There’s nothing that makes you think about the futility of life quite like washing dishes.
No matter what you do, there’s always something that needs to be washed, dried, or put away. More than once, I have collected all the dishes from around my house, scrubbed until my fingers are pruny, and then I turn around… and realize that the cup of coffee I just finished is now ready to be washed.
And that’s just the dishes — don’t get me started on the vacuuming or the kitchen counters or putting away the clothes I only wore for an hour and draped on a chair three weeks ago.
It never ends.
One of the most cherished aspects of Scripture in this season of life is the reality that Scripture does speak to every single aspect of life. Not just the catastrophic or momentous moments — but the mundane and futile moments, too. God doesn’t ignore these, or breeze over them, or pretend that they are worthless or meaningless. The book of Ecclesiastes helps us acknowledge that there are futile endeavors on this side of heaven — our work seems to never end. “Vanity of vanities!” the Teacher cries — What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. In other words, there will always be dishes to wash, laundry to fold, mountains to climb — you get the picture.
But this is not all that the book of Ecclesiastes teaches us. It doesn’t just remind us of the futility of life, or the meaninglessness of work. If this were the case, it would feel easy to lose heart: “why should I work, if I will be working forever? Why should I wash dishes if they will never end? Why should I work hard to endure the hard things in my life, when there will always be difficulties ahead?”
The Teacher also tells us that what we work at is not the point — it is how we work that matters. How we persevere, endure, and focus our minds — this is the point. The Teacher doesn’t just expose futility to discourage us, but to take our attention off the work of our hands and bring our minds to consider the state of our hearts.
How our hearts regard our work matters. Paul’s letter to the Colossians exhorts them that whatever they do should be done for the Lord, and not for men. Our corporate jobs, as unto the Lord. Our washing of dishes, as unto the Lord. Our feeding of mouths and sweeping of floors and filing of paperwork, all unto the Lord.
When we work for the Lord, we learn to find delight in our tasks. Not because our tasks themselves are inherently fun or interesting — but because they are dedications of our
commitment to the Lord, to work for His pleasure. This offering to him will not return void. The teacher tells us that there is nothing better for us, than to find enjoyment in what we do.
There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy.