We live at best to be seventy years old,[Psalm 90:10, 12 Common English Bible]
maybe eighty, if we’re strong.
But their duration brings hard work and trouble
because they go by so quickly.
And then we fly off.
Teach us to number our days
so we can have a wise heart.
Each year on my birthday (October 31 – YES! I was born on Reformation Day!), I start my morning by reading Psalm 90.
I can’t recall when I began this practice, but the words of the psalm resonate with me, especially verses 10 and 12, cited above.
Over the past several months, I’ve also become drawn to the version in the Common English Bible, a translation completed in 2011. The freshness of its language is a welcome change from the occasional stodginess of its many predecessors. (That isn’t meant to disparage the value of any previous version of the Bible, but simply to state a preference.)
As I approach the celebration of the 77th year of my life, I acknowledge with tremendous gratitude that I’ve exceeded the span of what scripture considers the normal expectancy. And with continued good health and good fortune, I may yet become an octogenarian.
Someone once told me that it is wiser not to reveal one’s age. I have never bought into that. I am grateful for my 77 years. I look forward to being humored by the visible reminder I’ll have every time I drive on the interstate. Beyond that, I haven’t the faintest clue what seventy-seven is supposed to feel like, what one is supposed to do, or how one is supposed to act at 77. To echo the psalmist, “a thousand years are like yesterday past, like a short period during the night watch.” [v. 4]
I can’t say often enough that I feel blessed beyond measure to have been on earth for this long. My father died at age 46, and quite frankly, I thought I would not live much beyond that. Admittedly, I was a nervous wreck when I turned forty-six. I was morbidly obsessed with the thought that I would soon be joining my ancestors. I probably should have sought therapy, but nevertheless I somehow managed to outlast the anxiety.
One may consider it convoluted reasoning, but I came to the conclusion that God had greater plans for me. That idea became my chief concern, and my probing eventually led me on the path to seminary and to ordained ministry.
But the route has been nothing if not circuitous.
My life, my faith, and my relationship to God can be compared to a proverbial tetherball game.
In my youth I was inextricably connected, thanks to strong parental influences. My teenage years became somewhat unraveled, as a consequence of the personal tragedy of my father’s death. In time, I was able to reconcile my grief, and my faith was restored as a young adult.
But the thirties into my mid-forties realized more personal disappointments, and once more I grew seemingly disentangled. As before, tranquility triumphed over the turbulence, and the ball that was my beleaguered belief system again securely nestled around the pole.
Mercifully, despite all the poundings, God’s rope never frayed or detached.
Through it all, God has also placed people along the way, like lampposts, to guide me. I’m reluctant to name them for fear of omitting one. But I am thankful for all of them, and indebted to all of them. It reinforces the notion that one never travels alone, but the mission of life’s journey is at all times a shared venture.
I didn’t anticipate this reflection would become so deeply introspective or personal. Yet it appears that the Spirit has moved me to make it so.
My original intent was to explain my love for this psalm and the message it repeatedly drives home to me: that life is a precious gift from God.
It has taken me a lifetime to trust that we are always under the ever-present protective care of God. Therefore, we can go through life knowing that because God constantly watches over us, our life, no matter how long or how brief, has meaning and purpose – each and every day of our earthly pilgrimage.
Even into retirement, as I am slowly discovering, God is our shelter of refuge. The Psalm’s first verse leaves no doubt, “Lord, you have been our help, generation after generation.”
So, as my birthday draws near, the words of the psalmist are also my closing petition:
Fill us full every morning with your faithful love
so we can rejoice and celebrate our whole life long.