Ordinary Gifts: Fried Eggs, Folded Laundry, and Much, Much More

But what Solomon considers “best ever!” surprises us too. When it comes to pursuing must-have stuff, epic experiences, or big accomplishments, Solomon is at his most disdainful. Those will get you nothing but sad, anxious days and sleepless nights (Eccles. 2:23). Instead, life’s most enjoyable pleasures, the things that provide satisfying and sustaining happiness, are the simple, ordinary gifts of God, such as food and drink and work.

If we’re honest, we don’t always find enjoyment in food and drink and work, do we? In fact, work might be the last place we look to find enjoyment. It can be tedious and taxing, or merely a means to a biweekly paycheck. And while we do enjoy eating and drinking, all too often it’s simply fuel to keep us going. But what if we were to see what Solomon sees? The simple, ordinary things in life are often the best things.

Also, notice that these are common gifts for commoners: work and food and drink are the basic blessings of life. Most of us have dishes to wash, a home to clean, people to care and work for. We have breakfast, lunch, and dinner, afternoon coffee breaks and midnight snacks. And we have these things almost all of the time. Food and drink and work are not milestone events; they are all-day, every-day blessings to enjoy. It is here that we can find pleasure, not just once in a while, but all the while. Rather than working and waiting for a few, brief, high-water marks in life (which often fail to deliver the joy we imagine), Solomon urges us to find enjoyment in the daily graces of fruitful labor and hearty meals. “Give us this day our daily bread,” Jesus told us to pray (Matt. 6:11), and then receive it from the hand of God with joy.

This morning, Carolyn enjoyed a steaming cup of black coffee and a fried egg with cheese for breakfast. Then she noticed her grandson eyeing her fried egg and asked him if he wanted one. He wanted “two, please!” His broad smile and hearty thanks— “Mom-Mom, these are delicious!”—lit up the dim, early-morning kitchen. Food to enjoy and food to share. All this in only a quarter of an hour. You see, pleasure can be found in a tasty breakfast and in washing the breakfast dishes. Every made bed and mopped floor, every report filed and budget balanced, can be an occasion to relish. How about the fresh breeze through the open windows on carpool morning, the delight of reading your children’s favorite book (for the hundredth time), or the blessing of easing your husband’s troubles? In all these and many more, enjoyment can be found, at the table and in our toil. So sip your tea, knead your bread dough, fold your laundry, and enjoy.

All our toil gets us nowhere, but, oh my, would you look at where we are? We have been given a place to live, maybe even people to share it with. Nothing we do is new or remembered, but amazingly enough, we have all been given some work to do today, a purpose and a task. Life is full of unhappy business, but did we enjoy a cup of coffee this morning or a sandwich for lunch? How lovely. We can find enjoyment today, even in this sin-cursed world under the sun.

Receive All You Can’t Achieve

Here’s the thing: we cannot achieve enjoyment; we can only receive it from God’s hand. As Solomon explains: “This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” (Eccles. 2:24–25). Every delicious meal and cold drink, every job well done, is from the hand of God, but so is the enjoyment of that meal and drink and job. See, you can work hard and make a lot of money and dine at expensive restaurants, but you cannot actually get enjoyment from food or drink unless God gives it to you from his hand. You can attract the attention of a good-looking man and get married and find a nice house and have adorable children, but you cannot be happy in your work in the home apart from God giving you joy.

The reason that so many Christians fail to find enjoyment in life is that we still try to achieve more than we have received. “The basic things of life are sweet and good,” acknowledges Derek Kidner. “What spoils them is our hunger to get out of them more than they can give.” Often we may throw ourselves into our work, not for the pleasure of fulfilling the task that God has called us to, but because we are hungry for satisfaction and significance. Mothering our children becomes about looking good to others. Starting a small business becomes about establishing a reputation for ourselves in the community. Ministry work becomes a means to an end: to get attention or respect or appreciation. Even food and drink become utilitarian, a way to keep our energy up as we pursue our selfish goals. But if we hunger after applause from others through our work, we will never be satisfied. If we are so busy chasing success, we might fail to enjoy the sweetness of family dinners or fellowship with friends over a good meal.

The Good Giver Gives Good Gifts

Turns out, life is not at all like we thought. Life is not about reaching our dreams or fulfilling our potential or becoming the best version of ourselves. Instead, life is about receiving from the hand of God whatever he chooses to give. In short, we human beings are receivers not achievers. God has given us an unhappy business to be busy with (Eccles. 1:13), and now Solomon tells us that God has also given us joy: “For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy” (Eccles. 2:26). God gives unhappy business, and he gives happy business. And while the unhappy business is for everyone, finding enjoyment is only for “the one who pleases him.” Only those who are in Christ (with whom his Father is “well pleased”) receive joy in the midst of their cursed work (Matt. 3:17).

God the giver shines out here at the end of Ecclesiastes 2. Every satisfying meal and refreshing drink, every invigorating task: all our enjoyment in all these things is from his hand. God is personal and perpetual in his generosity. But who are we to receive all good things to enjoy from God the giver? We deserve nothing from God but unhappy business. All of us were sinners who rebelled against God, grasping at his good gifts for selfish gain. But then our merciful God gave us the most extraordinary gift of all: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Our heavenly Father gave his only Son, Jesus Christ, so that through Christ’s perfect life, death, and resurrection, we can receive and enjoy God’s good gifts. Truly, “He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found.”

Content taken from True Life by Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Mahaney Whitacre, ©2023. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.