Defying the Life of Vanity


Expectations, Expectations and More Expectations

From the earliest days of our childhood, we have all been bounded by expectations that the people closest to us have held for us. These expectations vary for each person based on the circumstances that they are raised in. Yet, regardless of these differences, expectations, by their very nature, can cause us to develop a form of “tunnel vision”, a term describing when someone who is solely focused on a certain goal. Conventional wisdom dictates that living a successful life is dependent on the acquisition of worldly possessions; many people perceive success to come with making stacks of money, possessing a plethora of expensive supercars, and/or being idolised by the public. Yet, in the midst of this superficially glamorous pursuit for worldly pleasures, our tunnel vision blinds us from the glory of our Father in heaven, keeping us from receiving the greatest thing in the world-the eternal love of God.

Qoheleth’s Vision of the Life of Vanity

This unfortunate reality is perhaps best depicted no better in the Bible than through the words of Qoheleth (pronounced koh-hel-eth), the primary speaker of Ecclesiastes. Qoheleth enquires about “what do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:3), and begins experimenting with different things to find out what is actually worth living for. He indulges in many pleasures to see whether indulging in pleasure is meaningful; he states that, “Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil” (Ecclesiastes 2:10). But then, in the verse that follows, he says that,“Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again, all was vanity and a chasing after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). This central theme is as relevant now as it was when it was written. We toil day in and day out for the pleasure that comes with worldly success and greatness, but we fail to understand that without God, all our efforts are in vain.

Breaking Through the Vanity with Christ

When the world pressures us to succumb to the pursuit of a materialistic life, we may think that there is no way to escape it. But St Paul reminds us differently, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Yes, as human beings, we have insecurities, fears, doubts and sinful tendencies. However, God is quite aware of our weaknesses, as He counsels St Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” When we choose to surrender our weaknesses to God, He gives us the grace to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we made, thus enabling us to love and see ourselves as children of God, whose exalted, unchanging dignity is never tarnished by the evershifting, superficial expectations that the world places upon us.

Pursuing Holiness: A Life of Greatness

French novelist Leon Bloy once wrote, “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.” Many of us seem to think that sainthood is a luxury; we fall prey to the idea that only some are capable of achieving sainthood. Yet throughout the New Testament St Paul addresses members of the early Christian community as the “holy ones” or “saints.” As members of the Church we are the “holy ones” who are called to break through the vanity of a materialistic life and its lies. Through prayer we come closer to our loving Father and to realise that our life is precious and beautiful because of our identity as sons and daughters of God. With this realisation, the Holy Spirit will empower us with deeper faith and hope in God, enabling us to face any predicament in life with His grace. If we choose to pursue this life, we will still face difficulties, but we will live every moment with the surreal joy of Christ. This is what it means to live a saintly life, a life of greatness.

  • by Kevin Fleming from Houston, Texas

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