The Art of Keeping Children Occupied

Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot.  Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God.  He seldom reflects on the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.  Ecclesiastes 5:18-20.

 

I guess one could take the above statement as a psychological reading of why some people never really register how fortunate they are in the grand scheme of things.  Until I read this passage today, it never crossed my mind that sometimes people who are prosperous just can’t see how bad the world is because God keeps [them] occupied with gladness of heart.  Yet Solomon isn’t talking about the head-in-the-sand types but those few allowed to enjoy the contentment which comes from not needing anything—literally.

I must say, I have never experienced this type of contentment from abundance and I doubt very many have.  The reason is simple:  we resemble the previously mentioned type of people who worry about gaining or losing our wealth.  I have met, however, a few who match this description in our passage above.  They might be few and far between, but they do exist.

On the one hand it seems easy to be content once a person arrives at a certain supply volume.  On the other, human nature being what it is, we rarely see anyone with “enough” maintain it without stress.

Solomon is speaking to us about a gift of God.  A gift is something we can’t argue with as believers.  He also justifies these few with his declaration that they are unable to reflect on their lives because God gifts with gladness of heart.  So when we condemn those who are simply content and happy with life and seemingly unaware of the horrors in the world their abundance seems to flout, we are actually condemning God’s sovereignty.

To expand what he said here to the NT, Jesus claimed God rained His blessings down on the righteous and unrighteous alike.  If this gift of being able to enjoy our prosperity is a gift of God, and He shows no favoritism whatsoever, then we can conclude one possible reason we don’t experience this is the fault lies with us.  Again, if God gives equally to everyone, then the reason we are not glad of heart is our own fault not some cosmic curse.  Remember, the gift spoken of here is not merely wealth but gladness of heart.

Jesus commanded His followers to let go of worry about our food, water and shelter supplies.  Paul took it a step further by suggesting godliness with contentment is the greatest gain.  Paul also went so far as to give an illustration from his own experience when he wrote I have learned the secret of being content in any and all circumstances, whether in plenty or want, well fed or hungry…going on to point out we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.  This whole teaching flies in the face of the reality we deal with everyday.  At the same time, it seems to me one of the reasons why some people don’t register how bad things are in the world is because they are kept occupied with gladness of heart.

I lived in Walla Walla, Washington, for a few years where I witnessed people living in almost a dream state of contentment.  Now remember, this is from my outsider perspective so I wouldn’t know any of the personal issues going on inside the families.  What I saw was a real sense of arrogance on the part of these mostly educated people, and thus a subtle condescension for my family because Dad barely started third grade before he had to begin supporting his family.  He was only 12.  Few, if any, admired his determination for life, intelligence or sense of loyalty to his family as much as they looked on him with pity for being uneducated.  It wasn’t always overt, because it rarely is with people who have learned nuance and social decorum, but it was there.  Eventually, one of my friend’s mothers met with me and told me I wasn’t good enough to hang out with her kids.  I wouldn’t have thought to apply what she said to my family background except that she took pains to point out the nature of my family’s low station in the town.

In writing about this meeting I’m not hiding or displaying bitterness, just focusing on the facts.  I heard from several people later that she and a few other mothers actually talked about how odd I was, wishing I would just know my place and stay away from their kids—my friends.  Later I found out this very same lady came from the type of background she accused me of having, and through her children she apologized and tried to make amends in all our later meetings.  She’s actually quite a sweet person, just damaged.

But my point is sometimes we get so fixated on our good that we begin to think that anyone who doesn’t have what we do is somehow either less than, stupid or lazy—or, if you’re into this type of Christian doctrine, dealing with a family curse.  I’ve heard all sorts of people speak this way, including my own family.  It seems when humans are blessed in some way they begin to consider themselves above those who aren’t in their “blessed” space.  I get it, but it still doesn’t follow Scriptural common sense.

Solomon approaches this subject from pre-messianic point of view.  His conclusions aren’t wrong, merely lacking in the complete picture.  Yet the conclusion above holds part of the argument both Jesus and Paul presented in their discussion of worry, anxiety, trust in God and contentment.  I believe we should be content with our lot when we prosper.  No one should ever feel guilty about having plenty.  Living in Portland, OR, I hear a lot of resentment about the rich or even well to do people.  Those concerned with poverty seem to almost hate those with enough as if it’s their prosperity which caused the evil conditions elsewhere.  While it is certainly true that some wealthy people are responsible for the horrid conditions of others, most of the truth doesn’t lie with the well off.  It is a byproduct of either time and chance or oppression/sin.

