Herald Journal Columns
Nov. 25, 2002
Pastor's Column

Teach us to number our days, that we may be wise

By Rev. Debra Clausen
Walker United Methodist Church, Howard Lake

As much as I love the autumn colors and the cool, crisp air, there is much about this time of year that leaves me feeling melancholy.

Since daylight savings time has ended, I get up in the dark and drive home from work in the dark. The season for growing things is past. The crops are out of the fields. The flowers are cut down, and the bulbs are out of the ground. Even the grass has stopped growing.

And, instead of the bright, sunny days of summer, we are greeted by cloudy skies and drizzle with snow flakes in the weather forecast. The dampness leaves me chilled to the bone.

So, perhaps this time of year makes me feel a bit sad, because there is so much about it that has to do with endings. Perhaps it reminds me of the most difficult ending of all, the ending of life itself for each of us.

Like the passing season, life is short, and the time of our lives passes all too quickly.

When I first came to realize that truth, it hit me abruptly. It was almost as if I had gone to bed one night, certain of where I was in life and where I was headed.

And then, I woke up the next morning on the other side of the bridge that leads to "old." It wasn't that I was really old ­ at least, not yet. But I was no longer young, either.

It was shortly thereafter that I began to eat better and healthier. I started an exercise program. If you are over 35 years old, you know how it goes. Time marches on, but life rushes on.

Once I believed that I could help change the world. And now I realize that the world hasn't changed the way I thought it would, but I have changed.

I have changed beyond anything I could have imagined. You would think that realization would have been a huge disappointment to me.

Strangely, it wasn't.

Perhaps that is because, by the grace of God, in some things (though not as many as I would wish), I have not just gotten older, I have gotten better. Not only that, but those of us who are "not-quite-old" are no longer fooled by our culture's infatuation with eternal youth.

We recognize that Hollywood is just pretend. Actors may die in one movie only to reappear in another, but we are mortal. We are finite, and no matter how long we have in this world, it is never enough.

So, what do we do about this finitude that takes us half a lifetime to even recognize? Do we sit back and let ourselves get depressed, because it all passes too quickly?

Do we try to deny the passing of time? Get a face-lift? A tummy-tuck? Invest in Lady Clairol or Grecian Formula? Dress in younger clothes? Buy a new sports car?

The scriptures would suggest another alternative. The Psalmist David writes a very memorable prayer in Psalm 90. He writes: "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a wise heart."

When we accept our own finitude, God's ordained limitation for our own lives, we get a wise heart. We begin to realize that life is beautiful, and even more beautiful because of its brevity.

Wisdom has us learning how to savor each moment ­ not waiting to enjoy life after we have accomplished some goal or other we may never be able to achieve.

It has us loving someone now, because tomorrow may not be for them or for us. It has us praising someone for using his or her God-given gifts today, because we may not be able to do so tomorrow. People are so fragile.

It has us relishing cool, autumn mornings and falling leaves. It has us celebrating the beauty we see in the first snows of winter.

Our lives pass moment by moment, minute by minute, and day by day. Only God knows the ultimate significance of what we do and say during these moments, minutes, and days.

As for us, may we, with the Psalmist, gain enough wisdom to rejoice.

For this day is the day the Lord has made for you. It is the time of your life.

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