"So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom."
Lent began on a Wednesday earlier this month with the reminder that we are dust and to that dust we shall return. It's not a threat, it's just the truth. We do not have all the time in the world.
One of the psalms appointed for this Saturday of the 3rd Sunday in Lent is Psalm 90. It essentially offers us the same reminder as our Lenten journey turns the corner toward Holy Week and Easter. After reminding us in verse ten that since a good long life is perhaps seventy years (or if we are lucky, eighty) the poet suggests that we should use the time we are given to apply our hearts to wisdom.
A week ago, I began the journey of my 55th year around the sun on this good earth from whence we have been formed, and to which we shall all return. My father's death at 37 left a mark on me when it comes to recognizing that my days are numbered: turning 37, 38, and then 40, I was very mindful of the fact that every day is a gift. Beyond that I have sometimes felt a bit like I'm in uncharted territory, even though my mother is alive and well and healthy. I just never took it for granted that I'd turn 50, let alone 54. It seems old! And it feels great.
So here I am, and who knows, perhaps I will one day see 70, or if I am lucky, even 80! In the end, though, it's not forever and like the Lenten journey itself I am aware on this day that I'm well past the halfway point. Yesterday I paid my respects to the widow of an Episcopal priest who lived to be 100. Even then, however, I was aware that in the greater scheme of things, life is short. Teach us, O Lord, to number our days...
It seems to me the wisdom to which we are invited to apply our hearts is to be fully present to where we are. When we are fifteen, to be fifteen- not rushing toward eighteen or twenty. When we are twenty-three, to be twenty-three, and so forth: to be as fully present as possible to the opportunities and challenges that each new chapter of our lives brings our way. The danger is that we get pulled in one direction or the other. We want to go back to those "glory days" or we want to "get through" some particularly challenging stage of life so that we'll be old enough to drive, or married, or getting the kids through potty training or off to school or college or coming home for Thanksgiving.
But we can only be where we are. When we remember that our days are numbered, we can begin each day by counting our blessings and paying attention to the joys and the struggles that it brings our way. We can savor the gift of each day. Which is what the wisest people I know learn to do, with God's help.