Teach us to number our days aright that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Seven years ago, I decided to give myself a birthday treat and sleep in. Then—naturally—around 8:15 Central Time, the phone rang. I rolled over, only half-listening to the message. It was my favorite aunt. How sweet of her, I thought, and how typical of her to be the first call saying “Happy birthday!” But without hearing her exact words, I sensed something dreadful in her voice. I lunged for the phone just as she said, “Please, please pick up so I know you’re not in New York!” Before answering, I told my partner to turn on the TV. And there it was.
We spoke less than a minute, hurrying off the phone in hopes of comprehending what we were seeing. Meanwhile, my partner, a TV news writer, threw on some clothes and rushed to work, six hours before his day normally begins. The networks suddenly lurched to Washington and something apparently happened in Pennsylvania, but those details weren’t yet clear. Through the windows of our highrise apartment, the sky queued with planes waiting to land at O’Hare Airport. In next to no time, they vanished. The streets quickly fell still. No one jogged or cycled along Lake Michigan. Whoever wanted America’s attention fully succeeded in getting it.
I called my aunt after it seemed the worst had passed. In a lame jab at levity, I moaned, “Well, this pretty much ruins my birthdays.” She didn’t laugh. “Son,” she said—I’ve always loved her calling me that—“no matter when this happened, it would fall on somebody’s birthday. Why not yours?” Next, she added, “There’s no promise you’ll live to see another birthday. Instead of complaining about what you won’t have, be grateful for the time you’ve been given and make the most of what you’ve got.” No gift I'll ever receive will be more precious to me than those two sentences.
Teach Us… Establish Us…
Psalm 90 is a prayer attributed to “Moses, the man of God.” Knowing all he experienced—the extreme highs and lows of his life—helps explain its perplexing juxtaposition of God’s anger and our fragility. There’s much to say about it, more than enough to draw from it. Singling these things out, however, criminally diminishes the force it achieves as all of a piece. It speaks for itself.
In a slight departure from the usual format, I invite you to read Psalm 90 with me, in gratefulness for the time we’ve been given, searching our hearts about what we’re presently doing with what we’ve got. And I especially ask my brothers and sisters in the States to internalize this prayer during this hour of opportunity to turn our nation back toward justice, mercy, and humility.
A prayer of Moses the man of God.
Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You turn men back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.”
For a thousand years in your sight are a like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.
You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning—though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.
We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.
All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan.
The length of our days is seventy years—or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Relent, O LORD! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants.
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble.
May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children.
May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands.
Let it be so.
Teach us to number our days.