time to study the wisdom this holds for work, joy, and appreciation. For now, I’ll just focus on the parts most relevant to seasons.
There is a time for every matter under heaven. We’re under heaven. That’s our time, the seasons of our lives. First and foremost, we need to recognize that in our time there is a season for every matter. No matter how joyous or frustrating, supportive or destructive, everything has its season, and God made it just so. This can be really tough to grasp. No one likes to think about the fact that there is a time to die, a time to kill, a time to refrain from embracing, a time to lose, a time to cast away, and a time to hate. That’s plain unpopular, but we’ll never break out of cycles of anger and rebellion if we fail to recognize that everything has its season. Instead of rebelling against a season we don’t naturally like, we need to learn a different way of responding.
The use of the word “toil” in Ecclesiastes is immensely rich. It has such a wonderful application in the context of work and careers, even now, thousands of years after it was written, but more than that, it seems to really get at the heart of the near-pointless struggle we as humans often feel. We toil for years and find ourselves bemoaning the fact that we ended up right back where we started. How useless it feels to be so unproductive! We see here in verse 9 a very reasonable and pressing question: what is there to gain from all of this? If everything has its season and it all seems to even out in the end, how should we approach our toil, our work? Beauty and eternity – that’s the answer we’re given. Personally, I believe beauty is more than enough of an answer. The original text of this passage does a wonderful job of expressing that God’s creation is beautiful because God is beauty. Therefore, everything God creates reflects that beauty in some way. We can find the approach and response to our seasons in beauty alone: press on and seek God, no matter the circumstances, because we will come to find and understand new beauty through it all. Eternity is also mentioned because God has placed a certain desire in our hearts, yet not given us full understanding, so that we might persevere in the midst of good seasons and bad seasons.
We then find three more suggestions: be joyful, do good, and take pleasure in toil. All easier said than done. However, there is much to be said for setting your heart on the pursuit of joy. If you desire joy, you’ll be much more likely to appreciate the little moments of joy around you. If you pursue goodness, you’ll find joy in serving others. If you seek pleasure in your toil, this circles back to the beauty you will discover in what God has given you.
Seasons can be tough, but one thing I know is that I want to be able to handle all seasons well. I want to prepare myself to respond well to whatever God chooses to give me because that’s the only part that’s up to me. I don’t know whether Tolkien fully recognized the power and wisdom in this part of his book, but I’d like to end by sharing one of my favorite quotes from all of The Lord of the Rings:
Frodo: “I wish none of this had happened.”
Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
I encourage you, then, recognize what you do and do not have the power to decide, and choose how you are going to respond to your season.