The older I get, the more I see life as seasonal.
Seasons come and go, and our lives are best lived in harmony with them rather than in conflict.
Always wishing you were somewhere else, with someone else, doing something else, etc is a surefire setup for a frustration, disappointment, and a general lack of joy.
Each season has its own beauty, its own opportunities, its own work, and its own rewards. If we’re not careful, we can miss the blessings of the season we’re in.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 provides a helpful framework for this:
1“For everything there is a season,
a time for every activity under heaven.
2 A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
3 A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
4 A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
5 A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
6 A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
7 A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
8 A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.”
As I reflect on this passage and the concept of life as seasonal, some observations come to mind:
- You can’t control which season you’re in, but you can cooperate with it.
- Part of being wise is knowing and going with the flow of the season you’re in. You want to be like the men of Issachar who understood the times and knew what to do (1 Chronicles 12:32).
- Working out of season and out of step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25) results in swimming upstream; everything is harder than it should be and your joy dissipates. The very best place to be is the center of God’s will because that’s where the strength is, the life is, the abiding and abundance are.
- You can’t force a season to speed up or slow down, and you only frustrate yourself and others when you try.
- It’s impossible to be fully present in the present of the present if you’re always looking ahead or behind.
- No one enjoys the difficult seasons, but maturity is about doing the right things at the right times, regardless of the cost. That’s where character is built. Be like the ant in Proverbs 6: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” You shouldn’t need an overlord to find the motivation to get the right things done, even if they’re hard.
- God gives you grace for the season you’re in, not the season you want to be in. He gives you grace for what’s required, not what’s desired.
- It’s important to regularly ask yourself “What season am I in, and what work does this season require of me?”
- Because seasons come and go and change can be difficult, beware the temptation to get stuck in any one season or put your hope in consistency. God wants you to stay mobile, flexible, and live with open hands. There is rarely one right thing for all time; more often than not, there is only the right thing for right now.
As I’ve scanned commentaries on Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, they’ve all dissected the parts without studying the whole. I get that. And in general, I do believe that we jump in and out of this passage at different times of our lives.
However, as I’ve meditated on it, I think it also has something to teach us about the stages of human development. Stay with me now. What if Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 is also a description of progressive maturation; a framework for growth?
It’s hard for us to see it this way, because most of us don’t literally plant and harvest, kill and heal, go to war, etc. But if we can view this passage more metaphorically and get at the big ideas behind it, a holistic framework begins to make more sense.
So here’s my stab at Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 as a developmental map:
Verse 2 – Beginning and building. Going to school, making friends, discovering who you are and what you want to do.
Verse 3 – Establishing self and security. Advancing in your career, settling down, buying a home, leaving childhood behind.
Verse 4 – Celebrating wins and mourning losses. The joys of getting promoted, having kids, gaining responsibility, while also grieving the hardships that adult life in a fallen world inevitably brings. Becoming emotionally aware and healthy.
Verse 5 – Solidifying community and defining boundaries. Finding your people (your “tribe”) and becoming fully integrated into that community. By extension, setting up hard edges around what kind of behavior you will and won’t tolerate from others.
Verse 6 – Exploring, purging, and simplifying. Looking at what matters most and what kind of life you want to live and legacy you want to leave. Recognizing that your life has gotten really full and beginning the process of downsizing, organizing, decluttering, and streamlining.
Verse 7 – Proclaiming values and priorities. Standing up and speaking out for what you believe in. Participating in politics, leadership, community development, etc.
Verse 8 – Enacting values and priorities. Putting your passions and beliefs into action. Loving the good and hating the bad. Sticking your neck out for others and being willing to fight for what’s right. Being willing to be unpopular in service of the greater good. Learning how to pick your battles wisely and pursue peace when possible.
If I’m on to something here, then the logical next question is, “What stage of life development are you in, and what does success look like for you in that season?” There’s also the (sometimes painful) reality that if life is seasonally progressive, and each stage builds on the next, then you can’t skip the stage you’re in without harming yourself and others. For example, you’ve probably heard that “hurting people hurt people.” If you skip the painful work of mourning your losses (verse 4) and are carrying around bitterness and unresolved emotional wounds, it’s going to be really hard for you to trust others and integrate into a community (verse 5) without doing damage to that community.
I might be wrong on all this, but I think it’s a helpful way to understand this passage and how we grow throughout the different season of life. You can probably identify where you and others are at in these 7 stages of development – and if so, know what problems and opportunities need to be addressed.
Do you see life as seasonal? Do you know what season you’re in? Are you willing to do the work to win where you’re at so you can win where you will be?