Teach Us To Number Our Days


My dad has a folder on the desktop of his computer. In it are instructions, in the form of a chart, addressed to my sister and me about what to do when he or Mom or both of them pass off the scene. He began working on this chart years ago and insisted that we have a copy. He playfully, but accurately called the file “The Inevitable.” The reasons for his choice of title are obvious, but worth exploring … and all the more so because his dear wife, my beloved mother, died just a few weeks ago (as of the time of this writing).

Her passing has caused me to reflect much on the meaning of life and time, death and mortality. I loved my mother very much. She brought me into the world and imparted to me a passion for learning and the pleasure of creativity. Muriel Mendelsohn Shishkoff was a leader in numerous situations throughout her life, including three years as an officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Her memory, photos and writings are now precious to me, and part of the legacy my children and grandchildren are enriched by.

My mom lived an extraordinarily long life: 94 years. When we sorted through her possessions I found 8 millimeter film footage from the 1940’s that had been transferred to video tapes. What an experience, to see my folks as a young couple, smiling optimistically, handsome, pretty and strong. Dad even did pushups for the camera! I couldn’t help comparing those archival images with the aged man and woman of 2011. How dear is life! How rapid do our days elapse! How then can we apply this inexorable, unstoppable reality to the way we live from day to day?

How Shall We Then Live?

That is the very question asked by both the Apostle Peter (II Peter 3:11) and the author Francis Schaeffer. In light of eternity and the approach of life’s end we waste plenty of time and energy on things that won’t matter in the final analysis. I now find myself re-assessing my priorities. I’m already a graybeard of 63 >and every day plenty of people’s lives end before or during their 60’s. I don’t want to waste any more time. I want my days to count for something beyond survival. This is also the prayer of Moses, recorded in Psalm 90.

“The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years…so teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:10, 12)

What is truly important in life? I was recently given a questionnaire containing the following questions:

  • If you had your life to live over again, what three things would you do differently?
  • If you had six months to live, what five things would you want to do during that time?
  • What three things give the most meaning to your life?

These questions are fascinating, sobering and challenging, especially given that we don’t really know how much time we have. They provoke me. They make me want to re-order my life in such a way that IF I do have only six months to a year, I will not be sorry to leave life at that point. I want to be glad for the choices I’ve made. At the same time, we are all faced with the need to ensure physical survival and we all carry responsibility for others too. So, we are frequently trapped within the motions and requirements of survival, living by rote habit/routine. We are busy, pressed by demands. Concurrently, there is a constantly repeated, yet false mantra that material things will bring us the satisfaction our soul craves. This masks what is of true value, enduring beyond our brief lifetime.

Love Defeats Death

Therefore, we must take time to re-evaluate. Where am I headed? What am I living for? Is there any possibility of “cheating death” by the way we live? The Scriptures provide a hopeful, arresting and practical answer.

“Set me as a seal upon your heart…for love is as strong as death.” (Song of Songs 8:6)

One phenomenon in all human experience rivals death, and indeed overcomes it. That is love. The author of Hebrews declares that mankind is held in bondage to the fear of death (Heb 2:14). The Holy One, however, took on flesh and blood in order to defeat Death and set us free. The apostle of love, Yochanan (John) assures us that

“He who abides in love abides in God…there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:16, 18)

When I walk in genuine love, toward God, my family, my friends, my work associates, my fellow congregants and “the man on the street,” I am overcoming death and establishing the everlasting Kingdom of Heaven. In his immortal description of love, Paul adds that (in every situation)

“Love never fails.” (1 Cor 13:8)

Connie and I have been incredibly blessed to enjoy more than 42 years of married life. In that time she developed a close relationship with Muriel and Nicholas (my father). She was not able to travel with me to participate in our family’s memorial timeafter Mom died. But she wrote a lovely letter for me to read on the occasion. An excerpt illustrates what I am saying about the centrality of love in the face of death.

A Valuable Lesson

I have learned a valuable lesson from the death of beloved family members. It’s a truth that we don’t think about when we’re young and we think that everything revolves around us and that things will continue to be as they are indefinitely. When a loved one dies, people often (or always) have regrets … things that they did which they shouldn’t have, or things they regret not having done. My wisdom is to urge people to live in a way so they won’t have regrets at the end of their lives or the lives of others. Keep short accounts, being generous to forgive and quick to ask forgiveness. Don’t hold grudges or treat others meanly or disrespectfully. Appreciate each other and express love and tenderness and thankfulness. Enjoy this precious time together. I love you all.

I couldn’t have put it better, my dear. In fact, the way of life Connie so succinctly and touchingly described opens the hearts of people everywhere. This is not only wisdom for family relationships, but in all relationships. As disciples of Yeshua we are deeply concerned to help others know and embrace our Messiah. After all, He said

” … this is life eternal, that they might know you, the only true God, and Yeshua HaMashiach, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

Yet breaking through the wall of indifference and unbelief seems at times impossible. Well, here’s the bridge to other’s hearts: LOVE. Simple, unselfish, practical, sacrificial love is in short supply in today’s world. It will not go unnoticed. Then we can make its source known.

Is death inevitable? Of course. Consequently, what I’ve told my dear dad (though I don’t think he’s taken my advice yet), is that our preparation needs to go beyond a chart with financial and burial instructions. If our “The Inevitable” file is missing the spiritual preparation – both ours and that of our loved ones – it is incomplete and begs further attention.