One of the features of digital devices that play music and/or video is the ability to play a list “on a loop”. That is to say, that whatever program or music list you are playing can be set to play over and over again without further attention. The device will play through the list, then play it again… over and over again until you interrupt it or change to a new setting.
Solomon in Ecclesiastes did not know the terminology of digital devices. But he did describe the function it represents in life. In chapter 1:4-10 Solomon sets the theme of the book:
“A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. 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. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us.”
What Solomon’s “man under the sun” is describing is the cyclical nature of life; life on a loop if you will. And while he does not explicitly say so, the inference is that it is quite mundane. The word mundane means “lacking interest or excitement; dull”. Synonyms for mundane are “humdrum, boring, tedious, monotonous, tiresome, wearisome, prosaic, unexciting, uninteresting”.
Stop and think about your normal day, week, month, and year. While certainly there are special moments like holidays, vacations, or special events that “pepper” our schedules, the vast majority of our lives are lived on a loop; a continual “repeat” of yesterday, last week, last month, etc. Life is not so much made up of the extraordinary but the ordinary. Even if you are not as scheduled and routine oriented as I am, so much of your life, from personal grooming, to your work schedule, to what you do on specific days, is a matter of “rinse and repeat”.
These days with the novel corona virus and COVID-19 it seems like our lives are “on a loop…on steroids”. In thinking of the last 3 ½ months now, I find that my regular routine of life is even more regular and routine. While some of that is abating now with the freedom to visit with family and being able to actually go to a restaurant, for the vast majority of those days I would leave the house, go get a coffee at the Tim Horton’s drive through, be in the office at around 5 AM, have lunch at 11, finish the day at 1, go home and exercise between 1-3, and then stay home the remainder of the night, except to make an excursion to the church to retrieve the mail so it did not remain in the box overnight. I did not set foot in a store of any kind for almost three months. I did not have hospital visits, nursing home visits, soul care visits. I did not have discipleship meetings or committee meetings. Life was not punctuated with any special events, visits with family or friends, or “day trips”. It is as if a giant parenthesis has been placed around our lives and while life within the parenthesis has returned to some level of normalcy, it is still as if we are just “treading water”… staying afloat but not really getting anywhere. One writer in the Detroit News put it this way, “2020 has come to be a ‘placeholder’ year. It is as if we are living in a state of suspended animation.”
Well, even in non-pandemic times, this is, largely, the nature of life. Solomon knew that. One generation follows another in an unending cycle. The sun rises, the sun sets. The wind blows to the south and then the north, but it eventually comes back to the south in a circuitous pattern. Our appetites are never satisfied. The eye is never filled with seeing, nor ear with hearing. There is nothing new under the sun. In this, Solomon is not saying there are never new inventions or events that occur in life. He is saying that man’s fundamental nature never changes. The fundamentals of existence do not change.
So, what is the key to “life on a loop?” I think it is the good and honorable navigation of the “same old, same old”. There is nothing new under the sun. There may be different packaging. There may be different contexts. There may be different circumstances. But life is not about the novel, the extraordinary, the intermittent. Life is about mastering the normal, the mundane, the repeatable. And we learn to master life as the gospel masters us. The way we do life on a loop will largely be determined by how significant the gospel is to us, how well we understand it, and how well we might apply it to everyday life.
There are two real advantages to life on a loop. One is proficiency. We have the opportunity to “master” life because we get to do it over and over again every day. There is an old adage that says, “Practice makes perfect.” The counter to that is “No, practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.” This is to say, we need to strive to develop our life on a loop in such as way as to conform to the principles and truths of Scripture. When we do that, we “make permanent” those principles in our lives in a very practical way.
The second advantage to life on a loop is that we are able to embrace to the max, those interspersed mitigations of the normal everyday loop of life. Some, like birthdays, holidays, vacations, and special family events can be embraced for all the joy they give us. But also, the very difficult interjections into “loop life” like crisis, death, hardship, can be used by God to their fullest.
I pray for a good “loop life” for each of us. When embraced and appreciated the right way, the circuitous and mundane some old, same old, can be the foundation and context of a very exciting and productive life for Christ.