The morning of our drive the sunlight came in exactly as it had all those years ago, slanting rays peeking through the trees from the east, clear and bright where they hit the road, a crisp fall morning, the humidity of summer left behind. Then we came upon them, house after house, places where we had known the people who had lived there, one after the other along the west side of the road, then the south as the road made a ninety degree bend to the left. We named the people as we rode by, and when we finished we looked at one another and realized that every one of them was dead.
Yet there the houses still stood, some with new families, but most empty, houses those people had built themselves, nice homes mine could fit in twice over, carefully landscaped property, barns, sheds, pools, and other outbuildings—empty. I thought of the Preacher’s words: I made great works. I built houses and planted vineyards for myself. I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees… Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun, Eccl 2:4-6,11.
If ever there was a time I understood Ecclesiastes, it was that morning. All these things people spend their money on, all these things they think will make them happy, none of them really matter because sooner or later you die and leave them behind.
So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind. I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil, Eccl 2:17-21.
Maybe, though, the writer overreacted a bit. Why hate your life? Why not just change it? When you learn that you control your happiness, that happiness does not lie in circumstances but within yourself, then you change the emphasis of all you do. Why not spend your time making other people’s lives better? Why not spread the good news in whatever way you are still able? Why leave only an empty house behind when you can leave something far more lasting—an example, words of comfort and encouragement, the Word of God taught in whatever way possible to any and all who will pay attention?
After you are gone, what will people say when they drive past what used to be yours? Will they merely say, “That’s where so-and-so used to live?” Or will they say, “Remember that brother and sister? They were such good people.” How are you spending the time God has given you? What will you leave behind? How much better to leave the memories of a life full of joy and service than an empty building no one will care about anyway.
And he told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God." Luke 12:16-21