Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from one person’s envy of another. This also is vanity and a chasing after wind.
Fools fold their hands
and consume their own flesh.
Better is a handful with quiet
than two handfuls with toil,
and a chasing after wind.
Again, I saw vanity under the sun: the case of solitary individuals, without sons or brothers; yet there is no end to all their toil, and their eyes are never satisfied with riches. “For whom am I toiling,” they ask, “and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business. – Ecclesiastes 4:4-8
This morning I’m thinking about “quality of life.” It’s an interesting phrase that crops up a lot yet is hard to pin down as a discrete, objective, measurable value.
The idea is used in conversations about economics, often comes up when we talk about health, and is huge in chamber of commerce write-ups. But it’s pretty-much impossible to define.
The precipitating event that piqued my thinking was a recent conversation with a friend. He said he often works out in the basement while catching up on a favorite show; it’s a show his son enjoys too, “So we can enjoy quality time together,” he said. “I’m on the treadmill, then I can fold laundry at the same time. At the end of the hour I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot.”
“Quality time with your son?” I said; “working out? watching a tv show? folding laundry? All simultaneously. I don’t know if I should be impressed by that, or a little disturbed?”
OVERWHELM: When Rebekah and I were young parents with school-aged kids, we’d often get caught up in conversations where our friends practiced a curious kind of oneupmanship. “I’m busier than you” was worn as a badge of social standing, and seemed to be something to strive for.
- “I drive my kids to a total of fourteen different activities during the week!”
- “We’re both practicing attorneys, our kids are in travel soccer, I’m membership chair at the Junior League, and my 10-year-old is outselling every other girl in cookie sales! (read, I’m making everyone at my office and church buy boxes and my kid has sold maybe three boxes in the neighborhood).”
- “Between the kids’ music lessons, dance obligations, our work schedule, and the travel soccer team, we haven’t been to church more than three times this year! And now I just volunteered to coordinate social events at our neighborhood club. I’m sure the children will get some Sunday school in next year.”
- “It’s been several years since my husband and I went out on a relaxing date. But one day, after the kids are at a top college with sports scholarships, we plan to take some time for our relationship.”
They’d get breathless explaining their busy lives, and stand there with forced smiles, just daring somebody to top their impressive calendar obligations.
Then, in private, they’d own up to how stressed they were, how driven by other people’s expectations, how much they longed for a simpler life.
Huge house in the best neighborhood, both parents pursuing demanding careers, weighty mortgage, fat car payments, children signed up for everything, driving every-which-way, frenetic pace, no time for relaxed family meals, paying someone else to maintain the yard they seldom relax in. Quality of life?
MY DISCOVERY: In thinking about it, jotting down a few of the elements that add quality to my life look like this:
- The peace that comes from my walk with Jesus;
- Enjoying relaxed time in the company of Rebekah;
- Knowing that our children are fulfilled and happy;
- Worshiping and learning with our beautiful community of faith;
- Investing my resources to advance God’s kingdom;
- Unhurried time with the grandchildren;
- Long conversations over coffee with friends;
- Living in a community where I can walk into town;
- Long walks with the dog;
- Enjoying the trees that surround our home;
- Good food, lovingly prepared, shared;
There is more, of course, but in reviewing my off-the-cuff list I can’t see that it has much in common with the majority of stuff so many people dedicate so much of their time and such a high percentage of their resources to pursue.
Here’s the equation. Take a long look at it and then reflect seriously on your own priorities: (X + Y) i = Z
- Where the stuff people spend lots of money on = “X“
- Where the stuff that people devote most of their time doing = “Y“
- Infinity = i
- Futility and regret = “Z“
(X + Y) i = Z
Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper. – Psalm 1