One Handful: Ancient Wisdom for the Start of School
And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
5 Fools fold their hands
and ruin themselves.
6 Better one handful with tranquility
than two handfuls with toil
and chasing after the wind.
I’m in denial.
School is just around the corner, waiting, casting sly glances our way. We’ve done the quintessential summer activities: Sonic runs, slip ‘n slide, lazy pool days, ice cream, lemonade, bikes, books and bubbles. I know it’s time to transition to paper, pencils, and reading logs.
Also on the horizon: tighter bedtimes, busier mornings and the potential for more stress.
Our American culture values busyness. We applaud those who boast a long list of activities and accomplishments. Not to be outdone, we willingly sign up for all the opportunities that come our way without question, crowding every calendar space with places to go, people to see, things to do.
No wonder we can’t make it to church on Sunday morning. We’re exhausted.
Occasionally, we should question our culture. We have much to be proud of in America, and I am thrilled to call this country home. I love the United States of America, and I get a little sentimental with everyone else on the 4th of July. But when I walk into a buffet restaurant, I tend to think, “This is everything that’s wrong with America.” Obesity, excess, extravagant waste. Buffet restaurants thrive on two ideas: More is better. Quantity over quality. These places offer a multitude of choices, and people line up to pile their plates to overflowing. Back at the table, eating becomes more of a challenge to conquer than an experience to savor.
This mindset carries over to our schedules, too. More is better, quantity of life events over quality of life enjoyment.
We need some ancient wisdom to bring us back to a place of balance. In Eccl. 4:6, Solomon says “that toil and achievement come from one person’s envy of another.” Indeed, nothing is new under the sun. Keeping up with the Joneses has us running on the hamster wheel.
We do more, more, more to keep up with others, to keep up a certain reputation, or to keep others happy with us.
And you know what? We’re chasing the wind. We will never catch it, it will never be enough, and we will be left breathless and exhausted.
What if we could be left breathless instead by the beauty of the moment? What if we chose quality over quantity?
Solomon acknowledges the balancing act: it’s not wise to do nothing either. Fools fold their hands in their laps and ruin themselves. I’m not suggesting we stay home and watch TV, or sit and stare at each other all day.
So what is the answer?
One handful is the answer.
Better to have one handful with peace and tranquility than two handfuls of life with striving, toil, and stress.
None of us can do it all. And we shouldn’t try, because we are all gifted and called to do our own unique interests. Each of us needs to find our one handful of life that represents the things closest to our hearts. These are the good works God has prepared for us (See Eph. 2:10). Certain things we do in our lives fill us with a very purposeful, very satisfying kind of joy, so that we think, “This is what I was made to do.” God created us with specific callings, and He doesn’t ask us to do life “buffet style.”
What will be your “one handful” this school year? What matters most to you? What makes you feel content and satisfied, as you do after eating a delicious meal?
Is it family dinners around the table? Book reading time? Time for a walk in the twilight hours? What do you need to clear off your plate in order to refresh yourself in this way?
What are the activities that you truly enjoy spending your energy on and how can you clear out excess obligations in order to better spend your energy in those areas?
Buffet eating and buffet schedules tend to make us feel stuffed, tired, bloated. Quality food deliciously prepared and slowly savored makes us feel nourished and satisfied.
As the school year begins and the scheduling opportunities abound, consider making the counter-cultural decision as a family to have one (delicious) handful with tranquility.
One handful is very good indeed.