A quick disclaimer: the very nature of this article’s subject matter will make you want to turn away before you get to the point—and that’s part of the point.
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” -Psalm 90:12
These words sound really nice, and are often quoted around Christian circles and beyond, but few people dare to actually practice them. Numbering our days is a really unpopular thing. No one likes to think about their death, what old age will be like, how quickly their life is going by, about friends they have already lost or how quickly everything could end. We would rather look away, change the channel, or simply keep ourselves too busy to notice. Just read these ancient yet cutting words by Saint Basil and see if you can keep yourself from recoiling,
“Today you’re vigorous in body, fattened by luxury, and in the prime of life, with complexion fair like the flowers, strong and powerful and of irresistible energy; tomorrow you’ll be an object of pity, withered by age or exhausted by sickness.”
Part of this is sociological. Improvements in medicine and safety measures have helped many to live longer. Health care and hospice provided outside of the home keep the imminence of death away. Our culture does not help with this either. Like the 1960’s sci-fi novella, Logan’s Run we are thoroughly and unapologetically age-ist, putting age and death out of our minds as much as possible. Advertisements, products, and entertainments such as movies and music are predominantly geared toward the young. The rise in assisted suicide and the irresponsible forms of unbridled hospice care are likewise symptomatic of the same thing—a society completely afraid to face the prospect of death.
The fear is so great we have almost ceased to realize what it is we are afraid of until it is too late. As a terrifying result, masses of people are taken off guard and left woefully unprepared for their end. Just ask any oncology nurse for stories about people facing death poorly and you will get an earful of qualitative data. On the whole, it is as if death and old age were being considered a liability, an inconvenience, and something we should all make sure does not happen to us!
This is akin to the foolish ostrich hiding its head in the sand. As is usually the case when we avoid reality, it keeps us back from living life the way it was meant to be lived. When we refuse to allow ourselves to think on or remember our own mortality, or life’s brevity, we simultaneously resist receiving answers to the Psalmist’s prayer and the heart of wisdom that comes as reward for facing the truth of our situation.
Death is not our friend, it is an enemy in the Christian Tradition. However, preparing for the foe helps the soldier live wisely. Remembering death has a way of making impressive people seem less intimidating, and humble people more dignified. It forces us to remember our hope for God’s world beyond this one, and the salvation worked for us in Jesus Christ. Each day becomes a gift we take less and less for granted.
Finally, death makes things like excess leisure seem silly. How we spend our time becomes greatly affected. Nothing, literally nothing, will shape our management of time more than a heart of wisdom that knows how to number our days. Where we lacked self-discipline before, we will start to gain it because wasting time will be become more and more soured for us. We simply will not have the heart to keep frittering away our precious lives. On those same lines, we will start to intuitively ask ourselves great questions on both micro and macro levels. Questions such as:
Is this what I want to do with the time I have today? Is this what I really want to be doing with my life? I may feel young, but I really am not that young—have I prepared for the future? What am I going to leave behind as a legacy for others? Am I living in such a way that honors a life after this one? What can I pass on to others?
This only the beginning of it. Therefore I ask, if you made it this far in the article, would you pray with me? For us as a society, as a city, to number our days to gain a heart of wisdom that instructs us to live wisely?