Years ago, one of the home-bound members of my church family, who has since passed away, described for the me the process of her ever-decreasing eyesight. She said that it was only during the bright sunlight of the day that she could see around her room. As the months and years went by, the darkness grew as her eyes worsened. She got to the point where she received audio books because she could no longer see words on a page.
The Teacher talks about this in Ecclesiastes 11, verses 7-10, with a caution, but one that is doused with joy. Here is my Old Testament seminary professor David Dorsey’s translation of Ecclesiastes 11:7-10:
“7 It is delightful to see the light; it is wonderful to enjoy the light of the sun. 8 If a person lives many years he should enjoy them all. But he should keep in mind the approaching time of darkness, for it will last a long time. Life is short and fleeting; 9 so be joyful, young man, while you are young. Let your heart rejoice during the time of your youth. Do everything you truly want to do, and whatever your eyes see to do—keeping in mind that God will evaluate everything you do. 10 Rid your heart of sorrow, and banish unhappiness from your body, for youth and the prime of life are fleeting.”
The Teacher has talked about the shortness of life, the aging process, many times throughout his book. It’s a fact of life that a new year, a birthday, or an anniversary drives home, year after year after year. I write this on the cusp of a new year, 2021. We might want to be rid of 2020 and all its mess, but the Teacher has a corrective for us. I hope we never have another year as bad as what we just went through, but we will have more hard times, and of course, we will keep keeping older. Looking back a past year, then, helps us remember that the question should not be, “How can I avoid another year like that? Or how can I stop growing older?” Instead, the Teacher tells us that we should consider, “How can I live joyfully right now, no matter what is going on, even when I find more gray hairs and more aches and pains?”
It seems to me that the Teacher has incredible advice: Start young! Have a joyful attitude when you are young. That means working hard against being jaded. Instead of letting a year like 2020 grow a negative attitude in your life, choose to find ways to rejoice. Do so when you are young because it will be more likely that you will develop a habit, an attitude, that will serve you well as you age. What’s more, be happy and rejoice when you are young, because when you are young, that’s when you have the most opportunity to fully enjoy life.
Serving Faith Church for the past 18 years, Michelle and I have had the opportunity to walk alongside so many people (mostly from Faith Church, but also some from the community) who have experienced adversity in their lives. Some handle these difficulties with pessimism, with self-pity, while some respond with teachability; some with calm and some with intensity and drama. The incredible blessing and joy we’ve had as we’ve been privileged to walk beside and learn from people who’ve endured incredible pain, and carried themselves with joy in the midst of it, is something that we will never forget.
I urge you to start a habit of joy that will carry you through. Joy in the one who loves and adores you. Joy in the hope of Jesus and His goodness and presence. I suspect that the people who are grumpy and difficult never heeded the Teacher’s wisdom. From what I’ve seen, some just choose to be negative or selfish or arrogant instead of making the choice of kindness, sacrifice and joy in the midst of pain.
How you do you cultivate that kind of joy? I recently heard a podcast which mentioned the difference between saying thank you and showing appreciation. One idea is to daily take a moment to write down 5 things you are thankful for. While I find that to be a helpful practice, along with being a thankful person in general, appreciation goes a bit further. To grow an attitude of appreciate, I encourage to practice a daily 3-5 minutes of quietness, just to be appreciative. What I’m suggesting is different from expressing a “Thank you.” When you are appreciative, you are entering into an extended period of joyful gratitude. To do this remember some way that God has kept his promises, or some recent situation where you experienced his blessing. Then just reflect on that joyfully. Remember the sights, the sounds, the smells of the experience, and dwell on God’s goodness. This practice can help you cultivate a heart of appreciation, of gratitude, of joy. This is how the verse “in everything give thanks” is not actually an impossible task that is being suggested to us, but a suggestion, from Jesus, for our good.