Musings

Ecclesiastes in the Waiting Room

Julie / October 21, 2017

At first, I thought she was coming to coo over the baby.  I was, after all, sitting in a hospital waiting room with a newborn baby peeking out from under his carseat shade.  She meandered into the waiting room, looked it over, and made a beeline for us with an expectant look on her face.

She looked at him.  She looked at me.  I smiled, the tolerant but tired smile of an introverted mother a little weary of all the strangers exclaiming over her baby continually.

“I just can’t believe anyone would choose to have a baby anymore,” she said.

I gaped, and felt my smile waver—but nodded in mute acknowledgement and waited for her to continue.

And continue she did.  She told me baby daddies are never around, never do any work, never help out—just I wait and see!—and that I was going to be up all night every night and clean up all the throw-up forever.  She told me there’s never enough money for food, never enough good jobs to go around, never any stability.  She told me the job was thankless, and that nowadays, it wasn’t even useful to send them off to school, that probably by the time my baby was old enough, all the kids would just be taught by inhuman computers, and what good was that, anyway?  She told me if someone just had to have a baby to hold, that they ought to foster, because at least then they’d get paid for it, and they could give them back when they got worn out of it.

I never could figure out what to say back, although she paused plenty of times for me to get a word in edgewise.  I wanted to tell her that she was wrong, that my husband had a good job and my husband wasn’t like that at all, and that my kids aren’t going to those schools and my kids aren’t ungrateful brats.  I wanted to tell her my baby was beautiful and that every single one of my kids is a blessing and delight.  How could she sit there and berate infants when such an excellent specimen was sitting right in front of her?

But it seemed disrespectful, considering that she was sitting there pouring out the bitterness of her own experience.  She talked about her children; her grandchildren.  And so I said none of what I wanted to say.  I just sat there smiling and making polite noises of agreeableness when I could, and freezing nervously when she made her more outrageous remarks. 

I didn’t know what to do, really.

The much-younger woman who was with her came back, then, and the older woman quickly stopped talking to me at all.  I listened as she made some extremely neutral remarks about my baby to her companion. (“Look at that baby!  He’s a little one, about as new as they come, I’d reckon.”)  Then they called her back, and there were no more words.

All I could think of was Ecclesiastes.

I hated all my work that I labored at under the sun because I must leave it to the man who comes after me.  And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will take over all my work that I labored at skillfully under the sun. This too is futile.  So I began to give myself over to despair concerning all my work that I had labored at under the sun.  When there is a man whose work was done with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and he must give his portion to a man who has not worked for it, this too is futile and a great wrong. For what does a man get with all his work and all his efforts that he labors at under the sun? For all his days are filled with grief, and his occupation is sorrowful; even at night, his mind does not rest. This too is futile. There is nothing better for man than to eat, drink, and enjoy his work. I have seen that even this is from God’s hand, because who can eat and who can enjoy life apart from Him? (Ecclesiastes 2:18-24)

The poor woman in the waiting room waxed eloquently about the futility of life, at least of the life of mothers.  Her whole speech was so bleakly devoid of hope, so… honest about the reality of existence apart from the grace of God.  The hurt and damage bled through her every sentence.

I felt, acutely, how blessed I am.  How blessed with joy, blessed with children, blessed with a loving husband.  Blessed with the Spirit.  Blessed with salvation.  It is from God’s hand—it is God’s hand that made my life so different from hers.  And sin and the broken, fallen world that made her life so wretched.  So many points I could not disagree with her: absentee fathers are pervasive.  Employment and money is a struggle.  Public schools, especially where we were having our conversation, can be very bad indeed.  I once taught at an elementary school near this hospital, and the school was in such bad shape that the computer keyboards used for typing class didn’t even have all the keys.  Her bitterness was laced with no small amount of cold truth.  The world is heartbreakingly broken.

Here is what I have seen to be good: it is appropriate to eat, drink, and experience good in all the labor one does under the sun during the few days of his life God has given him, because that is his reward. God has also given riches and wealth to every man, and He has allowed him to enjoy them, take his reward, and rejoice in his labor. This is a gift of God, for he does not often consider the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with the joy of his heart. (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20)

I am thankful for the reminder of how indebted I am to God for every joy that fills my heart.  I am thankful for the reminder of how much the people around me need the Gospel, need redemption and rescue from the pain and hardship that batters them every day.  It is too easy for me to get in my Christian-and-happy-family bubble and forget the very real suffering of other humans around me.

I hope next time God puts me in a situation like that, that I am better able to find words.  That I might speak words of a better way, of a Redeemer who lifts us beyond the misshapen circumstances we find ourselves born to.  Ecclesiastes ends with Hope, with justice—the futility of life being answered with the promise of eternity.

Those are the words I could have said today.

When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands, because this is for all humanity.  For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.  (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

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