In one discussion about the privileges even our poor Americans experience the person I spoke with looked with a jaundiced eye on my son’s Wii and many toys.  Without actually accusing me of being heartless towards the homeless children in my city, they pointed out my red headed boy’s abundance as if it were evil.  My next question came to me as an inspiration, “So tell me, do you think your impoverished street kids should have enough food, toys and even a Wii?”  My friend got quiet and looked conflicted.  So I went on:

I believe all people should have everything they need and be able to earn their “wants”.  The reason they don’t is because sin makes people insane about hoarding and controlling.  The children in the streets of Portland and whatever city we name are there because of oppression, poverty, abuse, the drug and alcohol problems of their parents or their own and a host of other issues.  In New Deli the problem is mostly political because the ruling class still sees the Untouchables as cursed by the god (take you pick as to which one because they have over 2500 gods).  The select slice of Christians who look on poverty as an evidence of a family curse (taken from the OT law, by the way, which was nailed to the cross) mirror this ethic of Hinduism, though I’m sure they don’t realize it, which can only be lifted by rites and ceremonies to one degree or another.

Oddly though, no one thinks that the curse is rarely a specific sin but the natural consequences of denying God His place in our lives.  We conclude it must have been a sin of the ancestors when someone has financial troubles, all the while forgetting (or perhaps not knowing) the passage in Ezekiel 18 where God basically does away with this type of punishment.  If a person repents of his or her own evil, they will not be held responsible for the sins of the ancestors.  It’s pretty evident, however, that we don’t read the entire Bible because too often we get half-baked theology running around causing incredible anxiety, despair, depression and, quite often discouragement.

Later in Ecclesiastes 9:11 we find out that we are subject to time and chance which explains some of God’s judgment against humanity.  What if, folks, a lot of the consequences we experience come as a result of bad habits developed in the family culture?  We know from the studies of anthropologists and psychologists humans basically learn through imitation more than scholastics.  If this is true, it’s no wonder God destroyed whole city states because the evil was in the DNA.  It’s been established in the last 50 years that alcoholics pass on the gene which makes their offspring susceptible to addiction up to the third or fourth generation.  So what does that tell us?  God is punishing the children for the sins of the parents; or, something more intrinsic about His design?

God doesn’t need to punish us overtly because the consequences of our actions will be felt in the natural outcomes of our bodies, minds and societies.  To think otherwise is to make Him out to be petty and small.  No, our bodies need water, if we deny them moisture, we will become dehydrated and eventually die.  This is not a “curse” but a very real natural consequence of design.  God designed us to operate a certain way, if we step out of the design specs, we suffer the consequences and oftentimes hurt others along the way.

God keeps some people occupied with gladness of heart because they aren’t able to cope with anything else or in order to demonstrate the promise of His love to those around them.  Either way, it works.  It’s like kids who can’t cope with scary things being given the gift of insulation from all the problems in the world.  God gives some this gift to keep them from falling away as much as He expects them to give out of their abundance.  The natural byproduct of being human steers them towards arrogance, however, and they begin to think there is something extra special about them when it could just be they are too weak to endure anything else or that God is demonstrating the promise of eternal blessings through them.

Yet some are given this gift because they can handle it with godliness and sensitivity.  These people see the world for what it is, remain humble and thankful for their blessings and continue to work toward lifting others up out of their degradation and oppression.  These few deserve both our admiration and applause…though I doubt they would be comfortable with either.

“From those given much, much will be expected; from those given little, little will be asked.”  Jesus of Nazareth

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4 Responses to “The Art of Keeping Children Occupied”

  1. tlc4women Says:

    I think this topic will come up more and more in our society. There are some who think, we need to redistribute wealth to make it all equal then all will be content in the land. The problem with that entitled thinking is that it will never be equal. Some will take their money and invest it, save it and grow it, while others will spend it all. I wish we could learn what Solomon is saying here. When we can just be happy in what our hands are put to do each day, we open ourselves up to the possibility that God will bestow us with this gift. But if not….

    I think the word makes it pretty clear. Life isn’t fair but God is just and we find contentment in that.

  2. Ula Says:

    Thanks for the post. I think contentment partly comes when we make peace with our purpose in life and stop comparing ourselves with others. It could also be that those who have a problem with others having money may be secretly coveting their money. I’ve heard of people who claim to have a problem with the inequalities that wealth brings but change their tune when they are suddenly the recipients of wealth.

  3. Poetry Says:

    Poetry…

    […]The Art of Keeping Children Occupied « Jonny’s Habit[…]…

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