From before I was born until I was out of college, my mother made scrapbooks filled with photos of all the major and sometimes more minor events of the year. In her lovely calligraphy, surrounded by stickers, she began most of these tomes with Psalm 90:12: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
This week, I turned 39, entering the last year of my 30’s. Many single men and women I know panic at this point, ashamed of how old they are, refusing to reveal their age, downplaying birthdays, and sometimes even experiencing bouts of anxiety and depression around this annual date. They see the end of their 30’s as a closing door on hopes of marriage, family, and whatever other milestone they think they should have accomplished by now. For a celibate single Christian woman, these ages do have biological significance as the likelihood of us being able to have our own healthy biological children decreases with each year. And we get to that point in our lives when every time we meet up with friends we’re comparing medical issues and talking about how tired we are.
And yet, I still love birthdays, they may be my favorite thing to celebrate, my favorite kind of party. Not a fan of baby or wedding showers (those games are seriously torturous, you guys), and a firm believer that some weddings are just way too awkward and long (and if I hear one more horrible toast about how “relieved they were that the bride FINALLY found her man and now maybe they’ll get grandchildren” I might smack someone), my extroverted introvert self can look forward to celebrating birthdays with minimal to no dread.
Psalm 90:12-17 gives us part of a prayer of Moses which influences how I see marking a new year in each of our lives.
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
I grew up with this refrain ringing in my head, maybe that’s why I’ve always loved birthdays no matter how old we all get. Each year I wear the new number like a badge of honor. I survived another year. God has granted me another year. I have learned more about life and myself and God in this year. I pray that my heart has grown more wise this year. My dream is that I’ll just get better with age, like a fine wine, or Maggie Smith.
“Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants!”
Yes, the past year of my life has included some incredibly tough things as well as joyous ones. So even in the midst of celebrating another year of life, I do still desire the Lord’s return – more for our stricken planet than just me alone. I grow weary of this world and the sin in it, affecting all of us from the little ones to the oldest of my loves. I have lost people that meant something to me. I grieve the state of our nation, its attitudes toward the poor, weak, and broken. Rejoicing in another year of life does not mean we have to ignore or forget the hardships we’ve had in that same year. As much as I celebrate another year of life, I do long for the redemption of the earth and God’s children.
“Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”
I can rejoice and be glad no matter what has happened in my last year because my satisfaction comes from God’s steadfast love above all things. The unchanging, eternal love of my heavenly father is where I seek my contentment, and out of this spills joy and celebration.
“Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil.”
In the hardest years, the ones filled with more loss and pain than others, only God can make us glad to celebrate more days. If you read Psalm 90 in its entirety, you’ll see that it actually starts by comparing our limited time to God’s eternity and emphasizes God’s anger and wrath at the sin of man. It’s actually a pretty pessimistic prayer, which might be why it appeals to my cynical realist heart. As much as I am grieved by the sin of the world, my own included, God sees all of it and is angered, and he will bring it to justice. And yet, Moses prays for God to “make us glad” for all of these days and years! We are meant to be both heartbroken over the sin of the world, and joyous for each and every day of our lives. I think only God can give us that joy.
“Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.”
How can we be glad for more days in which there might be suffering and evil? By seeing what God is doing. Each year, we can look back and remember God’s work in our lives and those of our friends. We can see his power and mercy, his love and beauty. This is why birthdays excite me so, I can look back and see God’s presence in my life over an entire year! There is so much for which to give thanks even in the toughest of years. And, if we are having trouble seeing this, like Moses we can pray that God’s work and glorious power be shown to us, that we may celebrate.
“Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!”
My favorite birthday wishes end in blessings, and that’s how Moses ends this Psalm. He prays for God’s favor to be upon us. He prays for everything we have worked hard for to last. I love this. Each new year of my life, I hope for the favor of the Lord to fall upon me and those I love, and I hope that the things that mattered, the work I put into my relationships, my jobs, and trying to help those around me, I hope it endures.
My birthday wish this year is for all of you to be able to celebrate your lives and the lives of those around you. May the favor of the Lord be upon you, and may the work of your hands be established.