You may have read it before, or heard it being referred to. It was written by one of the wisest men who ever lived –arguably the wisest. He wrote many wise words in his life time; words that were divinely inspired as well.
This poem is one of such inspired works of his that look so simple yet so profound; so obvious, yet so elusive; so shallow in appearance, yet so deep.
People have used it to refer to many circumstances in life. It means quite a lot of things to a lot of people. To me, it is a poem on how to understand life and how the world works.
This month, I would like to share with you what this poem means to me, from four different perspectives. That means from week 1 (today) to week 4 (at the end of the month), I will be exposing my understanding of this poem to you, and I hope it changes your life as much as it’s changed mine.
Let’s read the poem first:
Everything has an appointed season, and there is a time for every matter under the heaven.
A time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot that which is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break and a time to build.
A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time of wailing and a time of dancing.
A time to cast stones and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.
A time to seek and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away.
A time to rend and a time to sew; a time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.
The first perspective on life that this poem shows me is ‘sequence’. Some things have to happen before the other – either to teach us to appreciate what comes after, which is usually what we actually had, but took for granted; or to prepare us for what’s coming after.
Giving birth comes before dying, to teach us to appreciate life, and to give us the chance to ‘replace’ ourselves before we leave.
Planting is not easy. It takes a lot of hard work and discipline to start a venture and keep at it, or to make wise investments over a long stretch of time. But it prepares us for the reward of reaping a bountiful harvest later on.
Killing or getting rid of friendships and relationships that are toxic to our lives is no fun, but it is necessary to help us heal completely from the damage it’s caused us so far. And when we have taken the time to heal, we are then ready to build new friendships and relationships that are right for us.
Weeping over broken relationships and wailing over the dead are painful experiences, but they aid in getting the toxicity out of our system, preparing us to laugh wholeheartedly with our new friends, and to dance with all our might when celebrating either a new born or the life once lived by the dead.
‘Casting your stones’ –giving, saving and investing –comes before gathering them. Losing something by intentionally giving or putting it away builds the character needed to be able to keep and use it wisely, when you finally gain it back in multiplied quantities.
The time to embrace – to protect what you have like your savings, investments and your young children – comes before the time to stop embracing; to spend your savings, liquidate your investments, and allow your children out of the home. It prepares you for when it’s time to enjoy your wealth, and to enjoy your spouse because you both don’t feel guilty for not spending quality time with your children while they lived with you.
This is the right sequence. If you do it the other way around, you’re doomed. Imagine spending frivolously all your life and then trying to save money when you’re old. Or having no time for your children when they’re young and then trying to correct their misbehavior when they’re grown.
The time to ‘seek’ all these things is when you’re young(er), because you’ll inevitably ‘lose’ them as you get old(er). So keep them well now, knowing that you’ll have to cast them away soon.
Silence comes before speech. We learn to speak as we grow older, from babies to toddlers. We should also learn to listen first before we speak, in interactions. This gives us a chance to choose to respond to life rather than react to it. Choosing either to speak or to be quiet in certain situations usually precedes a case of destroying (rending) something/someone or building (sewing) them up.
The time when everyone loves you, especially in your family as you’re growing up, usually precedes the time when many more people hate you – when you leave your family to go into the real world. This sequence gives you the chance to first internalize enough love from your loved ones before going out there to face hatred in the world. This will help you to remain sure of yourself, unwavering in what you stand for, and confident in who you are.
After war comes peace. It usually takes war, or a difficult situation in our lives, to help us appreciate the peace, or privileges, that we currently take for granted. You never really cherish what you have until you lose it.
Some things have to happen before the other; either to teach us to appreciate what we already have, or to prepare us for what’s coming next.
That is the perspective of ‘Sequence’ that this poem gives me. Next week, I’ll share the second perspective on life that it reveals. So stay tuned, and I’ll see you then!