The one where Qohelet talks about work.
|18 Look, I have seen what is good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our share. 19 Also all to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom he enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment in their toil—this is the gift of God. 20 For they will scarcely brood over the days of their lives, because God keeps them occupied with the joy of their hearts.
Finally! Qohelet tells us what is good!
Actually he has mentioned this before and now he come back to it. Eat, drink, and find enjoyment in your work.
I am pretty sure he is on to something important here. We spend close to the majority of our adult lives working. Our work is one of the most important things we do. It is central to who we are, as I have mentioned before.
A long time ago I decided that I would never choose my career solely based on how much money I could make. No one can really pay me what I am worth, and since I am spending much of my time at work, it is better to enjoy what I do rather than how much I make. I have been blessed in that I have liked or loved almost every job I have had, even my summer jobs in college and graduate school.
About ten years ago one of my parishioners came to me and said, “After I heard your sermon last week, I decided to quit my job.” To be honest I was scared. I could not remember what I said, and I knew this man had a family to support, and I was afraid I might be the cause of much suffering for them. But he went on.
“You asked us, ‘What would you do if you had a million dollars?’” I remembered saying that. “And then you said, ‘Why are you waiting for the money? If it’s really worth doing, then don’t wait for something that may never happen. Just go and do it.’ When you asked that question, the first thing I thought was that I would quit my job. I realized how strongly I felt that, and how much I hated my work. Then I realized I would never get a million dollars, but I can start looking for a new job.”
I was relieved he was not going to quit his job that very day, but he started the search on the Monday after the sermon. And within a month he found a new job, one he really liked. He moved up in that job, and became the head of his department. He continued to move up, and became in charge of the whole division. He ended up moving twice, and each time was a large promotion. He was moving up because he loved what he was doing, and other people could see that.
He realized what Qohelet did—one of the secrets to a fulfilling life is to enjoy what you do.
At the end of this section, Qohelet says that when we love what we do, we become preoccupied with it, and don’t have time to brood over the things we don’t have, or about what the future will bring. There are few things as fulfilling as a hard day at working doing something we enjoy.
Thoughts and Questions
- This is well and good for most people, but what about people who cannot find meaningful work? Someone has to pick up the garbage and clean the sewer systems. Is it possible that there is a meaningful job for every person? Is it possible that all jobs can be meaningful or enjoyable for someone?
- I have focused this discussion on work, but I don’t think that Qohelet is limiting what he says to paid labor. Can we do this in retirement?
- Are you enjoying the things that you do on a daily basis? What do you find enjoyable? If not, what you can do to change that?