I had the privilege of watching my friends’ 2 ½-year-old little boy a month ago. I’ve worked with, and been around, kids a majority of my life; however it’s been a while since I’ve been entrusted with the care of a little one.
During our short time together, I learned the following:
- Walking to the park means we’ll never get there, because there’s too much cool stuff to see along the way.
- Wanting a bean and cheese burrito for dinner means, I want to unwrap the burrito and only eat the insides.
- Asking to brush my teeth means, I want to suck the toothpaste off the toothbrush.
- Asking to read one more book means, I want to read four more.
- Wanting to hold the car keys means, I actually want to open the garage door.
- Me accidentally breaking the bathtub stopper means, I don’t think I can take a bath because you just crammed one of my squirty bath toys into the drain to hold the water in, and it looks really weird, and is freaking me out.
- While life with a toddler is adventurous, it’s also extremely monotonous. The routine of: wake up→play→eat→play→eat→tantrum→nap→wake up→play→eat→play→eat→tantrum→bath→sleep, felt both exhausting and interminable.
In Ecclesiastes 1.4-8, we see Qoheleth, the author (also translated as Teacher or Preacher), lamenting this very monotony—generations come and go, the sun rises and sets, the wind blows one direction only to return from another. For Qoheleth, there is “nothing new under the sun” (v. 9). Life is mundane, boring, and redundant. It’s an unending cycle that leads nowhere, and if his audience thinks there’s anything more to it, then they’re severely mistaken. If we see Qoheleth as a pessimistic skeptic, then this is the main takeaway—life is a meaningless venture that ends in death.
Yet, if we see Qoheleth as an apologist, an evangelist who uses cynicism to fight cynicism, then we glean a very different takeaway. From this perspective, Qoheleth paints a portrait of life’s grimness precisely to point his audience to Yahweh. He points out that life is in fact empty, dreary , and lackluster, without Yahweh. Life has no purpose if we don’t believe in God. Qoheleth brings his audience (and us) to the brink of hopelessness, in the hope that we’ll be attracted to the alternative—life under Yahweh. For Qoheleth, the unending cycle of life only makes sense if it’s lived in light of, and according to, a Divine Creator. He is cynical toward life “under the sun,” precisely because living life in this fashion, outside of any connection to, or belief in God, is meaningless.*
During my short babysitting stint, I learned (above all) that life is in fact routinized, that it moves at a slower pace, and that this is a gift. We live in a world that prizes the extraordinary to mediocrity, extravagance to simplicity, and excitement to the mundane. Experiencing life through the eyes of a toddler was thus a welcome change. It was a reminder that we serve a God who “exults in monotony.”** God tells the sun to rise and set every day; he brings the moon and stars out every night; he causes the seasons to pass every year. He never seems to tire of this repetition, nor become bored with the unchanging cycle of his creation. Perhaps, neither should we.
When we forget that God is a God of monotony, life can seem an insufferable bore. We quickly become discouraged by its routine, and when its rhythm feels dull and unfulfilling, we’re tempted to fantasize about greener pastures. We look for things “under the sun” to bring us satisfaction and escape. However, if we heed Qoheleth’s words, this seeking is hollow, and only leads to disappointment.
Knowing, and serving, God infuses our lives with meaning; it’s the only thing that brings us fulfillment; it’s the only thing that sustains us in moments of drudgery. It’s in the everyday humdrum of life—reading Goodnight Moon for the fifth time, sitting outside of the Meat Market for 25 minutes watching birds, or dumping, collecting, and re-dumping rocks for an entire afternoon—that God meets us. We can find meaning in the mundane, precisely because God does. There is joy, hope, and life to be found in the repetitiveness of our everyday lives.
May we remember that in the ordinary, God causes the extraordinary to happen.
*Gilbert, Pierre. Old Testament Wisdom Literature. Ecclesiastes. June 8, 2011.
**Eswine, Zachary W. Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being, p. 96. Crossway, 2013.