Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chasing the Wind

King Solomon is traditionally credited with having written the book of Ecclesiastes. Certainly much in the opening chapters fits with his life's story as recorded in the Bible: unmatched wealth and unmatched wisdom piling up and up. And though the histories in 1 Kings and 1-2 Chronicles say little outright about Solomon's attitude toward life, their record of his sliding away from dependence on God makes it easy to believe he eventually fell into the cynical, near-despairing thinking that permeates Ecclesiastes:

"When I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun" (Ecc. 2:11).

Many a person who "stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God" (Lk. 12:21) has voiced a similar wail. The wind is impossible to catch and hold; likewise with lasting joy in life, if we insist on pursuing it according to our own designs. If, as is often said, the primary symptom of insanity is doing the same thing again and again in desperate hope that this time the results will be different, there is hardly a sane human being in the world's wealthier societies. We assume we'll be content for life once we get the income level or other achievement we have our eyes on; and when we prove ourselves wrong, we immediately react not by questioning the validity of the central premise, but by assuming we must not have set our material goals high enough! Like small children who literally spend their outdoor playtime running after the wind, we eventually collapse exhausted, but considerably less content than those youngsters who have the sense not to seriously expect to catch the wind--at least not to the point where they consider their lives ruined when they don't.

With most adults, the only difference between "just another work week" and the Christmas holidays is that our endless rush after status and material gain makes some minor changes in its outward manifestations. Instead of chasing public applause, we chase the status of giving or getting the most prestigious gifts; instead of working overtime all week for fear of missing a crucial step toward a promotion, we attend parties and concerts every night for fear of missing out on any enjoyment. Most of us are, if anything, more exhausted and "thank God that's over" on the morning of December 26 than on the typical Friday afternoon.

It doesn't have to be that way. But if we're serious about finding true fulfillment rather than just one fleeting pleasure after another--in the Christmas season or in life as a whole--we have to get out of the "windy rat race" altogether.

It's only once we stop running that our hearts slow down enough to let the Wind of the Spirit refresh them with true Life.

I thought that I knew what I wanted,
And so often I got it, too,
But with each step up, satisfaction, sought,
Only seemed to retreat from view.

I thought I knew what made me happy,
And I found it from time to time,
But brief pleasures passed till all life seemed bleak
As a song without beat or rhyme.

I thought joy came from achievement,
But no matter how much I did,
I raced on and on with no rest in sight,
And success seemed forever hid.

I crawled to the Lord bent and broken,
And I cried, "God, have mercy, please!"
He replied, "You have chased earthly dreams so long,
And ignored My own Truth that frees.

"But I still have much blessing to give you,
And true peace for your aching soul;
Come, take on My yoke and rest in My Word,
And let Me make your spirit whole."

All the pain I had built up in striving--
Oh, how treacherous this heart of sin!--
All the years I chased after fleeting dreams,
All regrets for what might have been,

All dissolved like a fog in the sunlight
In His love-glow more bright than day,
And His glorious Strength that renewed my heart,
Guiding me back into His way.

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