When I was in high school, my physics class was instructed to build a bridge with specific parameters, using limited materials, mainly craft sticks and wood glue.
On the appointed day, all of us took our bridges to class, and they were placed over a gap between two desks. Then small weights were systematically hung to the bottom of the bridges to test how much weight they could bear.
Of course, in that environment, the greatest thrill wasn’t just winning the sturdiest bridge, but also watching as structure after structure was eventually obliterated under the increasing weight.
The weights weren’t all added at once; they were added slowly. One at a time. And they were added knowing that eventually every bridge would reach its capacity and crumble.
No one dared suggest we stand on top of a bridge; though we didn’t know how much, we knew each bridge would be destroyed under far less weight than that of a person. The structures weren’t made to support that kind of mass.
I thought back to those bridges crashing down to the ground recently as our church finished a study on the book of Ecclesiastes. It’s a book in which the Teacher systematically examined every part of life under the sun. He held up pleasure, work, time, knowledge, and even wisdom itself, and with each one, found it wanting. That’s the recurrent refrain throughout Ecclesiastes after each aspect of life is examined—Meaningless! Vanity! Each and every time.
Each time the Teacher looked at a particular component of life, it was obliterated. Destroyed. Crushed under its own weight. With each one, the Teacher found that they couldn’t provide the kind of satisfaction that we desire.
And with each one, we find ourself disappointed.
Work never truly satisfies. Pleasure is really never enough. Knowledge is never really fulfilling. Like the bridges in my high school physics class, they all eventually sag and break under the pressure of satisfaction.
That’s the bad news of Ecclesiastes. Whenever we look to anything under the sun for fulfillment and satisfaction, we’ll eventually cry “Meaningless!” as it’s crushed. Given that, one could look at the book of Ecclesiastes and see little value in reading it. Why would you? Just to find out that life is going to be one big disappointment? That’s hardly the kind of ear-tickling, self-help message we want to hear.
But the meaningless nature of life isn’t just the bad news of Ecclesiastes; it’s also the good news. This is more than just disappointment—it’s disappointment by design.
God has made these things in such a way that they will crumble when they’re hung with weight they weren’t meant to bear. With each and every crumbling, we’re reminded of the vanity of everything under the sun when we put too much weight on it. That’s why this isn’t disappointment for disappointment’s sake. It’s the kind of disappointment that’s flooded with opportunity.
You can either find yourself slipping into a cycle of despondency as you’re disappointed time and time again, or you can take this disappointment for what it is—a reminder of your tendency to tie weights to that, which isn’t mean to bear them.
This disappointment reminds you that you must look out from under the sun for meaning. For purpose. For fulfillment. It’s only there, out from under the sun, where you find something that will ultimately bear the heavy weight of your desires and expectations.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a lesson you learn once; it’s one you need to be reminded of again and again. You constantly look to the things under the sun to do things they were never meant to do.
You’re disappointed when your children don’t behave, and you question your value as a parent. You’re disappointed when the job promotion doesn’t answers all the desires and wants you assumed it would. You’re disappointed when your spouse inevitably fails to recognize and fulfill your every need and desire.
You’re disappointed because these are structures that weren’t meant to bear the weight you assign to them. But instead of despairing, take the opportunity that’s there. Every time those things crumble under the weight of your expectations, look upward. Look outward. Look beyond the sun, and thank God for disappointment by design.
Article courtesy of HomeLife Magazine
Michael Kelley and his wife, Jana, have three children. He’s the executive editor of HomeLife and the Director of Discipleship at LifeWay Christian Resources. Keep up with Michael on his blog at michaelkelleyministries.com or on Twitter @_MichaelKelley.