Teach us to number our days carefully
So that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.
Meditating on this prayer of Moses, which we’ve labeled Psalm 90, I’m drawn to consider my remaining days. In this, the month of my 61st birthday, I wonder how many days I have left. Like Moses I ask, “Lord–how long?”
In verse 10 Moses tells us, “Our lives last seventy years or, if we are strong, eighty years.” Perhaps, if God is merciful, I have another 5,000 days of wandering this earth in search of souls trapped in systems of spiritual darkness, poverty, and injustice. That will take me well into my mid-seventies–well into the years Moses says we have if we are strong. Not that I plan to ever retire from this work to which he has called me or stop serving my Lord. But, can I, should I, be bold enough to ask my Lord to let me continue traveling the backwaters and boondocks of our world in service to him15 more years before I put away the passport and settle down to rest in the Lord?
Perhaps a much more significant questions is, what will I do with each of the days my Lord graciously allots?
The saints of old teach us that acknowledging our limits is a step toward wisdom. It is a step closer to resting in the reality that everything we do and say, even this breath I now take, is a gift of God. Our very lives “are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.” Acknowledging our limits is a step toward the wisdom needed to serve God and to serve others as he has called and equipped us.
One of these long-dead saints, Jean-Pierre de Caussade, wrote in The Sacrament of the Present Moment:
There is a time when the soul lives in God and there is also a time when God lives in the soul… when God lives in souls there is nothing of themselves left, save what comes from his inspiration. For them there are no plans, no longer any clearly marked paths. They are like a child whom one leads wherever one wills and who sees only what is pointed out to him… (see John 26:36-46)
Others undertake an infinite number of tasks to glorify God. These simple souls often find themselves discarded in some forgotten corner, like pieces of broken crockery for which no further use can be found. Here, neglected by men, but in possession of God through their pure, steadfast and passionate, though deeply tranquil, love, they make no effort of their own. Often they will not know for what purpose, but God knows it well. The world thinks them useless. Indeed, appearances favour that judgement, though the truth is that secretly and through unknown channels these souls pour out infinite blessings on people who may never have heard of them, of whose existence they are themselves unaware. (See PrayerReach.org for more of my thoughts on the hidden life of service to others.)
Another more recent saint, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, spoke these words as he preached on Psalm 90 at his grandmother’s (who was in her nineties) funeral in Berlin on January 15, 1936:
Applying our hearts to wisdom means knowing the limit of our life, but, even more, knowing that beyond that limit is the God who is from eternity to eternity…
To this she (his grandmother) held fast…resigning herself to the will of God, bearing what was laid upon her, looking steadily and clearly at reality, doing whatever was required, quietly and without complaint…
In a life as long as hers, there are times when one learns in a special way that one needs a refuge…in her old age it became quieter around her…she displayed great inner happiness and a powerful affirmation of life.
In a little known autobiographical essay entitled The White Pebble one of my favorite dead saints, Trappist monk Thomas Merton, wrote,
The Mystical Body of Christ is not simply a kind of mythical clearinghouse through which individuals pass in order to enter into a reward… Supernatural life itself is a talent which is given us to be developed. The virtues of faith, hope, and charity, by which we are united to God, are talents given us to be developed. And they are given us that we may develop them not only on our own account… These gifts are given us, remember, not for ourselves alone, but for others as well…
The more fully one enters into the Christian life, the more he feels the necessity of communicating that life to others, if not by word, then by prayer and by the deep, sweet anguish of desire, the craving for souls that burns in the depths of the heart… Why? Because, as I have said, the purpose of our lives is to make us more and more productive members of the Mystical Body of Christ. (Merton cites John 15 as well as many other Scriptures in support of these thoughts.)
Merton continues with practical instruction on how we become more productive members of this mystical body of Christ,
We increase and deepen our participation in the life of the Body by the activity of our minds and wills, illuminated and guided by the Holy Ghost. We must therefore keep growing in our knowledge and love of God and in our love for other men. The power of good operative habits must take ever greater and greater hold upon us. The Truth we believe in must work itself more and more fully into the very substance of our lives until our whole existence is nothing but vision and love…
What this means in practice is summed up by one word that most men are afraid of: asceticism…
Without self-denial we cannot be Christ’s disciples. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and come, follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
God has so graciously revealed to this simple soul my role in the mystical body of Christ and he has allowed me to follow his voice into a life of ever deepening prayer for and among the nations. Perhaps he will allot me 5,000 more days.
It seems I have gotten a tad verbose on this topic so I’ll close now in prayer,
Lord, teach us to number our days so we may develop wisdom to love you with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as ourselves.