By Elizabeth Prata
By the 1990’s I wasn’t tempted by the American Dream anymore. My 90s decade, one in which I was thirty to forty years old were a reaction to the 1980s and 70s and 60s. See, I grew up being taught the American Dream, American exceptionalism, and nationalism. That I could attain anything I wanted, it was there for the taking because we lived in the best country and we were the best people.
And what I should want is the American Dream, I was taught, either directly or by osmosis via those around me or television commercials and movies. Grow up behaving, go to the best high school, then go to college, get a degree or two, preferably three, afterward, get married, get a professional level job, and buy a house. I did all that. My husband was even an engineer with the best company in the city and the house we bought was new & in the best neighborhood. We owned the spiffiest new car, and he played golf on Sundays. The American Couple.
Then he had an affair and left the marriage for another woman. I decided that I’d done everything “right” and I definitely did not get what I wanted…so I’d do the opposite. I went off the grid. If the grid didn’t want me, I wouldn’t want the grid. I signed up for an archaeological dig in Italy by myself and went footloose and fancy free for a month. Got a tenant for my house, gave away the dogs, and off I went into my decade of exploration, known to Christians as “The Ecclesiastes Phase” which for me lasted 12 years.
1. Human wisdom – wise and foolish die alike (2:15-16)
2. Human labor – laboring and the rested die alike (2:19-21)
3. Human purpose – Purpose God disposes (2:26)
4. Envy – Success brings envy not joy (4:4)
5. Greed – Get more and remain empty (4:7)
6. Fame – One day popular and then forgotten (4:16)
7. Wealth – Money does not satisfy (5:10)
8. Coveting – Wanting begets more wanting (6:9)
9. Frivolity – Time wasted brings sad end (7:6)
10.Recognition – Bad are often honored by men (8:10 & 14)
What fueled my search was discontent. The discontent led to restlessness. Where was satisfaction? Lasting satisfaction? Spending time in Italy didn’t resolve it, so how about Scotland? No? Then France. No? Then maybe a different hemisphere, Ecuador? Let’s eat at the best restaurant in that country. No? Not content? Then let’s get that advanced degree. No? OK let’s get published in an academic journal? No? Then let’s start a business and work hard. No?… Where was contentment?
The strivings that the Preacher speaks of in Ecclesiastes pretty well matches my decade of searching. It was an intentional search. I was deliberately and consciously looking for what would give me lasting contentment. I became increasingly frustrated because I could not find it.
1. The major thesis—”All is vanity” (the word “vanity,” meaning empty, is used 40 times in Ecclesiastes).
All that is in this world (all that is “under the sun”) is empty and unable to permanently satisfy. The things of this world promise satisfaction but they deliver only frustration. If we do not learn this truth the easy way, through information, then we must learn it the hard way, through experience. Solomon devotes 1:12–6:12 to proving this thesis.
2. The minor thesis—”Vanity of vanities.” There is a vanity (emptiness) which exceeds all other vanities (emptinesses).
This exceeding vanity is the vanity of spending our entire lives seeking satisfaction from the creation and not from the Creator (the vanity of living our entire lives seeking satisfaction from that which is under the sun and not from that which is above the sun). Source: Roy Gingrich, (1995). The Book of Ecclesiastes (p. 9). Memphis, TN: Riverside Printing.
I dwelled in the moment, basking in the immediate satisfactions I’d whipped up. I was like a fly caught in a glass jar, buzzing frantically from side to side and top to bottom. This was because I knew that satisfaction in whatever was fleeting. It was tiring striving after wind. What grace, what salve, the Lord gives us when the strivings cease and He ushers us though the Door. Salvation is peace, rest from the ceaseless wanderings of a soul at permanent discontent.
CHRIST OF ECCLESIASTES: This Book emphatically and convincingly portrays the emptiness and perplexity of life without a relationship with the Lord. Each person has eternity in his heart (3:11), and only Christ can provide ultimate satisfaction, joy and wisdom. The best and highest good of man and life itself is only found in the “one shepherd” (12:11) who offers abundant life, Jesus.
THESIS: ALL IS VANITY (1:1-11)
PROOF: LIFE IS VAIN (1:12-6:12)
COUNSEL: FEAR GOD (7:1-12:14)
Learning contentment is a skill, one which I still have a ways to go. But I am permanently relieved of my rovings and ravings. My turbulent heart is smoothed into a glassy sea of peace, with only occasional storms. You might not have as vivid memories as I do of my days in sin before salvation, but the gratitude for the peace that leads to internal, rock-solid contentment should be there. Are you grateful that you life is not vain (empty)?
Oh, the Word holds forth a way full of comfort and peace to the people of God even in this world. You may live happy lives in the midst of all the storms and tempests in the world. There is an ark that you may come into, and no men in the world may live such comfortable, cheerful and contented lives as the saints of God. Oh, that we had learned this lesson. ~Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment