The Secrets of a Contented Life

My minister is doing a really great sermon series over the next couple of weeks.  It started 2 Sundays ago and is running for 4 weeks.  The series is entitled “The Secrets of a Contented Life”.  I missed last weeks sermon and caught up this week by listening online and really enjoyed the message.  We’re reading through Ecclesiastes during this series and this week the focus was on Ecclesiastes 4, which in the NIV version of the Bible is titled “Oppression, Toil, Friendlessness” and the sermon was “Prioritize Relationships”.

Relationships are something I value highly.  I have always found friendships important and have always tried to maintain my relationships.  I will tell you, keeping a friendship strong over distance can be challenging and the desire to maintain the relationship has to be going both ways.  Josh and I began our relationship apart and spent 5 years of our relationship in different cities.  During college, my closest high school friends were spread out in different cities, and after Josh and I moved to Dallas, I was further separated from college friends and my friends from growing up.  It’s hard work to keep up with those you care about.  I have definitely failed plenty of times at staying connected and am so thankful for the forgiveness of my friends and our ability to pick right back up where we left.

As Dr. Thielen said in his sermon, it is vital to maintain those relationships because without them, feelings of loneliness and disconnectedness creep in.

It turns out, loneliness is a big issue in America.  Dr. Thielen discussed 3 key factors that lead to loneliness:

  1. We are lonely because we live in a culture of radical individualism.  Relational aspects of human life have been lost because our culture is self focused.  In other words “It’s all about me.”
  2. We live our lives with extreme mobility–we move all the time, which cuts us off from the community we’ve created.
  3. We live in a culture of intense competition–it’s hard to be intimate and close to people when you see them as competitors.

All of these factors lead to what is said at the end of Ecclesiastes 4:8 to be “a miserable business”.  The key to living a good substantive, meaningful, and contented life is to harvest and maintain relationships and Ecclesiastes gives us some guidance.

Eccl 4:9…Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor

This is often used to represent marriage, but it definitely represents friendship on a broader level.  After all, your spouse is one of your closest friends…yes?

Eccl 4:10…If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.

We all stumble and fall in life.  We surely aren’t perfect and these trials help build our relationship with God, as well as our relationship with others.  Having the support of friends and family helps ease the stress and pain of those trying times.  This verse brings to mind a sermon Dr. Thielen did during the fall: The Land Between.

Eccl 4:11…Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?

This points to the more physical warmth, but it’s important to acknowledge that friendship provides warmth emotionally, as well.

To sum up the sermon: If we are going to have a meaningful, substantive, and contented life, we absolutely NEED to prioritize relationships in our life.  Maintaining good relationships with friends, family, and co-workers is hard work.  Time, energy and effort are required to prioritize relationships.  In fact, they require ENORMOUS effort.  Relationships need time, the need forgiveness, and they need grace. And in the end, other than our faith in God, relationships with others is what matters most.  When we get to the end of our journey…our life achievements do not matter,  the RELATIONSHIPS we’ve made will be what matters.  Without relationships we will lead a lonely, disconnected life.

“All of the lonely people, where do the all come from” -Beatles