I saw that all labor and all skillful work is due to one person’s jealousy of another. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind.
The fool folds his arms
and consumes his own flesh.
Better one handful with rest
than two handfuls with effort and a pursuit of the wind.
Again, I saw futility under the sun: There is a person without a companion, without even a son or brother, and though there is no end to all his struggles, his eyes are still not content with riches. “Who am I struggling for,” he asks, “and depriving myself of good things? ” This too is futile and a miserable task. Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm? And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken. Better is a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer pays attention to warnings. For he came from prison to be king, even though he was born poor in his kingdom. I saw all the living, who move about under the sun, follow a second youth who succeeds him. There is no limit to all the people who were before them, yet those who come later will not rejoice in him. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind.
— Ecclesiastes 4:4-16
We are prone to clean the house before guests arrive. The preacher doesn’t.
— Zack Eswine

I really enjoy preaching the message that says we need others. I do not enjoy tasting the bittersweet of that reality, with the first word coming out of my mouth as a babe: “mine.” I’ve been married for almost four full years, but whenever I reminisce about our wedding day, the pronoun flips to my wedding day. Alone has not too often bothered me, but working with others has allowed for a world of conflict and problems. I’d prefer to deal with my neediness that I also don’t want to acknowledge on my own.

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Yet, most growth is birthed from confession of neediness, hand-in-hand with others. These words take humility, and like growth, can be painful to embrace. The issue with humility and I is that I do not want to admit failure. The issue with failure and I is it devastates me instead of becoming a new avenue to change. Still I pray the Lord would gently reveal idols, and there is always an answer to that prayer.

My husband washes dishes while I write at the last hour. I finally hit my own breaking point with proposal rewrite number three (which I also hate to admit) and ask trusted people for help. After my faithful apologies for not responding to a text for the umpteenth time, a persistent friend gets on my schedule. I buy the wrong thread due to my tireless love for efficiency and unfortunate lack of knowledge, and get to thank my co-worker for patiently teaching me new things and for having grace with me.

The story found here in Ecclesiastes is actually a citation from the story of Gilgamesh. In order to slay the monster Humbaba, Gilgamesh asks his friend to help him, to stick with him, to join forces. It is a human thing to need one another.

My story comes laced with saccharine, the grace of a small handful of people to call ours, and who also call us theirs. Gilgamesh and Enkiddu defeat the monster together. Where Qohelet’s proverb stings is the words of a community needed, and a situation where a community is not found. In your loneliness, I mourn with you, reader. As the teacher laments it, so must we.

Chapter Four continues on Ecclesiastes similar timbre with the quick rise of solace and meaning into an immediate fall, the story of power had and lost, of meaninglessness. No person or generation has been able to, as Robert Alter calls it, “herd the wind.” We have all felt the grievances of grasping, of searching, of waiting.

The gift of reading Scripture is that after a chapter, there is another. As the context of a sentence determines the meaning of the word, so does the context of the book as a whole help us to see even more of what is in front of us. Slowly, and readily, we are disheartened along with our author. There is more to know, the study not yet finished. In humility again, we receive, and do the next thing.