I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done… This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118.17, 24)
The Biography Channel recently added a show called “I Survived”. Ordinarily, I’m a sucker for true crime series. But this one, featuring testimonials from people who’ve escaped accidental death and murder, makes me queasy without seeing one episode. I can’t justify asking anyone to relive a life-threatening trauma to sate my curiosity about what staring at Death is like. Having known trauma survivors (as I’m sure most of us have), I can attest the terror doesn’t end when the ordeal is over. For many, survival is worse than death. Each day is little more than a breathing exercise; the will to live is gone.
Psalm 118’s composer is a trauma survivor. The first half of his poem almost reads like an “I Survived” installment. As he tells it, his enemies pushed him to the brink of extinction. “But the LORD helped me,” he writes in verse 14. Rather than allow the experience to destroy his determination, the psalmist turns survival into his life’s work. “I will not die but live,” he insists, “and will proclaim what the LORD has done.” (v17) And what’s most remarkable is how he makes praise his life’s purpose. Listen to his morning song in verse 24: “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” After his close call with death, he greets each day as though God made it especially for him. Seldom do I read or hear Psalm 118.24 without thinking about the old spiritual that says the same thing in a much more picturesque way: “I could have been dead, sleeping in my grave. But You made Old Death behave.”
Patience and Endurance
Too often we greet the day as another in a series of ordeals to get through. Before we rub the sleep from our eyes, our minds start racing through lists of what needs getting done and what may go wrong in the process. We’re on edge without even having left the house. When we factor in our Lent commitments—self-denial, added time for reflection and prayer, and an abiding consciousness of God’s presence—we can easily fall into the trap of feeling overly stressed. If we’re not careful these activities can devolve into extra chores and reconfigure our concept of Lent’s journey into a 40-day survival course. Instead of ending each day feeling stronger and richer, we may close our eyes contemplating how many “close calls” we had with temptation and non-compliance. But Lent’s rigors aren’t meant to be survived. They’re given to teach us patience and endurance.
No passage describes the Lent process better than James 1.2-4: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” The extra demands of Lent’s consecration indubitably generate extra needs. They require more time, discipline, and energy. Invariably we’ll be challenged to meet those needs, and how adequately they’re met will vary. Some days will open up unexpected opportunities for introspection and communion with God. Others will close with us feeling a bit like cheaters or procrastinators. And ironically, these days end up being equally valuable to our quest, because they test our faith. Having “failed,” we face the hardest test of all—the temptation to give up altogether and try again next year. But “perfect scores” don’t define Lent’s success any more than surviving the journey does. Perseverance, holding fast to our commitment despite our shortfalls, makes us mature and complete.
Every sunrise is creation’s reprise. Light shatters the darkness. The land and sea come to life. We rise out of sleep’s oblivion, take our first conscious breath of divine inspiration, and start to move. God makes each day with the same attention to detail and design that He invested in the first day. And each day we live is made for us. The opportunities we find and challenges we face are put there for our benefit. The degree to which we succeed or fail isn’t measured by how much or how well we do. Each day is weighed by what we gain from what we’ve been given—how we maximize the good and persevere through the bad.
These thoughts summon another spiritual I truly love. “Another day’s journey, and I’m glad about it,” it says. “I’m so glad to be here.” Perhaps the best way to approach Lent is by closing the calendar and treating it as a daily walk, with each day being its own wilderness of trials to manage and endure. In this respect, every day’s desert, like the day itself, is made for us. Its blessings and tests are created to teach us lessons we need to learn today. Each journey sends us out in search of wisdom we acquire by communing with the One Who made the day. Each journey ends with experience won by persevering its trials. It’s another day’s journey. Be glad about it. Be glad to be here.Every day and what it holds are made for us. Every day is a unique journey all its own.
(Tomorrow: The Walker)
Postscript: One More Day
Lately I've been dusting off old albums and digitizing them. One album (that I bought as a teenager) by The Robert Wooten Choral Ensemble contains a song that fits perfectly with today's reflection. It's called "Thank You Lord for One More Day." I made a little video of it to share. If you've got a couple spare minutes, have a look. I pray the song and images will bless you!