by Mike Halpin —
We have finished our years like a sigh.Psalm 90:9–10
For all our days have declined in Your fury;
As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years,
Or if due to strength, eighty years,
Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow;
For soon it is gone and we fly away.
I haven’t reached my seventy or eighty years yet, but I’m dying. Not sudden death by accident or worse; not the suitably predictable kind of death by way of terminal cancer. My death is a crawl.
Like the tide hitting the beach, inexorably rolling in, then rolling out and taking a bit of the sandy beach with it, my life ebbs away. A little memory, a bit of the strength from my legs, a line deepened here and there on my face . . . all sand, washing away.
Or like a tree on the cliff overlooking the sea, its roots slowly washed away from the tides it oversees, slowly tipping forward toward the beach below. Finally, but slowly leaning over until it rests on the beach. Green leaves turning brown, bark and wood fading slowly, brown to gray and gray to white.
I hate dying. And I especially hate dying this way, slowly, a bit at a time. It’s not only humbling, very much so, but feels humiliating too. Like a finished painting being marred from its original creation to something less. Think Dorian Gray without the evil bent.
At times this slow crawl to my final days terrifies me. It is my greatest dread. Not dying itself. Not losing my mortal coil to be escorted by angels into Christ’s presence, and innumerable angels, and saints of old. That passing from this earth to that life is welcome.
My dread is the slow dying here. Losing who I am, who I was, into something lesser. Less astute, less able to pull facts and names from memory, less virile, less able, less vital. And more—more gray, more wrinkled.
It’s vanity, and I know that. Yet in the midst of my self-serving pitying episodes the dread is quite real. So real that I plead with God, beg the Lord, to take me sooner—before my sand is pulled out from under me and my hair bleaches white like the driftwood too long on the beach. Before I become the one others see as in need of help. Before I’m the one others look at as an object fit for their pity. Pathetic, I know.
I was lamenting this fall season of my life, this slow sunset on my beach-life when I spoke with someone younger, someone acquainted with some of the labors of my life. They spoke of the blessing they received through some of my past investments and from those I’d invested in more recently. They spoke of the grace of God they’d experienced. They told me they couldn’t really communicate the depth to which they had been served, in part, through my slowly ebbing-away life. I was suitably shamed and quietly consoled. It took a moment just to be able to say, “thank you, I’m glad you’re encouraged.” We prayed and said a quiet goodbye.
And then I prayed. I told God to be pleased to use this fading, graying, washing-away life anyway he was pleased to for his purposes and cause. If with Dickinson I could help one fainting robin into its nest again, I was all in.
If like Milton I could use my darkened years to bear Christ’s yoke in labors or merely waiting, that would turn humiliation into piety.
If with Shakespeare I can welcome yellow leaves, or none or few in the autumn of my life, as part of God’s plan to honor himself and raise more of Christ’s image from my moldering frame, that would be wisdom, and honor.
I hate dying by slow crawl—truly. But what a thing, to leave a bit of life behind on the sands of life for Christ’s cause and the blessing of others. That’s a life worth slowly dying.
So teach us to number our days,Psalm 90:12, 17
That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us;
And confirm for us the work of our hands;
Yes, confirm the work of our hands.