So I became greater than all who had lived in Jerusalem before me, and my wisdom never failed me. Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. (NLT)
Old and well used ships gather barnacles on their hulls. The once smooth and streamlined vessel accumulates them over time. Who knows how, when, or where they attached themselves to the ship. They now seem part of it.
When we read texts like the one today, we can be reminded of all the accumulated wounds and hurts and disappointments we experience. The once shiny and seemingly flawless vessel which is our life, has now got lots of barnacles attached to it. Some hopes and dreams have not come true. Things are not what we long for them to be.
But this need not lead to despair. The writer of this text seems to despair, but he is writing about what life is like if we leave God out of the picture. A merely material existence is bound to result in meaninglessness. And so, with us. All those dashed dreams and vain hopes are like barnacles on a ship.
What we need to grasp is that the ship can still sail. It can still be seaworthy. It can still do its job. The barnacles may be ugly and we wish they were not there, but they remain at least till that great day when all will be as it should be. In the meantime, we set sail and those messy barnacles won’t prevent us staying afloat and reaching shore.