I went to the barber late last week. As cases of Covid are spiking and the weather has turned cold in northeastern Ohio, I decided to get my locks chopped as we will likely be hunkering down more in the next few weeks. As I was looking down at the black cape surrounding me while the stylist was snipping my hair, I noticed that there seemed to be more gray than brown clippings falling in front of my gaze. It was not the first time I noticed gray while getting a cut, but it has been the case that over time, the gray has become more pronounced. To look at me, it appears that I still have more dark hair than light, but when it falls off my head the gray seems more pronounced.
In two and a half months I will be celebrating my 59th birthday and begin my last rotation around the sun in my fifth decade. Depending on where one stands in the stages of life that might seem old. I don't think I am elderly yet, but neither does anyone question my decisions any longer because of my youth. I am old enough to know better. I certainly don't feel old, but after a day of yard work taking care of an acre of land, I realize that 59 is not 29, or even 39... do I hear 49?
I may not feel old, but one thing that has changed for me in recent years is the realization that my life is more than half over as it is doubtful I will see 116 years of age. It may be that I will be fortunate enough to have another thirty years. We human beings, after all, are living longer than ever. Nevertheless, my remaining days are less than what I have already lived, and at times it causes me to wonder.
Time has become more precious to me than money. To be honest, money has never been a focus of mine. The pursuit of wealth has never been on my top ten list. I am content to live with the essentials and a few luxuries like books and tickets to a few baseball games, but I no longer concern myself with the earnings on my pension. Even if the market drops, we will have enough when retirement comes. That is all we need.
But time... time does not grow like my pension; it diminishes with every passing day. I have more money in my savings than I did twenty years ago, but I have fewer days as well. How I spend my time is now more important than how I spend my money.
One of the readings from the Lectionary last Sunday was Psalm 90, one of my favorites. The psalmist reminds us of the fleeting nature of life.
The days of our life are seventy years,
or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away (v. 10)
Even at ninety our life is fleeting. We cannot stop the edifice of time as it moves toward us. There is something sobering about that, but it does not have to leave us in despair. The psalmist also reminds us that it is what we do with our days that matter.
So teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart.
Let your work be manifest to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish for us the work of our hands—
O establish the work of our hands! (vv. 12, 15-16).
I have found something fulfilling in numbering my days, in reflecting on how each day will be spent. That's not something I did as a young man. Back then each day was an adventure to be lived. Seize the day! Now, many years later, each day is a gift to be received and then returned in gratitude by how I live that day. Receive the day! Return it in thanksgiving.
I may not be able to count the gray hair clippings falling in front of me when I get my haircut; but I can number each and every day that remains, receive it in gratitude and live it in such a way that at its ending, it will be pleasing to the God I serve.
And so I pray today as the psalmist prayed so many centuries ago, "establish the work of my hands—yes, establish the work of my hands.