Eat, drink, and be merry, says Qohelet.*
I have spent a lifetime avoiding excess, choosing moderation, working weekends, and feeling guilty when I'm unproductive.
Qohelet would have words with me.
It's not that our work doesn't matter, but he urges us to slow down, to stop taking ourselves so seriously, to spend time enjoying the fruits of our labor.
Eat, drink, and be merry.
Don't store it all up for "Someday." You may die before you can enjoy what you've earned.
This is not what I expected.
I would rather hear him say, "Give it away. Be generous with those in need. Save for the future." (Other parts of the Bible say these things. And we should listen to them, too. I'm most comfortable with these parts.)
But Qohelet says, Loosen your belt buckle and eat another helping of dessert.
Relish what God has given.
Work—this, too, is a gift.
Do what you love and love what you do. But then stop and play. Work isn't everything.
Recognize that God has things in hand. He's in charge. You are not.
Rest in that.
Life won't always make sense. It will feel like things go round and round without progress, or those who don't deserve it get the lucky break and those who do lose everything. But don't panic.
As meaningless as it seems, God hasn't stopped ruling the world. He'll work it out eventually.
In the meantime, work, love, and . . . party.
No need to be more pious than God. He wants you to accept His gifts.
For this Dutch girl, the whole thing sounds suspicious, like a coupon that will turn out to be expired once I've driven across town and stood in line for 20 minutes ("I knew it was too good to be true"). Or like an advertisement for a beach house that looks much better on screen than in person ("You get what you pay for.").
Is this a trap? or a test of my motives? Is celebration a slippery slope that will land me in a self-indulgent mess?
I decide that frugality, taken to an extreme, is a failure to demonstrate gratitude for what God has provided. I must learn to think differently, enlarging my capacity for celebration.
I start small. We're on a date—the first in months—and I order Duck Curry instead of the usual chicken. The extra $2 tastes delicious.
Then I head to Wheaton for my dissertation defense. The weekend goes so incredibly well that I know it's just the sort of occasion Qohelet is talking about—a time to celebrate. At a dinner with friends I stay up late and "taste my first champagne" (not bad, actually!). But the real surprise, the real opportunity to test drive Qohelet's philosophy comes when I arrive home.
It's midnight, thanks to a delayed flight out of Chicago, and I am exhausted. But as we pull up to the house my jaw drops. Parked in the driveway with an enormous red bow is a car, a new car, just for me!
We'd been talking about "Someday," that time when I have a full-time job with a real salary and we can afford a newer car for my commute. But it appears that my parents have been reading Ecclesiastes, too. They felt that it was time to celebrate—that someday was now. And so they dug deep and orchestrated a surprise I will never forget. Though this extravagance cost me nothing, it will be a daily reminder of God's lavish love for me, a love not limited by "what's on sale" or "what's practical."
He's teaching this Dutch girl how to celebrate.
*Qohelet is the name some scholars use to refer to the "Teacher" in Ecclesiastes, since it's hard to know exactly what the translation would be. It's simply his Hebrew title rendered in English letters.