Monday, June 29, 2009

Numbering our Days

Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90: 12).

I’ve been numbering my days lately. Maybe you have too. I’m not talking about something morbid or morose. The kind of numbering I’ve been doing, the kind that the Psalmist speaks of, isn’t done with a calendar. It has little to do with measuring time and more to do with entering into it, sensing how it moves and pondering what it means. That’s what I’ve been doing, especially since Thursday.

On Thursday I did some day numbering as I called my parents to wish them a happy 49th anniversary. My Mom and Dad both expressed the kind of disbelief you feel when a number that sounds so long feels so short. I’m beginning to know what they mean.

On Thursday I did some day numbering as I drove with Marnie to North Carolina to retrieve our children from three weeks of camp. When we had dropped them off twenty days earlier I was apprehensive about a three week camp experience. It sounded like a very long time for my kids to be away. It wasn’t. Just as you begin to really adapt to a child-free home, it’s time for the camp counselors to give them back to you. “Didn’t we just drive up here?”

On Thursday, making our way up I-85, we listened to constant news reports about Farrah Fawcett. I did a little day numbering, remembering the year when “Charlie’s Angels” was the big new show of the fall television season. I was 14 years old. The home of a Baptist pastor didn’t allow wall space for the iconic poster – but I knew exactly what it looked like. News of her death prompted some day numbering for much of the nation.

And then at dinner on Thursday, dining on southwestern cuisine in Black Mountain, I saw the caption at the bottom of the flat screen TV on the restaurant wall. Michael Jackson had died. Enough is being said about that, and will be for weeks to come. But I can’t hear anything from the Thriller album without being taken back to college. And long before college, there was a Saturday morning cartoon called the “Jackson 5.” More day numbering.

The Psalmist speaks of numbering our days within the context of prayer, a petition spoken to God. The request asks God to “teach us” to number our days. We don’t do this naturally. We need help. Day numbering is a learned behavior.

Usually the help we get comes to us as some kind of reminder that days have a limit. The reminder need not be a tragedy, but somehow we need to be faced with the truth that our days do not stretch our before us in infinite supply. It doesn’t matter how well you eat and how often you work out. There’s a limit to our days. The hard part is facing the limit with honesty and courage. This is how we number our days. It’s has little to do with counting.

Some refuse to number their days because it makes them fearful and anxious. Others refuse to number their days because they regard that kind of thing as depressing or sad. According to the Psalm, both of those reactions are mistaken. In the Psalm, numbering our days makes us neither anxious nor depressed. It makes us wise.

Those who “gain a heart of wisdom” are those who have also gained clarity about what life is for. Every single day comes to us as a gift, and what we do with every day is determined by the giver. To number our days doesn’t diminish life, it enhances it.

What life events have taught you how to number your days? How will you live this one?

Teach us to number our days, O Lord, and make us wise in the learning. Guard us from the fear and sadness that grasps at time but fails to live. Make us bold and glad in our living, trusting you for every day, honoring you in the way we live. Grant us a heart of wisdom we pray, Amen.

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