For every ten people who love the cycles of nature, at least one hates them. To most people, a sunrise offers quiet moments of solitude and an inherent promise: it’s a brand-new day that’s never been lived before. Similarly, a sunset throws a splash of color on our workday, happily ending our activities and signaling a time to rest. And tomorrow we’ll get to do it all again.

But Qohelet, the author of Ecclesiastes, seems to have no such optimism. To him, a sunrise signals another day in the salt mines. A sunset grimly signals encroaching death. The very repetitiveness of it is oppressive. His is a life of lather, rinse, repeat.

Somewhere in the vicinity of midlife, we come to the place where we can relate. The rhythms that once coordinated our lives now tyrannize them. Life can feel like the same stinking things, one after the other.

Some years ago, the staff of my (Greg’s) church shared our Myers–Briggs profiles. Each profile comes with a wealth of descriptors and explanations, including a short catchphrase. I (Greg) am an ENTP (“Extroverted iNtuitive Thinking Perceiving”). The catchphrase for my type is, “One adventure after another.” Bingo. The materials went on to explain that my type is the least likely to want to do the same thing the same way. That resonates too. Something in my very DNA craves novelty. My philosophy: If it ain’t broke, break it; at least you’ll have a new problem to solve.

But here’s where we get it wrong. We consider monotony akin to death and variety the essence of life. The brilliant G. K. Chesterton saw things differently:

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. . . . The repetition in nature may not be a recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.

This may actually be Qohelet’s point. The cycles of life are so much bigger than we are. Sun, wind, and water continue to follow their courses unabated as entire generations of people pass off the scene. Our lives and works are so feeble and fleeting by comparison. The proper response is not despair but wonder. Qohelet says mouths can’t say enough, eyes can’t see enough, ears can’t hear enough. It’s all too great to comprehend, and we’ll wear ourselves out if we try. The wise person will simply adjust to the reality.

Adapted from 40/40 Vision by Peter Greer and Greg Lafferty. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60615, USA.

[ This article is also available in español. ]

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40/40 Vision: Clarifying Your Mission in Midlife
40/40 Vision: Clarifying Your Mission in Midlife
208 pp., 14.59
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