Bubbly Externals vs. Inner Depth

I am sure to get some annoyed responses to this, but oh well. I am not saying that being a bubbly personality is in any way wrong! I am just going to comment on what I have read in Ecclesiastes 7. I am not a bubbly personality. I don't exude energy. I don't wear a silly grin on my face, everywhere I go. I don't seem 'happy' all the time. (I use quotations because I am trying to imply that happy isn't necessarily an external thing). Some of this is cultural training. In fact, in Hong Kong as you walk along the street randomly bumping into people right and left, and them bumping into you, you generally do not come across giddy, bubbly, smiley people everywhere. It really was a shock to me when I came to this country that almost EVERYONE I encountered was smiling, openly friendly, and chatty. I didn't know what to make of it. And I simply couldn't join in the crowd. It seemed less than genuine to me and I had a snobbery I learned to work through (hopefully), but never quite learned the skill of warm, bubbly friendliness. In my initial 'shock phase' of being in this country I even squelched a lot of others' zeal for friendliness. The lady at the checkout said, "And how are YOU today?" with a big flashy grin. I said, "Quite miserable actually, now that you ask..." She didn't quite know what to say. Welcome to America Sarah.

I even had people often coming to me thinking I was depressed. Well, I suppose they could be right, for a number of reasons. But in general I just think I am not the overly externally bubbly type. I just want to get this out there, in case anyone who knows me is concerned. Please be aware that I harbour great joy in my soul and I delight in the riches of God's grace on a daily basis, but the expression of this is often intimate and hidden from public view. I also don't engage this joyful side of myself very well with others. I think I am weak in this - but trust God will bring it out in me when He decides to.

I pondered my somberness for a while, and swung to different conclusions - I'm too glum, I'm too snobby, I'm too critical of happy people, I'm too un-inculturated, I'm too obnoxious... Now, many of these you may agree with! But after enough soul searching (and yes, there can be too much of staring at one's navel becoming inward and tied up on in knots so much that self-analysis becomes an ingrown emotional toenail... but I digress), I think I have found my key verses - right in the Holy Book of all things. Imagine. Here they are:

A good name is better than fine perfume,
and the day of one's death than the day of one's birth.

Ahem... the writer of Ecclesiastes - the wise Solomon himself - agrees with my outlook on life. Is he saying it's better to die than being born? Not necessarily! But he is saying something about the reality we all encounter in this thing called life. To quote a great theologian, Wesley of the Princess Bride, "Life IS pain." Solomon would agree. We are born into a world that offers many joys and pleasures, but even the most privileged and successful of this world still encounter pain that cannot be shrouded. The wealthy may find themselves lonely. The successful may find themselves unfulfilled. The pleasure-seekers may find themselves, well, shallow! All who live face pain of one kind or another. In this sense - death is a beautiful thing. The end of pain. Solomon does have a point. But it's not a popular one. In the U.S. I find death is hidden and dressed up as much as possible. It is so scary to people. Whereas in other places (like Zambia) death is considered a normal part of life. Death is common. It is still sad, but it is an accepted, undeniable reality. Americans would do well to pay a little more attention to the day of their death. Now on to verse 2:

It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
since that is the end of all mankind,
and the living should take it to heart.

So, says Solomon, pack up your gaiety and laughter and head off to a funeral. I tell people I just love to play the piano for funerals. I guess that's because every funeral I attend is instructive to my soul. I get a front row seat to review a person's life. I am always blessed by these quiet moments when I may or may not be sad. It is good for me to be in a house of mourning because I get to consider if my life is amounting to anything. What will they say when I'm laying in a box (hopefully it won't be - better to let my body be used for something other than fertilizer)? I have been to some very interesting funerals. I'll have to share some of the stories here sometime.

Grief is better than laughter,
for when a face is sad, a heart may be glad.

THANK YOU Solomon! Next time someone questions my lack of overt smiley-ness I will have to quote this verse. In fact, why isn't this on those cutesy t-shirts people wear. I think it would be fitting. Along with a big yellow smiley face on the back that says, 'And have a nice day.'

The heart of the wise is in a house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in a house of pleasure.

Anyone out there seeking to be wise? Well the above gives you a clue. Keep your heart fully engaged with the reality of the brevity of your life. If you want to squander life away milking the pleasures afforded on this earth, go ahead, be my guest. But don't say I didn't warn you. Or, Solomon, I mean.

It is better to listen to rebuke from a wise person
than to listen to the song of fools.

For like the crackling of [burning] thorns under the pot,
so is the laughter of the fool.
This too is futile.

Solomon doesn't mince his words. He tells it like it is. I aspire to be just a bit like him. Just when I pray for wisdom I pray I have the strength of will to apply what God teaches me, unlike Solomon. He was pretty sharp to ask for wisdom, but he failed to apply much of it - building his harem like there was no tomorrow and letting his women lead him astray. Tsk Tsk - should've known better. This shows me that being wise is less to be desired than living rightly and pleasing God in all things. And wisdom is as wisdom does. It isn't enough to know and ponder. I need to do the things I know. And therein lies my achilles heel. In the doing - that is where I fail.

I'll end these ramblings here.


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