Help me rightly place life by rightly placing death.
The prayer feels upside down, but it’s been reverberating in my soul since I met Harriet. She rests quietly beneath a giant oak tree in a woods now used mostly for timber that will become stationery or paper towels or perhaps a box used to send gifts at Christmas. She’s alone there; a single stone post-it note rising above soft dirt covered with moss and sticks is all that tells of her days.
My granddaughter and I met Harriet while hunting beauty in those woods. A white tail deer scampered in front of us as we walked toward her grave, and the birds above sang a final song before settling in for the night.
“She’s beautiful,” I whispered.
“Oh GiGi, she’s so young,” Tyler whispered in response.
We both stood in silence.
Psalm 90:12 says,
So teach us to number our days, that we may cultivate and bring to You a heart of wisdom.
How often I have heard this one verse quoted like a mantra for managing our moments, as if by blocking them out neatly on a calendar we might gain dominion over each one.
The Aramaic translation of the verse is this:
Teach us the number of our days that we may enter the heart of wisdom.
As I read the entirety of the poem written by Moses (the only Psalm credited to him), it hits me that it is a prayer of rightfully placing, of cultivating the whisper of a life we are blessed to hold in our fragile hands.
How much Moses must have already witnessed when these words were given birth. His own life of displaced heritage and passion born from injustice, the forty years of wandering with others who demanded their own way and longed to worship something they could touch and taste and see, the faint but ever-present hope that kept breath in his lungs through it all. He had witnessed grace upon grace, denial upon denial, redemption upon redemption, direction upon direction, and the turning away again and again and again.
And yet, he believed that God still sees us as His design, His delight, His destiny.
Moses psalm is a testament to God’s sovereignty and the inevitability of death to our frail flesh, and of a grace that is life-giving beyond whatever the days may bring. It is a picture of all that is both broken and beautiful in living out our days in a world washed over by the gray of sin. It is a picture of toil become tender care, of struggle become strength. It is about the way we view our days in light of eternity. The way we value our moments. The way we see all who walk the road with us as precious places to pour out our life. It is not denying the turmoil but laying it in the hands of the One can transform it. There is something about the Aramaic translation that gives permission to hold the days of our life as a gift as we hold the hand of the One who crafted that life and say, “Give me Your wisdom to place this life rightly.”
I don’t know how Harriet lived out her less than 7,000 days. Tyler wonders if she and her husband were on their way to be with people they loved, or if this place under an oak tree was going to be the place where they started a family and built a life of their own. There are no books written about her, no photo albums of her childhood or wedding or life in a rural area in the East Texas Piney Woods. Certainly, she has no Psalm credited to her name in the Bible.
This may sound strange, but I feel a longing to give Harriet her story, to embroider her name on a patchwork quilt of good imaginings. We’re going to tidy up her grave in the spring, and plant flowers there to celebrate the young wife who we’ve decided to adopt as part of our God-crafted family. We’ll see where the journey takes us as I pray even in curating her story, “Give me your wisdom to place this life rightly.”
And I can’t help but think as I consider Harriet what we might discover if we took the time to embroider all of the names whose lives are woven into ours.
Help us rightly place life by rightly placing death, by honoring the days we’ve been given and the story that will continue long after we have breathed our last bit of air on this earth—a story of grace upon grace, of redemption upon redemption, of God seeing us as His design, His delight, His destiny.