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Joy and Fulfilment amid Vanity
Two years ago, I was among 20 to 30 participants at a primary school reunion. Among our former classmates were those who are well-dressed and have grown rich, farmers attending in flip-flops, housewives who seldom leave home, dream pursuers who have travelled over half the globe, idealistic cultural workers as well as worn-out laborers. Everybody was in their fifties. And whether rich or poor, healthy or sick, single or surrounded by grandchildren, they all showed marks of experience on their faces. Our conversations at this stage were invariably about retirement, staying healthy and, guess what, memories of trivial matters that took place in class and games we played in the playground in primary school days. I thought to myself: How come that we have lived life as it is but now seems to have gotten back to where we began? I asked how they understood life after all these years. Their answers include: hardship, anxiety, drifting, uncertainty, sighs, helplessness and regrets! Wouldn’t that be the vanity as described in Ecclesiastes? Is that how we will spend our life?
When I was young, I have had my dreams. I was to strive for my dreams, my ideals, for society and the future. But what I met with then was unpredictable. I could not control my future. Life seemed to have come to a dead end, full of helplessness, frustration, frailty, and meaninglessness. Is there a way out? This is what the wise said, "A man's steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand his own way?" (Proverbs 20:24) Our future is in God's hands. Therefore, there is no need to wrestle with the fact of vanity. But we need to learn to accept what we cannot change. Man cannot understand his own way. He needs to rely on God, to let God lead and follow Him every step of the way.
Midlife should be time to enjoy the fruit of our labor including wealth and family pleasures. But then hardship comes one after another. The heart sinks, crying: Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? The preacher's message is this: God has made both good times and bad. When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, we need to consider (Ecclesiastes 7:14). Since everything comes from God, we need to accept what comes our way with fear and a thankful heart. When we get the fruit of our labor, be happy. Adversity is also good for our heart. So, there is no need to wrestle with adversity, but learn to patiently respond to adversity. That is wisdom.
As we grow old, how shall we face the degeneration of our health and the approach of our death? Shall we respond with helplessness, fear, grievances, or hold on to our last straw for a sense of security? I remember the words of an elderly couple, "We are determined to live a joyful senior's life. They consider this to be God's last task for them. When people see our joy, God is glorified!" What a senior couple with a great sense of mission! The preacher also emphasizes: "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might" (Ecclesiastes 9:10). The closer we get to the end of life's journey, the more we need to grasp the opportunity to do well what God has entrusted with us, walking on life's journey of joy with our weakening body and a brighter, renewed soul.