a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; Ecclesiastes 3:5

A Guest Post by May-Kuan Lim, author of The Curious Scribbler

I feel a hint of pain when I look at these early photos because my children were young and easily amused. I, too, was young and life was uncomplicated: feed the ducks, throw a ball, pick a daisy.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. The season for early motherhood has passed. The children are teenagers now. One has left home. I have to find my place in the world again.

MK Lim

Photo by Victoria Bjorkman (Creative Commons)

The words of Ecclesiastes wash over me: a time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, a time to uproot; and on it goes, each verb making sense in its context but what is this – a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them? What a strange expression. Who scatters stones? Farmers scatter seed. Hansel and Gretel scatter breadcrumbs. But who scatters stones? Aren’t stones too heavy to be scattered? Perhaps pebbles can be scattered, but to what purpose?

Instead of ‘scatter’, other translations use the words ‘cast away’ or ‘throw’ as a counter point to ‘gather’. Cast away is a much more weighty action, showing effort and intent. But what do the stones represent?

Perhaps a farmer might cast stones away in order to till a field, and then gather those same stones to build a house. Or, in the Old Testament, people used stones to build altars of remembrance. When God stopped the waters of the Jordan River upstream for the Israelites to enter Canaan on dry land, the priests gathered twelve stones from the riverbed and built an altar. God wanted the story of His deliverance to shape the nation of Israel.

Motherhood has shaped much of my life since my first child was born. For two decades, motherhood has been the memorial stone that defined me. The children enabled me to justify turning my back on a career. I will be a mother for the rest of my time on earth, but it is time to move this stone. It need no longer take centre stage. My life does not have to be arranged around it anymore.

A by-product of turning my back on my career is to watch my peers surpass me in their professional achievements. My ego finds it much easier to offer empathy and support to a friend in need than to truly, generously, and unreservedly celebrate the success of another. This ungodly stone of jealousy I cast away. I wrench it out of my being and, with all my strength, cast it as far away as possible.

Now is the time to gather stones to build a home for my approaching-fifty-year-old self to inhabit: learn new skills, write, invest in others, enjoy adventures for their own sake and not for any flow-on purpose such as feeding a child or modelling a virtue or shoring up an inheritance.

These words in Ecclesiastes – a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them – say to me: do not look back with pain; new seasons are to be experienced, enjoyed and celebrated. There is a time for everything.

What time is it for you  –  a time to scatter or a time to gather? Spend a few minutes writing your reflections on each of those two words. It’s often the process of writing that clarifies our responses.