Archive for May, 2012

A Talk About Endings

May 23, 2012

The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.  Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.  Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?”  For it is not wise to ask such questions.  Ecclesiastes 7:8-10.


Death is the end of a life.  Winter is the end of Fall, which was the end of Summer, which ended Spring, which, in turn ended Winter.  All things end to begin something else.  Our infancy ends with becoming a toddler; though the change is not seen so much as an ending as it is a progression.  But what is progress if not the ending of one thing which replaces another?

As I read the above verses I began to see that they were tied to one another in subtle ways.  For example:  Since the word “fool” here refers to a morally deficient person, our text is pointing out that anyone who allows themselves to be quickly provoked in…spirit operates from a moral deficiency.  That’s quite an assertion about a quick temper.  Yet, looking at the context, I get the sense Solomon is trying to guide us into a new idea.  For many people the phrases the end of a matter… and patience is better…don’t have much to do with one another; and how does the issue of being easily angered or wishing for the old days relate?

The key is the first sentence:  The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.  Patience solves the problem of anger, wouldn’t you say?  As for wishing for better days from the past, the end of a matter deals with this issue right up front.

A person who looks at the past through nostalgic eyes forgets the down times or dismisses them as insignificant, a totally unrealistic romanticized view.  Life happens the same pretty much for everyone.  Ok, may be not the exact same things happen to everyone, but in essence it’s either good, bad or indifferent.  Sure there are always good things about the past—especially when we’re young and carefree—but reality even then wasn’t perfect so there’s no use pretending it was.  A wise person realizes their own tendency to gloss over the past and make it into something it doesn’t resemble.  The other thought this raises for me:  what happens in the past traces its results through a series of events and choices to the now.  For there to even be a “now” we must have a “past” by default.  To claim the past was better than the present is foolish precisely because if it was so good, why did we make decisions which led us to what we know now?  Whenever a person sees the past through rainbow glasses of pretty colors or nostalgic euphoria they intentionally forget or ignore what they did to change it.

Wisdom equals realism, for it refuses to allow anything to consume its attention preferring to carefully balance out the whole as best it can.  A wise person refuses to get angry quickly not because there aren’t things to be angry about but out of an understanding that the situation might need something else more urgently and anger would just hinder the solution.  In other words, if we boil a decision down to its essential purpose, wisdom preserves and improves the quality of the life of the person using it and ensures the betterment of everyone else.  Learning from the past means taking away lessons from the mistakes more often than our triumphs, for we learn less from success than failure.  As I grow older the realization becomes clearer that attempting to accomplish and failing is part of the growth process, thus an essential ingredient to success.

Have you ever met someone born with a silver spoon in their mouths?  They resonate impatience with delay because they’ve never had to provide certain things for themselves.  I laugh at friends of mine who get all bent out of shape in a busy restaurant waiting for the food to arrive.  I’ve been on both sides of the equation, and believe me, it’s tough in the food service.  No waiter or waitress wants a bad review just as no restaurant wants it either.  Yet those who never had to be in any kind of preparation type service get all haughty and condescending about stuff they never experienced nor have any grasp at how to do themselves.  And even if a service person is out of sorts, rude or indifferent, allowing ourselves to mirror their attitude gives them control over us by default—even if they don’t want it.

A patient person finds the path through the confusing kaleidoscope of what’s going on around them in order to stay on the path to where they want or need to go.  Uncontrolled anger hinders progress and, in my experience, freezes us at the place where we allowed ourselves to become so.  And, here’s the last point I want to make:  patience is better than pride.  Why would Solomon contrast these two?  My thought is more often than not impatience is due to pride on our part.  We “deserve” something so decide we don’t have to put up with this kind of “whatever”.

The truth is no one deserves bad treatment right out of the starting gate just like no one deserves preferential treatment either.  Adversity or disaster might be rough on us, but letting our anger explode at the problems won’t make them go away any faster.  In fact, more than likely, what we do in our anger probably will make it worse, causing what we hoped to get away from and put behind us to stick around even longer.  Far too often we see the past like a soft focused picture in a magazine.  Everything we experience, every person we come in contact with shapes us to one degree or another.  Contrary to the sales pitch of self-help we can’t always control what happens because we can’t control other people.  What we can do is hold the reins on our attitudes and thought life where we take decisive action to be like our Master, Jesus.  I believe the best form of success is found in being the person we desire most to be.