This moment contains all moments.
―C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
The other day I taught my final Senior Seminar class of the semester. With the end of the school year in sight it is interesting to hear college students say things like, “I can’t believe that my student teaching experience is almost over,” or “I can’t believe that I am graduating in just a few days. It went so fast."
It went so fast? Really?
Student teaching generally comes at the end of an Education Major’s college experience and is sixteen grueling weeks of early mornings and late nights, scores of assignments and hundreds of lesson plans. It is the culmination of the four-year experience that is known as college.
Four years . . . and it went so fast?
Completing student teaching and graduating from college are significant occasions in life, hurdles to clear and milestones to achieve. They represent those challenges in life that exist as big, scary, anxiety-laden question marks, that in the moment, we just want to “get through” or “be done with.”
But then suddenly, much to our surprise, they are . . . done.
When the goal is achieved and the challenge is behind us, we are left with the experience, the fun, the friendships, the memories—and the sense that it all went so fast.
It is times like these that resonate with the psalmist’s ominous words, “Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!” (Ps. 39:5, ESV)
A mere breath? Is there really such a thing? A breath is a small, brief and passing event, but oh so important.
Google says that the average person takes 24,000 breaths per day. That is a lot of breaths, surely more than enough, you would think. But try holding your breath for a minute and you soon realize that every breath counts.
Breaths happen quickly, numerously and without notice. But the brief second that a breath takes does not lessen its value or importance.
Much like breaths in the midst of breathing, the moments of life, albeit meaningful, slip away subtly, silently and unnoticed. Our adventures, struggles, experiences, emotions and relationships are nuanced through things like perspective and hindsight and then meld and morph into a nostalgic longing we refer to as, “the good old days.”
It's ironic, but even the young long for the good old days. Andy, from The Office, says it well,
“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”
Regardless of whether it happened last month, last year, or a decade ago—as we reflect back on those good old days, we find ourselves saying of life, “It went so fast.”
It is here that we experience a mix of melancholy and regret—a feeling that something significant happened and yet, we missed it.
But we didn’t miss it, we lived it. Or did we?
This quandary leads me to the prayer of Moses in Psalm 90. In vs. 10 he reflects back on his life and says,
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.
His words are startling. Moses spent forty years shepherding goats in anonymity and then another forty years wandering the desert with God’s people. Over his 120 year life span, he was a prince, a leader, a prophet and a deliverer. He was married, had children and grandchildren, took a stand against evil, stood on Holy ground, and walked and talked with God.
Moses lived a long, full and storied life, and yet we find him looking back with a sigh saying, “Wow, it went so fast.”
If he felt that way, what hope do we have?
Two verses later (vs. 12), we find in Moses’ prayer the answer to this dilemma,
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
What does it mean to “gain a heart of wisdom”?
Wisdom comes from God. It is the good, helpful, guiding, life-giving way to act, think and live. It is God’s mind and the Holy Spirit’s prompting in our being and doing. It’s the way to live well, appreciate what matters most and take nothing for granted—not even a single breath.
Maybe gaining a “heart of wisdom” is liken to knowing you are in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.
So how do we gain this heart of wisdom?
Moses prays, “Teach us to number our days aright”.
To “number our days” is to recognize the immense value in the current moment. Upon this writing, the calendar tells me that today’s date is Wednesday, May 2, 2018. This date on the calendar is so much more than a number. There has never been a May 2, 2018, and there never will be again. Yesterday (the past) is gone and there is no guarantee of tomorrow (the future). Today (the present) is all each of us have, and another word for present, is gift.
Each day is a gift.
God holds the gift of a day in high esteem. So much so that He initiates each one with hope, forgiveness and love. His mercies are new every morning and are as breathtaking and life-giving as a sunrise.
God gives us sustenance for each day’s journey. He feeds our body and soul with “daily” bread—with Jesus, who is our “hidden manna” (Rev. 2:17). And as we journey, God goes with us. On the path of life, we are to rely upon God and the Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in us, as we live every minute of the day.
David Roper says, “Time flies and so do we.” This is a hard truth that should cause us to live mindfully and carefully.
To “number our days aright” is to live them well and with purpose, and that begins with loving God and loving those around us. When we do this we can savor those moments, relationships and experiences that fly by so quickly.
Days and breaths are too numerous to count, but both are so important. Don't wish them away or waste them. Number them aright, not by counting them, but rather, by making them count.
For you can be sure that the day, the event, the challenge, the goal, the dream, and even the four-year college experience, will be over and done with before you know it, and you will find yourself saying,
“I can’t believe that I am graduating in just a few days. It went so fast.”