God gives a man wealth, possessions and honor, so that he lacks nothing his heart desires, but God does not enable him to enjoy them, and a stranger enjoys them instead ...." Eccl. 6:2
The writer of Ecclesiastes observes that some people are blessed with material prosperity, but for some reason they don’t get to enjoy it. Some wealthy people die young leaving their fortunes to others. Is there fairness in this?
George Washington comes to my mind when I read Ecclesiastes 6:2. George was blessed in many ways. He was born into a Virginia family that had some money and a nice estate. When his older brother and sister-in-law passed away, George inherited even more land and money. Then, when he married the widow Martha Custis, he received even more material prosperity and land. With Martha George also received two children, a young son and daughter.
Things could not have been better for George Washington. Except, even Washington lived in real life and not in a myth. Rich tastes and careless spending on English finery and furnishings plunged him into debt. His young son was bit pampered and never developed into the disciplined young man Washington hoped he would. Then, illness claimed his life when he was still young. His adopted daughter had seizures and died when she was only seventeen. Plus, Washington always seemed to be caught in the middle of the ever-present tension of conflicting economic views between the Colonies and England.
Washington attacked his debt problem. He did his best with his children, providing tutoring for his son and medical care he could for his daughter. He tried a number of political measures before plunging into the Revolutionary War. The war was not avoided and would consume seven years of his life, all of them away from his beloved wife and plantation home, Mt. Vernon.
Washington next had to deal with an underpaid and undermanned army. He lost more battles than he won. A gossip campaign sought to unseat him as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. His troops often went without pay, shoes, shirts and food. Some of his Massachusetts soldiers actually went for four days without a meal. Naturally, there were many desertions when conditions became so deplorable for the troops.
Through all of these hardships Washington hung on. His Continental Army won the War. But, he had the painful chore of dispersing his troops without pay. Many of them, perhaps most, would never receive proper compensation for their years of service.
Toward the end of his military career Washington gave a speech to 500 officers. These men, too, were hoping to receive adequate pay. Washington stood solemnly before them, put on his new reading glasses and said, "Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray, but almost blind in the service of my country." Some officers, hardened from years of war, openly wept. He accepted that the only reward he and most Revolutionary War soldiers would receive would be the virtue of having done what they believed needed to be done.
"God gives a man wealth, possessions and honor, so that he lacks nothing his heart desires, but God does not enable him to enjoy them, and a stranger enjoys them instead." George Washington received many physical and emotional blessings. But, he also knew pain and loss. And much of the work he and others did was for the benefit of posterity.
It may be that God calls us to a work or ministry that produces fruit for others to enjoy. Rather than recoil in fear or frustration at that, remember the many benefits we enjoy earned by the work, hunger and sacrifice of those before us.
Today, Memorial Day, let us remember all those men and women in uniform actively serving their country. If we get to enjoy today, it is because they don’t.