I washed dishes two or three times the other day – I lost count. Which, with a family of five – three of whom are teenagers – is not unusual. I have a love-hate relationship with the task of washing dishes. I do not enjoy the task, per se, but it gives me a chance to think. Not surprisingly, no one seems to bother me when I am at the sink. I wash them by hand and use the dishwasher as a draining board.

Be that as it may, a thought occurred to me while I was washing dishes for what I hoped was the last time. I realized I was washing the same dishes for the third time. The same plates, the same glasses, and the same silverware. Over and over. Time after time. Day after day. So on and so on.

Looking back on my life, there have been quite a few things I thought I might be  remembered for doing. I have also thought about what my purpose in life might be. Yet I never actually considered washing the same dishes day after day for years on end to be my toil in life. True, it is not anywhere close to the only thing I do or have ever done in my life. But do I really want to put it on my resume?

Qohelet would say it does not matter. It is all vanity and a chasing after wind anyway. “This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot.” (Eccl. 5:18 NRSV)

So should I try to find enjoyment in washing the dishes? Derive some pleasure from washing wasted condiments from plates and dried milk from bowls? Receive brief satisfaction from having clean dishes – albeit temporarily?

While it made for interesting thoughts during my dishwashing toil, my consternation at continually washing dishes was causing me to miss the point. The New International Version (NIV) says “satisfaction” in place of enjoyment. The New Living Translation (NLT) says “accept their lot in life.” Which I think might be closer to the point Qohelet was making. ;

In verses 13-15, Qohelet laments the fate of those who hoard wealth and find that they still – through circumstances during life and the finality, and pennilessness, of death, end up with nothing. “All their hard work produces nothing – nothing they can take with them.” In verse 19, he states that “whenever God gives people wealth and riches and enables them to enjoy it, to accept their place in the world and to find pleasure in their hard work – all this is God’s gift.” Concluding the chapter in verse 20, “people shouldn’t brood too much over the days of their lives because God gives an answer in their hearts’ joy.” (CEB)

The answer lies, not in my receiving some weird satisfaction from such mundane tasks such as washing dishes, but in enjoying the life that God gave me. Whether pleasure or toil, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to experience either one. Which is a theme Qohelet returned to more than once.

Earlier in Ecclesiastes, in 3 10-11, Qohelet says that “God has made everything fitting in its time, but has also placed eternity in their hearts, without enabling them to discover what God has done from beginning to end.” He ends the book of Ecclesiastes with “So this is the end of the matter; all has been heard. Worship God and keep God’s commandments because this is what  everyone must do. God will definitely bring every deed to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or bad.”

The fact that I am tired of having to wash the dishes – or any other task which I am required to undertake – is inconsequential. Having faith in God, attempting to live Christ-like to the best of  my ability, and enjoying the life I have been blessed with, both good and bad, is what is important. God will take care of the rest.

Peace be with you.

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