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Teach Us to Number Our Days

I enjoy visiting old graveyards. There is something about the peace of walking among the stones, wondering who these people were, and remembering that time runs out for all of us. It is this reminder of the preciousness of time that invites me to slow down and live in a state of being fully alive, not getting distracted with the pettiness of life.

In this week’s lesson, the reader is reminded of psalms with words and phrases like “wisdom” and “righteous living” and “testing.” Psalms such as “teach us to number our days” and “your word have I hidden in my heart” were surrounded with admonitions to not succumb to temptation, to keep living a righteous life by connection with God daily, and to remember that “testing” is a way that God refines His people. 

The word “testing” brought back questions I have grappled with and reminded me of questions my students have asked me. Questions such as: does God test? Or do we test God? Isn’t living in a sinful broken world test enough? Sabbath afternoon’s lesson stated: “God allows times of testing to let his children’s faithfulness (or unfaithfulness) be clearly revealed.” There was no reference to where this line came from, but this begs further question: God allows testing? For his children’s faithfulness or unfaithfulness to be revealed? Revealed for what? If Christ died for sin, including our unfaithfulness, why the additional testing – what does it reveal and to whom? And if testing is to reveal our faithfulness, what would that be for? That seems to have undertones of boasting. This line of thinking can conjure up a God who is like a sadistic scientist in a lab coat testing on humans. Is the testing perhaps our own journey of growth of understanding things beyond our comprehension? 

Jewish scholar and Rabbi Tzvi Freeman offers some insight from the Hebrew translation. He writes, “Tests are closely related to miracles. In fact, in Hebrew they are practically the same word. A miracle is when G-d breaks out of his standard pattern of natural law and demonstrates unlimited powers. A test is when G-d invites you to do the same. That is why people who pass tests cause miracles to happen …” 

According to this line of reasoning from the Hebrew, God is inviting us to move past our standard pattern of being or doing and enter into something beyond ourselves. Perhaps even beyond our standard pattern of “doing church” or living an outward religious life while we’re still spiritually dead inside. Perhaps God is inviting us to test the water and step outside the boats of our own religious ideology and busy lifestyles. A place where there is no room for ego. A place where wisdom teaches us to number our days, and where righteous living is beyond mere platitudes and outward charades.

Old Testament scholar Benedicte Lemmelijm, in her research on happiness, mindfulness and its link to biblical wisdom, notes that people, even the nonreligious, are yearning for a return to the ancient biblical wisdom of connection and slowing down. Lemmelijn writes, “it seems to become important again to attentively be present in the moment: to let go the greedy grasping and planning of the future and to realize that life happens in the here and now.” This biblical wisdom is concerned with life, not only to be fully alive, but life and creation around us, and the horizontal relationships around us. Teach us to number our days. 

Religious professor Matt Bradshaw, along with some colleagues, completed a study on the topic of psychological well-being and perceptions of accountability to God. Their findings revealed that the participants in the study who looked to God as their guide in life, had higher levels of psychological well-being in the areas of happiness, a sense of mattering, dignity, and meaning and purpose in life, with the highest results of psychological well-being found in those who practiced daily prayer. This study that speaks of these psychological blessings can be viewed as a sort of recipe of the ingredients that make up a fulfilled life, even when that life has its trials.

Perhaps the testing we experience is that constant temptation to get busy and not truly be present. “Teach us to number our days,” is perhaps the deepest prayer of “teach me to let go.” And perhaps surrendering is a test as it moves us beyond ourselves and our self reliance. I saw a meme recently that had two cartoon characters talking with each other. One of them said “you only live once.” The other said, “No that’s not true: you only die once. You live every day.” So live fully. What if our test every day is how we will choose to spend the precious time we’ve been given? 

Recently as I was walking through a graveyard near my house, I could sense the unspoken message from beneath the ground as I walked. What will I do with my time? There’s never enough time. What will I do with the time I’ve been given? Perhaps that is what the test is all about. To slow down and connect again to ourselves, to our God, to each other, to creation. As professor Lemmelijn states in her research, when we are connected with God, we can’t help but extend that connectedness to everything around us, and this is what righteous living is – a life of tzedakah. As I walked through that graveyard and could sense the lives that once were so vibrant now dust beneath my feet, I felt within me a deeper yearning to not waste my time, but to be aware of the time I have now. To pass the tests of distractions and petty empty promises of things that don’t really matter, including games of religiosity, and to instead lean into the God of the universe who is love, and extend that love to all around me, including myself. God is inviting us to move past our standard pattern of being or doing and enter into something beyond ourselves and when we do this, miracles are possible. Teach us to number our days.

About the author

Krystalynn Westbrook-Martin is the former vice principal for spiritual life at Auburn Adventist Academy. She has served as a minister, teacher, and administrator in the Seventh-day Adventist Church for over two decades. She is currently completing a PhD in Transformative Social Change, with an emphasis in Peace and Justice Studies. More from Krystalynn Westbrook-Martin.
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