As we set ambitious new year’s resolutions for ourselves, we may look back over our calendars and wonder, “What did I accomplish last year? And did it really matter?”Another year of Covid-induced workarounds—not to mention, unemployment or illness—can certainly put a dent in one’s vocational enthusiasm. The high number of people changing jobs suggests something is afoot. Perhaps work isn’t the be all/end all we thought. Maybe we’re a tad too invested in the 9-5 (or, alas, the 24/7).
Even in better years, when you led a successful project team, strategized a new product launch, or on-boarded some amazing people, the “wins” can still fall short of the impossibly high expectations we have for our work. It’s not just a personal problem. Our world feels likewise frayed and unfinished: a housing development in which weeds grow where sidewalks are meant to be.
King Solomon, an ambitious man if there ever was one, gazed back at his successes and moaned about futility. Five times in Ecclesiastes, his short book of accumulated wisdom, he takes an axe to lofty life ambitions with the oft-quoted advice to: “eat, drink and find satisfaction in your toilsome work.” While this may sound like license to adopt a TGIF mindset, we shouldn’t miss that happy hour is a gift of God. Work is hard, after all, and weeds abound. “I commend the enjoyment of life,” says the wizened king, “because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun” (Eccles. 8:15).
When Our Work Is Done
Thankfully, for the believer there’s more than a celestial happy hour to look forward to. Work done for the glory of God, however blemished or unfinished, foretells joyful satisfaction ahead in its finishing. In 1 Corinthians 15:32, Paul situates our work in the sunlight of eternity. “If the dead are not raised,” says the one who fought wild beasts in Ephesus, we might as well do what Solomon urged: “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” But because Jesus was raised—and called his work “finished”—so shall we rise to our completeness in Him.
While we may not find satisfaction on this side of eternity (secret of adulthood: you won’t), full satisfaction awaits us on the other side. That’s where we’ll meet up with the likes of Gimli and Legolas, who dream of employing their gifts and skills in the restoration of Minas Tirith. Somehow human design, harmony, and beauty will find fulfillment in the new heavens and earth.
In his delightful allegory, Leaf by Niggle, Tolkien tells of a painter who was “not a very successful one, partly because he had many other things to do.” Niggle spends his last days struggling to actualize on canvas the vision of a great forest he has in his mind. Tragically, owing to life’s many distractions, including caring for an irksome neighbor, only a single “leaf” survives his mortal life. Yet just a “train ride” away, Niggle spies the Forest he envisioned. At last free of distractions and limitations, he takes brush and finishes his life’s work. Niggle’s painting was not only complete, it was consummated, becoming part of heaven’s landscape itself. “The blossom on the Great Tree was shining like flame. All the birds were flying in the air and singing. Then he smiled…and went off with the shepherd.”
Eat, drink and be merry, and give thanks for work’s proximate joys. Your frustrations are real, but learn to send them forward. Your work will find its fullness there.
Editor’s Note: This article was adapted with permission from the author’s blog. Read the original here.