February 3, 2021

Ecclesiastes 4:5 

Fools fold their hands and ruin themselves.


This is a classic example of a verse that, taken out of context, can be dramatically mis-applied. You can imagine every boss, parent and teacher hammering this point home. It feels a bit like my varsity soccer coach, who told us that we needed to be tough enough to make it through practice without a water break. Fools take a water break and ruin their mental toughness.

But this verse has to be read in the context of verse 4, where King Solomon made it clear that hard work and achievement are not the end we should be striving for. So this admonition comes as a clarification to his previous sentence. In other words, don’t toil endlessly in the vain hope of outdoing your neighbor. But don’t merely fold your hands and allow life to have it’s way with you. Engaging in the middle ground is what Solomon explains in verse 6, and we’ll look at that on Friday.But today, in the same way we ended Monday, let’s take a moment to reflect. Monday’s introspection was to ask ourselves if we’re striving out of envy. Today’s introspection is the opposite. Are there areas of your life where you are too passive? There might be some of us who need to be told to not be lazy. Some of us might regularly wait for others to save the day instead of trying to find a solution ourselves. 

But an even greater example of passivity can happen in our minds and in our relationships. Believe it or not, being taken advantage of at work, running yourself ragged for a demanding toddler, or being talked down to by professors, spouses or relatives is also a form of laziness. Just because it’s exhausting doesn’t mean you aren’t being lazy. I’m not here to absolve the other people from their part in this interaction. Bosses should be respectful. We should always speak kindly to one another, even when being firm. But many of us, myself included, fall into a relational passivity to avoid conflict. Internally, we fold our hands and let someone else call the shots to the ruin of mind and soul.

It was a revelation when my therapist challenged me to wake up in the morning and ask myself, “What do I want to do today?” Here I was in my 40s, and asking that question for the first time. Up to that point, I had filled my days with whatever was asked of me, and regularly added to other people’s lists just to make sure I was performing above expectations. I was exhausted and fast becoming resentful as I worked so hard to execute in every arena but my own. Talk about ruin!

Now, not everyone is in that boat. Pastor Sung Kim and I have laughed at how differently our minds work. He couldn’t believe such a simple question (for him) was such a lightning bolt for me. But Solomon is painting two extremes in verses 4 and 5 of this chapter. On one hand are the competitive, envious people who toil and strive and achieve in a meaningless exercise. On the other hand are the lazy fools, unwilling to make the effort to change, grow, or solve a problem. Some of us manage to be both of those idiots at the same time. So if Monday’s reflection on envy and striving didn’t feel true, try this one on for size:

“Am I choosing the easy road of passivity to avoid the pain of growth?”

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