The poetic wisdom of Ecclesiastes reminds us that change is a part of life. God has made everything appropriate in its time, and there is a time, and a purpose, for every event under heaven. Life on Purpose by Eileen Benthal.
I love the changing seasons. I love the warmth and light of the summer months. But after August days of sweltering heat, my body welcomes the cool change of September mornings and the crisp smell of autumn leaves, mums and pumpkins. The vibrant colors of the trees awaken my senses to a change in the air. What I love best about winter is the quiet that envelopes my world with new-fallen snow. Life slows down when it snows. All the imperfections in the land — the weeds I never pulled from garden, the landscaping left undone — all disappear beneath that blanket of white. Just when we’ve had enough of the cold, the sun begins to warm the earth and our hearts with the hope of new life in the spring.
This famous chapter of Ecclesiastes is an oft-quoted poetic discourse on the nature of times and seasons:
There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven
A time to give birth, and a time to die; A time to plant, and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to tear down, and a time to build up.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones, and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search, and a time to give up as lost; A time to keep, and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart, and a time to sew together; A time to be silent, and a time to speak.
A time to love, and a time to hate; A time for war, and a time for peace.
What profit is there to the worker from that in which he toils? I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves. He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor, it is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him. That which is has been already, and that which will be has already been, for God seeks what has passed by.”
This poetic wisdom reminds us that the change is a part of life. Good and bad things happen to all of us; people are born, live and die. Laughter and tears, search and discoveries, love and hatred are all a part of life. Three truths underlie this scripture like a golden thread woven through an intricate pattern. These truths are:
God is in control.
Everything serves a plan and purpose for our lives.
And He has put heaven in our hearts.
These truths are so ingrained in our nature and I believe that is why this scripture is so often read at funerals. It use it helps us gain perspective in our loss and bring meaning to our mourning. So I wasn’t surprised when my Dad chose this scripture to be read at his funeral.
I flew to Florida when my Dad was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer just after Easter. He died 40 days later. Those 40 days were like another Lenten journey. My six siblings and I coordinated our visits so we could comfort Mom and say goodbye. But my visit had a unique purpose. I was the only one of my siblings prepared to plan the funeral with Dad. I consider it an honor. I have helped four people plan their funerals over the years; three were terminal and one was a very old nun who was just making sure that I would sing all the songs she loved to hear.
Dad had his favorites, too. When I read Ecclesiastes 3:1-15, Dad’s head kept nodding as these eternal truths spoke to his weakening heart and ailing body. Dad lived his life believing that God is in control, that everything served a purpose and in these last weeks of his life, the Lord placed eternity in his heart. He was ready to go home and the truths of this scripture were his parting gift to us. I kissed him goodbye shortly after we planned the funeral and flew home saddened that it was the last time I would see him alive.
But because God is in control, I was able to be with Dad one more time, to keep a vigil of prayer at his bedside as he spent his last 24 hours on earth. His surprised look told me that he knew I was there as the concern in his deep blue eyes expressed his persistent question: “How is Johanna and why did you leave her side?” I grasped his hand and told him that Johanna was fine at home and I would go back to her when he went home to God. My response seemed to solidify his resolve to let go.
I didn’t need to sleep while keeping vigil at his side. While the grief was palpable, there was a sense of impending birth. Much like laboring for my children, I knew we would witness new life at the end of this struggle. Our eyes met many times during those final hours, as I kept singing and telling him it was time to go home.
The words of Ecclesiastes echoed in the silence and resounded as Dad breathed his last; “God has placed eternity in our hearts” (vs11). When Dad’s body was wheeled out of their apartment, the gift of his presence and the peace of this vigil remained. I fell into a deep and peaceful sleep, knowing that the promise of eternity, written in our hearts, was true.
The seasons of life hold a purpose and through it all God is in control. There is a season for everything and God makes all things beautiful in its own time.
Eileen Benthal has a B.A. in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer, speaker and wellness coach at 40DaysToFocus.com and NOFO Wellness Center. She works with clients locally and around the U.S. who are excited about balancing their health in body, mind and spirit.
Eileen and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, 16-year-old Johanna, is a teenager with special needs. Eileen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org andfacebook.com/40DaysToFocus.