Born in the year of the rat, my mother-in-law passed away on 8/9/2020 at 96 (in the lunar calendar, that would be 97). She survived a bout of pneumonia (diagnosed on 4/9/2020) in the first few weeks of lockdown with Abi treating her at home. We did not confine her at the hospital knowing that if we did, she would be alone as we could not be with her and might not make it thru to return home to us. By God’s grace, she passed on peacefully on her own bed with us (me, hubby, Abi, Mimi and 2 helper/caregivers) by her side.
Throughout her life, my mom-in-law had countless falls, been sick so many times. In her younger days, she was the weakest, the most sickly of the 4 elderlies (my parents and hubby’s parents) in our family. Yet, she was the only one who was never hospitalized thru her 46 years in the Phils. She survived them all. My father-in-law who passed on at 94, was 3 years her senior. My mom was youngest yet she died the youngest, at 78. My dad, 13 years older than my mom, died 5 months later than she did.
In these numbers, I learned a little of the ways of our paradoxical God. The youngest does not live longer than the older. The strong does not outlast the weak. The weak becomes strong and the strong gets sick. Such is the reality of life and death. Our days are in the hands of our Creator.
We, Chinese, value longevity. This can be seen in the traditions of birthday celebrations especially that of our elderly parents and grandparents. We also like to add numbers to our years. The Chinese starts counting age on the day of birth. A person is 1 year old when he was born. On new year’s day in the lunar calendar, another year would be added to his age. And so, if he were born on 12/30 in the lunar calendar, he would be 2 years old when he is just 2 days old.
The ideal of longevity is a pursuit of man toward his control and ownership of time.
I got married when I was 24 y.o. I miscarried my first child during the fifth month of my pregnancy. I was diagnosed with cancer at 47. 7 years after, in the middle of my mom’s and my dad’s passing, I had a drastic fall and ankle surgery. It’s been more than 10 years since my cancer journey. These numbers are nothing without events/memories attached to them.
Life on earth is measured in days, months, and years. Beyond these numbers, what makes life significant? What gives meaning to each day? Are they not the stories attached to each moment of each day?
Moses wrote Psalm 90 near the end of his life.
1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!”
4 For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.
5 You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning:
6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.
7 For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed.
8 You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.
9 For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10 The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span[i] is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11 Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?
12 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.
13 Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!
14 Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16 Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.
17 Let the favor[j] of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!
Moses asked the Lord to “teach us to number our days that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” (v.12)
What does it mean to number our days? Numbering is more than just counting. To put a number to each day of our lives is to put importance and significance to it. The traditional Chinese calendar is special and meaningful in the way it presents each day of the year. There is an individual page to each number of each day of the year. More than just the day of the week, it informs us of moon phase, high tide or low tide. It draws our attention to all there is to that particular day without all the other days cluttering around it.
And we need God to teach us (that life being finite: there is an end), each day is ‘allotted time.’ Life is a precious gift from God, full of opportunities and probabilities as we read in Ecclesiastes. There is a time to everything under the sun. “God set eternity in the heart of man. He has made everything appropriate in its time.” (Eccl. 3:11)
Do we need wisdom to know how to number our days? Or do we gain wisdom from numbering our days?
Psalm 90:12 reminds us that we need the God of eternity, unbounded by time, Creator of time to ‘Teach’ us to value each day – make it worthwhile so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
When we know how to number each day, then we gain a heart of wisdom. ‘That’ we may gain (NIV), get (ESV, NKJ) a heart of wisdom – that is the goal of this prayer – to live wisely. That is the essence of this verse – the heart of wisdom thru the passage of life. In the finite numbering of our days, we treasure transcendental eternity.
Aside from the length of time, we are also aware of the speed of time: how fast time passes us by. Seconds, minutes and hours pass so quickly. There is so much to do, we need to manage our time wisely. What is more important and what is more urgent? Sometimes, the urgent makes us forget the important.
Psalm 90:3-6 compare transient (temporal) men against the infinite God:
You turn man back into dust
And say, “Return, O children of men.”
For a thousand years in Your sight
Are like yesterday when it passes by,
Or as a watch in the night.
You have swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep;
In the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew.
In the morning it flourishes and sprouts anew;
Toward evening it fades and withers away. (NASB)
As God’s people, let us ponder: What does God want us to do quickly? What do we ask God to do quickly for us? Are we patient when God wants us to wait? Do we tarry when He calls us to act? Do we count or do we number our days? Are we grateful for each new day?
Let us count the life in our years and not the years in our life!