In most translations of the book of Ecclesiastes, we are told in the second verse that everything is utterly meaningless. However, this could be considered somewhat of an inaccurate translation of the Hebrew word, hevel.
In Hebrew, hevel more closely translates to smoke or vapor. The speaker is saying that life doeshave meaning, but that the meanings in life are never clear. Like a smoke or a vapor, life is beautiful but mysterious. If you try to reach out and grab it, it will simply slip through your fingers.
Most days I can’t remember if I’m still sixteen or if I’m actually twenty five or fifty. I read recently that Generation Z is now beginning college which means the age of the millenials is on it’s way out. I felt old and sad for a second, but honestly it’s going to be a nice break from having the news blame everything on me and my avocado toast.
Ecclesiastes tells us that time marches on with or without us. In the grand scheme of things, we’re just small little blips in the span of time and space. Generations will come and go and eventually nobody will remember who we were. Do you even know the names of your Great-Grandparents? What about their parents? Even if you do, how much do you know about them besides a name?
Ecclesiastes also tells us that bad things will happen to good people and we may not get a clear answer as to why. We’ve all been through seasons of life when we look around us and nothing seems clear. We can’t understand why God would allow something like this to happen to us. We can’t comprehend how this situation could ever factor into His plan for us.
Reading through the book of Proverbs would lead you to believe that following a righteous life produces fair and good results, while Ecclesiastes follows up by saying that even those who follow God won’t be able to understand everything in life.
If you take all this at face value, the book can seem bleak or downright depressing. Honestly, the first time I read through this book I couldn’t believe it was actually even in The Bible. Think of trying to get your friend to come to church and then the whole time you’re there your pastor just talks about how life is meaningless, you’re all going to die eventually, and bad things will happen to you no matter what you do. Not exactly the most heartwarming story.
However, there is another side to hevel that brings a new light and a new meaning to everything around us.
When we grasp the concept of how small we actually are, and how we truly have no control over what happens to us in life, we are freed from the obligation to try to control everything. Ecclesiastes makes abundantly clear that the only thing each of us can control is our attitude toward the present situation.
We should let go of stress and worry. It’s not ours to carry. We should stop trying to micromanage every factor of our lives and give that control over to God. We should learn to live with open hearts and open hands, understanding that everything around us is temporary.
If we stop worrying, we can choose to appreciate the small things. Ecclesiastes tells us to enjoy the little pleasures in life with gladness and a joyful heart. Appreciate feeling the sun on your face, having a good meal with your best friends, a great conversation, or just the day to day life with your spouse. Enjoy all of your years and don’t worry about how many are left to come.
Now, I look for the hevel everywhere in my life. What small moments can I find to soak up that I would have otherwise ignored? What little things bring you joy, even when nothing else is going the way you’d hoped?
I’ve started this habit of saying “hevel” outloud to myself whenever I come across one of these moments, just to bookmark it in my mind. I realize this is probably weird and not everyone may find this helpful but it helps ground me in the moment and fully appreciate what’s happening.
A few days ago, my two-year-old son fell asleep in my lap for the first time in a long time and as I looked down at his rosy cheeks and long eyelashes I thought about hevel. No matter what has happened or what will happen or who remembers me a hundred years from now, God gave me this moment as a gift.
The next night, my husband and I were doing the dishes and a song came on that made us start laughing and dancing in the kitchen like idiots in love. Not the kind of slow dancing with soapy hands that you’d see in a movie like The Notebook, but just two people with no sense of rhythm trying to make each other laugh. Even if we lost everything the next day, God gave us that moment.
The point of Ecclesiastes isn’t that life is meaningless, but that we should stop trying to figure it all out, understand just how small we truly are, and be grateful that we have a God who gives us joy everyday whether we choose to see it or not.