Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. I remember walking home from elementary school with my mom and collecting the giant maple leaves which littered the ground in blazing beauty. The leaves would dance for us in the wind and shout in crunches and crackles under our footsteps. It was autumn when my brother and I would play football in the backyard on crisp afternoons. We must have looked like locomotives with our breath floating in puffs of laughter into the chilly air. After the cold had begun to numb our extremities, we would run indoors to be greeted with wafts of turkey coming from the oven and the fragrance of pumpkin candles, which filled every last corner of our small, warm home. Fall has always been a time for hayrides and Thanksgiving feasts. It is a time for families and friendships. For me, it is also a time of reflection and a time of preparation for the paths God will take me down in his complete sovereignty.
It was on one of these cold fall days, later in life, that I found myself driving in south Seattle. Pedro the Lion was on the stereo and I was passing under a cathedral of arching trees whose leaves appeared to be set on fire by the masterful artistry of God himself. I went into sensory overload and started to cry. It’s times like these when our joy is so full that all we can do is cry in thankfulness to such a good and beneficent Father. The tears streamed hot and fierce on such a cold day. They warmed the soul from the callousness of pride and the weariness of life that invades our intimacy with our sweet Lord. They were the tears that reminded us of what life is truly about.
It wasn’t until years later that I could begin reconciling these moments of beautiful clarity with my knowledge of how God worked in my life. At the time, college life was taking its toll. The endless onslaught of assignments and exams kept pounding the bunkers of my soul, bringing with them the fear that I might break from sheer exhaustion. I was suddenly aware of how much of life was passing me by. I desperately wished for the joy I had found in the past or the joy that would one day come again, but how was I taking advantage of the only life God had given me if I failed to live in the immediate present? It’s fine, I thought, to think of God’s plan for my future, but what about God’s plan for the next five minutes? Surely these minutes must be important, too. Ultimately my thoughts drifted to one simple question: How do fall days, God’s sovereign will and my immediate life all fit together?
My answer came in the book of Ecclesiastes. It’s a book written by a wise man at the end of his life. Solomon had lived an extraordinary life of wide popularity, beautiful women, sprawling mansions and fine entertainment. You can almost visualize a tired grandfather sitting in his chair, softly and slowly whispering a short introduction to us before his book begins. He might have said, “I have tried many things, dear children, but have wasted much of my life chasing after the wind. Listen now to true wisdom.” Solomon understood the brevity of life. He understood how it vanishes as quickly as our breath on cold fall mornings. Solomon understood that if we could know the day of our death, it would drastically change how we would live our life in the present. With this in mind, he uttered these words: “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do” (Ecclesiastes 9:7, NIV).
There is a sense of sadness throughout Ecclesiastes, but these words provide hope to those of us who fear we might never achieve a luxurious life of wealth and minimal stress. These characteristics are not the things Solomon affirms at the end of his life. Instead he builds a theological framework on which rests the beauty of those cold fall days in Seattle. He creates a bulwark to guard the intimate moments of clarity we achieve in life; the moments when we stop chasing after the chilly autumn wind and find peace in the warmth of our Father’s arms. These are the moments when the stress of life seems to dissolve and we find immense joy in the mundane activities of life because we are overwhelmed with the simple blessing of being alive.
So I find myself in yet another autumn season. The trees are changing and the weather is soon to warrant scarves and sweaters. In the warmth of our homes, we reflect and prepare for the paths God will lead us through in the upcoming years. Often this preparation focuses entirely on our future, but may I suggest we approach the problem from another angle. Solomon would have taught us that if we love our great King in the fervency and desperation of the present, we naturally bend our will into the will of God, and our heart will plead for the path he wishes for us. There is no guessing the will of God, but only this simple rule: It is now that God favors what you do.
Life is fleeting. Our days on this earth are merely grains of sand passing through God’s sovereign hands. So spend this fall loving your friends and family with urgency. Spend time laughing and crying with one another. Spend time in the throne room of our glorious King who forever possesses pleasures at His right hand. As the puritan Thomas Watson said, “who should be cheerful, if not the people of God?”[Aaron Hampshire is a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. He enjoys frisbee golf, indie rock and knitting scarves for the upcoming winter months. He also enjoys receiving email at [email protected]]