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ANDREA BURKE
Rochester, NY, 14620

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Numbering Our Days

Andrea Burke

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8 more summers.

50 gardens.

10 Christmases.

I’ve been counting lately. Each day, I feel the tick tock rhythm of a life that is heading from dust to dust. I promise you, not in some dark and dismal sort of way. Something struck me this year as I planted and worked the soil around my old house.

It’s our first year in this 130-year-old farmhouse. These old walls, these ancient trees, this plot of ground belonged to several women before me. Three women, in fact. Two generations of mothers and a daughter. Two families. Two farmers. This was our first full stretch of seasons on this old homestead and since the snow thawed in April, I’ve been daily making note of the land. Tulips under the old maple tree. Irises under the black walnut. Irises on the edge of the woods under a forgotten eastern redbud tree. Peonies and lilacs and rhubarb and lilies of the valley. Every where around me the soil is a reminder that I am not the first to love this land and likely won’t be the last. There’s not nearly enough time to do all that I want to do. And I sit back and wonder — how many chances will I have to try and grow flowers and a garden that do this piece of earth justice? 20 chances? 40 chances? 60 if I’m feisty. 

Tick tock.

I watch my daughter’s legs grow long and her brow furrow more. She has just arrived at a decade of life, and I’m realizing we only really have 8 more years with her until she bursts out of these doors into the the world that awaits. 8 more summers. 8 more years of routine. 8 more years of school concerts, art shows, conversations when she’s off the bus, the sound of her laugh and feet kicking high into the trees. 

Tick tock. 

My parents are aging. My mother speaks of death with no fear. Her silver hair wisps across her forehead and she reminisces of a life that was full of mistakes and grace, joy and sorrow, and now looks to the future without a hint of doubt. I see photos of her at my age and younger, her laugh crinkling her eyes, the same crinkles that I see now when we share tea and a good story. But she won’t be here to walk me through my entire life from end to end. My father, the one who has never failed to pull me into his arms and remind me how loved I am…he won’t always be there to remind me I’m loved or send me just the right song that he knows I’d appreciate at just the right moment. How many more summer dinners? Christmases? Teas and hugs and the presence of people who know you better than you know yourself? Not enough.

Tick tock. 

A few years ago, I hosted a panel of women at my church. One of the women who sat on the panel was a widow in her 80s. A question was presented from the audience that went something like this — “I just got married but I can’t stop worrying about losing my husband someday. How can I fight off this thought?” And the older woman with her white curls just smiled. She briefly reminisced on her 60+ year marriage. The vacations. Their children. The memories. And then she sighed. “It just won’t feel like enough,” she said with tears. “Even after all this time, all of those memories, it really just doesn’t feel like enough.” So enjoy it now, she went on to say to the young bride. Enjoy all of it, every little moment together, knowing that you can’t have your fill. Death will always feel like a thief.

Tick tock.

There’s a reason the Psalmist prayed “Teach us to number our days…” Not so we can accumulate as much as we can in that time. Not for ample time to run wild. Not to fear what we’re losing or try and hold on tighter to sand in the hourglass. But rather “…so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” This seems the most obvious fruit of a Christian heart that knows this world is temporary. By the work of the spirit, we gain wisdom. We know when to say no. We know a yes can be a gift or a theft. We know that time spent here means less time there, and sometimes we have to choose to run out of time for things that just don’t matter.

Wisdom teaches us to put down our phones and make eye contact with our children. Cup their sweaty faces and say “My time is yours.” Wisdom teaches us that an hour on Netflix is an hour not spent walking and using our muscles, working in the garden, or meeting that neighbor who lives two houses down. Wisdom teaches us that sleep is a daily acknowledgement that we can’t do it all, be it all, and continue going going going. We must stop. We must let time pass over us with the night and we must give in to letting God be the sovereign one.

And maybe the goal isn’t to carpe diem or YOLO. Maybe we’re a lot more like hourglasses than we want to admit. Each minute passing with or without our complete attention. Even then, when we try to grasp it and hold it tighter, the sand slips through our fingers and we ache over the brevity.

Even Jesus knew that at the end of our fears and worries and anxieties, we’re all listening to the clock. “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” He asked in Matthew 6. Which of us by collecting all of our things, moments, items, and tallying them all in a list of “life we’ve seized” can actually add time to our days?

Wisdom teaches us that anxiety gets us nowhere. Fear and grasping is vanity. So Lord, teach us to number our days that we might gain a heart of wisdom. That we would show love while we can. So that we’d empty our good-news-filled cups for the thirsty that surround us. That we would pour our lives out for our neighbors, our children, our spouses, our friends while we still have energy, resources, ideas, time. Only so many more dinners where everyone is at the table. A numbered amount of sunsets. Only a few more nighttime book readings, snuggles under twinkle lights with lullabies, seedlings breaking through.

We only have so much time.

Tick tock.