4 I also observed that people work hard and become good at what they do only out of mutual envy. This too is pointless, just wind chasing.
5 Fools fold their hands and eat their own flesh.
6 But better is resting with one handful than working hard for two fistfuls and chasing after wind. Ecclesiastes 4:4-6, CEB
Yesterday we considered the possibility that some of the meaning we get out of life might come from hard work and taking responsibility. Today’s verses give us a sobering reminder not to over-prioritize work. Or, more specifically, not to over-prioritize work that’s done out of the wrong motivation (envy/jealousy/competition). Our meaning in our work comes from the work itself, not from doing a better job than someone else, or being recognized more than someone else, or being propped up at someone else’s expense, or out of a desire to prove that we can do a job as good or better than someone else. The process of doing the work is its own reward. That’s the theory, anyway.
When we moved into our house, our yard was in so-so shape. Some would say it was in terrible shape, some would say it was in pretty good shape. The truth is usually somewhere in between. I thought about my parents’ yard and how beautiful it is. I figured that there was no way I was going to get my yard to look like that so I may as well not even try. I did basic maintenance for the first year but not much else. This year, with my dad’s help, we tried to do a bit of work to spruce it up. After a few weeks, more grass came in and everything started looking quite a bit better. It wasn’t anywhere close to what my parents’ yard looks like, but pretty good. And I was satisfied with what I had accomplished (with a lot of help).
Silly example…but I felt like it helped me understand these verses a bit. It’s possible to find meaning in the work that I do without having anyone else’s work serve as a basis for comparison. I tried to lock that feeling away in my mind knowing that I needed to learn how to apply it to more significant things. Tomorrow I’ll talk about the ways in which I fail at this.