What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in it's time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. -Ecclesiastes 3:9-11I once watched an interview of Rod Dreher conducted by Eric Metaxas. The topic of this interview was Dreher's book, "The Little Way of Ruthie Leming" (I subsequently read the book, which I commend to you). In the interview they explore the themes of the book, which examine's Dreher's growing up in a small Louisiana town, feeling out of place because of his intellectual proclivities, leaving the small town and living a somewhat nomadic big city life in search of place and meaning, and finding those things as he returned to that same small town. The catch in the story is what brings him back to the small town. His sister is diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, and as he witnesses her struggle and death in community, he witnesses what community is.
It was a beautiful picture to me of much of the truth of Ecclesiastes. As Dreher unpacked his ideas on the importance of sinking roots into a place, the phrase he continually came back to was "living within the limits" of a given community. This captures the essence of much of what Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes, and chapter 3 in particular. Of course, the scope of Solomon's searching is life "under the sun" and not merely in a single community, but it should be obvious to us that as individuals we exist and live in a single community at any given point. Of course many of us move, and thus the communities we are in are perhaps not the same as those in which we are raised, but we are in a place. A particular place. And like the reality of created-ness itself, the finitude of our existence, being in a place places limits upon us.
This bothers us. We don't want walls. Especially in the age of the internet, where the world is seemingly boundless. How many of us were told by parents or teachers that we could be anything we desired to be? Yet critical thought will display this to be obviously untrue. I am 5' 10" and weigh 170lbs...I can desire to be an NFL linebacker all my life long, but it will never happen. I might desire and work to pitch in the big leagues, but my 78 mph fastball will probably impede my chances of ever doing so. And those are simply my physical limitations. I have other limitations. Financial. Educational. Intellectual. Familial. Some of these can be surmounted, some cannot. Some could be pushed aside in a rearranging of priorities, but only at great cost. The point is that we are finite beings with only certain capacities. We live inside of walls. Sometimes we choose those walls, and sometimes they are thrust upon us.
What I want to suggest here is that finitude is not a curse. That there are certain walls in our existence that we should embrace and learn to live fully within, rather than attempting to knock down. Walls can be a good thing. Chesterton at one point tells of the walls of a city built upon an immense precipice. When the walls were erect, the inhabitants of the city lived full lives of pleasure and fun. But when those same walls were knocked down, the inhabitants didn't fall off (as I might have expected), but rather huddled in the middle in paralyzed fear. Walls, limits, are part of what it means to be human. And this is a good gift of God.
I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil--this is God's gift to man. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13
When we embrace the limits of life, of a given place, of our particular situation, this is when we are free to live within those limits. If I spend all of my time attempting to remove limits or to expand my horizons, I may often find that I have missed the opportunity to live the life that I already have. To embrace the limits of your life needn't necessarily be thought of a a restricting thing, it in fact can be quite freeing. To understand what and who I am not frees me to fully be what and who I am. I fear often times we miss this in our day.
I suppose this has been a long way of say this about walls: live within in them, eat, drink, and enjoy the life you have.