Ecclesiastes Chapters 2 & 3: Guiding Principles for Simplifying Life — Jaden Schultz

Tossing and turning, I’m unable to sleep. I’m too hot, then too cold and my mind won’t shut off. I flip from side to side and readjust my pillows. Still, sleep evades me. I check my Apple Watch and lay passively in bed as the hours pass by: first midnight, then 2:10AM, then 3:44AM. Before I know it, it’s 6:00AM and I’m wide awake, stomach fluttering, with four hours of sleep. I feel exhausted and energetic simultaneously – my body begs me for reprieve, but as much as I want to rest, I cannot. I feel helpless.

As a high-strung, “type A” student, I often find myself extremely anxious, frequently to a point where my stress and anxiety manifest themselves in physical symptoms, including periods of insomnia, hair loss, and intensely uncomfortable stomach and headaches. I’ve always enjoyed school and have thrived in academic settings, but somewhere along the line school became extremely personal. It wasn’t until recently, during a Sunday of exceptionally high anxiety, that I realized things needed to change.

I had gotten to a point where my mind was constantly revolving around what needed to get done, what I needed to study for next, and how I was planning on pushing myself to a higher level. None of my previous academic accomplishments were enough, and I was convinced the solution to a happier, more fulfilling life was found in multiple majors, 18-credit semesters, and a 4.0 GPA.

As I laid in bed a few Sundays ago, I began to cry. My body, shaking from lack of sleep, was struggling to function. At once, the weight of my schedule and the pressure I had put on myself fell on me. I felt extraordinarily sad and disappointed in myself, but most of all, I felt empty. Not knowing what else to do, I prayed to God.

In the quiet hours of that fateful Sunday, I felt God place on my heart that it was time for me to give up this fight. The battle to prove my academic capability was one that would have no end. My attempts would remain unfulfilling; I would always be unsatisfied, reaching for more. As I talked to God, I felt compelled to reach for my Bible, and turned to the book of Ecclesiastes, chapters two and three.

In these passages, the Teacher explores the meaning of life, searching for where to find lasting, meaningful value. He looks through wisdom, pleasure, material things, and work, and finds no meaning or purpose in those. Ultimately, he concludes that everything we do is meaningless; the wise man and the fool end up in the same position – death. The only thing that’s meaningful and genuinely worth our time and attention is following God’s plan and living out His calling.

In the proceeding chapter, the Teacher states that there “is a time for everything,” for “every activity under the heaven.” In verse 6, specifically, he states that there is “a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away.” There is a place and time for these things, but it’s important to remember that one is not greater than the other. Working relentlessly is not greater or more worthy than resting.

It is good to put forth genuine effort and to try your best, but ultimately, most things we do are meaningless, and I can assure you that school does not matter as much as we think it does. Leaning into this realization gives us perspective and makes most things less stressful, which enables us to properly allocate our time and energy into more important things – things that benefit other people and the world around us, which have lasting implications post-grad.

On that Sunday, I was reminded that my worth and purpose is in no way connected to my academic achievements, nor is it connected to any worldly thing. Searching for it in these things will always be fruitless and draining. While God does not care about how I perform in the classroom, He does care about my character, how I treat people, and how I use the gifts He’s given me to bless those around me – that’s what matters. Having a 4.0 GPA is not a prerequisite.

As I start to change my mindset and relationship with academics, I invite you to do the same. Especially as midterms round the corner, I encourage you to meditate on the simple truth of Ecclesiastes 2 and 3: there is a time for everything, but that also means that there’s a time – ample time – to rest, too.