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"Meaningless": Solomon's Mental Struggle

History knows King Solomon as the wisest king of Israel. He wrote Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs, all of which are jammed packed with pithy guidance for living a fruitful and content life. So why does Solomon repeat “everything is meaningless” in Ecclesiastes?

The Passage

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king in Jerusalem:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

Ecclesiastes 1:1 NIV

I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

Ecclesiastes 1:12-14 NIV

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgement, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 NIV

If King Solomon, the wisest man probably of anyone except Jesus Himself, struggles with despair and finding everything “meaningless,” I think it is fair to say that many of us will, too. And I don’t think we failed if we do. Solomon found that our world is broken. That truth wedged its way into our world back in Genesis 3, and Solomon noted its effects on every aspect of life. He found that it did not matter whether you were wise or foolish, rich or poor.

Solomon saw the big picture of the world, and it overwhelmed him. The brokenness of the world can overwhelm us, too. What are some ways we can cope?

3 Ways to Overcome the “Meaningless”

  1. Focus on the basics. Often called creating boundaries, I have to remind myself that I cannot control anything other than my own actions. When I focus exclusively on acting in a way that pleases God, I am empowered to help others without worrying about things outside of my control. I am in no way good at this. Therefore, I employ all sorts of tricks like deep breathing and exercise to occupy my mind and overcome my tendency to people-please. This book is an excellent resource if you struggle with boundaries.
  2. Act according to your beliefs. I learned the hard way that living in a situation that goes against your beliefs takes you to a very dark place. “Meaningless” only begins to describe it. However, I want you to remember that there is always another option. You may feel stuck with no hope of escape; I certainly did. It took family, friends, and my therapist to help me see a way out of the job situation that caused me intense internal conflict. Once I left, I flooded with relief knowing that I was following a path that upheld my beliefs.
  3. Evaluate your beliefs. Through the process of leaving my job and fighting depression, I learned that we often hold beliefs that hurt us. I tell myself what I “should” or “need” to be doing every other sentence in my head. Sometimes, it’s just simply not true. I create the impossible standards that depress me when I cannot live up to them. Therefore, I try to habitually evaluate my beliefs to determine if they are true and helpful or if they are misconstrued and harmful. Talking with a professional counselor can be very helpful in working through your beliefs.

What are ways that you combat depression and feeling that “everything is meaningless”?

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