We are constantly in search of definition. We align ourselves with a cause or an affinity group or a job or a family, something that will be able to tell the world who we are. Perhaps we do so to give today more meaning. If’ I’m a doctor, or a missionary, or an actor, then I’m something, maybe even something someone will remember when I’m gone. If I can define myself, then I can know what to do when I get up in the morning. I have a way to face the day. As the writer of Ecclesiastes figured out though, what we ARE may not be the defining element. What we think, may not actually make us brilliant. Where then is the meaning of our yesterdays and our tomorrows?
Personally, I love words and definitions. I love clichés and proverbs, both of which have their place, though of course, clichés are considered too pedestrian for really astute writers, and yet that seems like an odd notion to me. Clichés are born out of the most common threads of connection, the things we all understand in easy pictures. It’s the joy of metaphor, the “twitter” of thought when there’s no time for a parable. If I say, “Make hay while the sun shines,” you understand it’s meaning just as clearly as if I give you a Proverb, “He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son, but he who sleeps during harvest in a disgraceful son.” Both are sayings that create a meaningful picture, a way to share a bit of wisdom, a way to get an important point across.
When it comes to time, yesterday and tomorrow, we haven’t evolved all that much past our ancestors. We’re still fretting over yesterday, running on empty today, and hoping we can outsmart tomorrow to bring us to a meaningful conclusion. We’re still hoping wisdom will outwit intelligence, that we’ll yet become a rising star, even if we’re already sensing the fade. We can gather job titles and degrees, bank accounts and pedigrees until, well, “the cows come home,” but in the end, wisdom may yet escape us. Confucius said, “By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest, and third by experience, which is bitterest.”
Reflection, imitation, and experience can indeed provide wisdom. Picturesque speech and ideas can bring guidance. Wise sayings can help. In fact someone once reflected that, “wise sayings are like great people talking to us. They are the cheapest teachers, consultants, advisers, guidelines, pilots, signposts, guardians and counselors we can find. They are short cuts to wisdom.”
Gaining wisdom from yesterday’s experience, fueling today with its charms, and submitting its portfolio for the future are all good things, but as the writer of Ecclesiastes noted: “The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails–given by one Shepherd…Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” But here is the conclusion of the matter…”Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
The One who established Himself as a God-shaped void in every heart, no matter how we define or label Him, has called us to be wise. He wants us to learn from our yesterday’s, strive in the present to make it a gift to ourselves and to others, and be at peace about tomorrow, for He alone has the answers to all of its questions.
So “put a smile on your face, and a song in your heart, cast your bread upon the waters,” and go out there knowing its not all up to you, but you are the true meaning, the arms and legs that make it happen, the heart that brings it to the point of real and lasting connection. You are the love and the light so desperately needed today. It’s not just okay to shine, it’s absolutely essential!
Okay, I’m off with a little extra spring in my step!