By Carolyn Berry Swofford–
This week it was announced that the stay-at-home order has been extended to April 30th. My very first reaction to this news, “Another thirty days?! That will be a total of 42 days. How in the world am I going to make it?! These past twelve days have been challenging enough and now we have to add on another thirty days? That is SO long. SO inconvenient. SO disappointing. SO strange. SO frustrating. SO _______ (fill in the blank for yourself)!”
Years ago, when my two children were preschoolers and I was in the trenches of being a stay-at-home mom, my sister mailed me a postcard. It had an image of a young woman sitting on the edge of her bed. She was leaning over with her head in her hands, obviously suffering from exhaustion, weariness, and perhaps even disappointment. It depicted the way I was feeling after being home with sick children for three weeks straight. On the back of the card my sister encouragingly wrote, “This too shall pass.”
Another time in my life not too long ago I received a call from my physician who started the brief conversation by gently saying, “I have your test results and well, I have some news that is probably going to ruin your night.” He proceeded to advise that I had a very serious health condition and should go to the hospital immediately. “But,” I pleaded with him, “my son is going to prom tomorrow night and I don’t want to miss it. Can’t I wait just one more day?” The answer was a kind but definitive, “no.”
The next day after I had settled into my hospital room, I realized I hadn’t asked the doctor how long I would be in the hospital, guessing it would just be for a couple of days. Instead I was shocked to hear that I would be hospitalized for at least six weeks: forty-two days! “How in the world am I going to make it?!” I thought to myself.
While I have been reflecting – rather deeply, actually – on how to cope with the reality of being confined for forty-two days (not to mention the whole pandemic), a new song happened to arrive in my inbox: “Wisdom and Grace” (Bifrost Arts). I love the lyrics, especially this phrase which is repeatedly sung in its refrain, “Teach me to number my days.” It’s actually from Psalm 90:12.
My thoughts have been circling around these two ideas– how do I “number my days” while holding, sometimes unsteadily, to the hope “this too shall pass?”
I have decided that there is a lot to say about these phrases, more than space allows here; we could talk Philosophy and Psychology for days! But one thing that has happened is that my reflection time has evoked memories of some “mental exercises” I have used, and am currently utilizing, to survive and cope with feeling, at times, trapped, isolated, scared, imprisoned, weary, doubtful, hopeless, and even at certain points in my life deep, deep despair.
I felt a need to write them down and thought I’d share them with you:
I make it a point to regularly tell myself, “this too shall pass.” I acknowledge that this is hard, really hard to embrace at times. So, I remember to be gentle with myself. Additionally, I seek to remember that history almost always repeats itself, at least in my experience it has, so this particular season won’t always be like this. It is temporary. It will end at some point. This is DO-ABLE. Therefore, I have HOPE.
I calculate in my mind the approximate number of days or period of time that life might be like this. As an example, at that point in my mothering years when said postcard was sent to me, I calculated that preschool years, ages one to five, equaled 1,825 days, .06% of my life. Once I did the math I realized, those sweet, but energy draining years were only a small percentage of my life.
Mentally armed with this new perspective, I then take time to look back on how much life I have already lived. I conjure pleasant images from my past and recount the many wonderful experiences and good things for which I am thankful.
Next, I shore up my brain and tell myself that, God willing, I still have so many more days ahead, life to live and look forward to. Therefore, in light of my past and future, relatively speaking this season of trouble is indeed very short. It is DOABLE. It is TOLERABLE. I’ve done it before, and I can and will do it again. Therefore, I have HOPE.
Still, I have had to grapple with the reality that though I can control my thoughts, I can’t always control my circumstances. There are no guarantees or absolute certainties in life. Given this uneasy awareness, I come face-to-face with the challenging questions– What if? Now what? What do I do? What can I do? What should I think?– since I am not 100% in control?
Almost always I have to take it a step further and ask myself, “What will I do or what can I do for however many days that will be given to me?” In other words, I am compelled to seek wisdom for how to best number my days in light of an unknown future.
Isn’t this thought the biggest question we all face at least once, or maybe more than once in our lifetime? Why are we all here, on earth? What is life really all about? And, on a more personal level, what is the meaning of this situation for my life? What are my days on earth really all about in the big scheme of things?
While I wish I could provide a definitive, final answer to these “big” questions, I can’t. It’s just not that simple. Plus, each of us has our own journey and story to live out. But I can share how I process and eventually come to a resting place amidst the unanswered questions and troubling times in my life.
Ultimately, for me, it is a spiritual issue. Here is my step-by-step thought process:
I believe in God. He is love. He is good. He has a good and perfect plan for my life. He is a good God who loves me and hates this season of difficulty and uncertainty in my life (and this world) as much as I do. He is with me in this; I am not alone. Therefore, I have HOPE.
God is truth. He never lies. His promises are true. He promises “life to its fullest” through a relationship with Christ and I testify that He has delivered on that promise to me time and time again. I have had a full life and I fully anticipate that to continue.
God (through Jesus) warns, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Oh, right!–I’ve been warned about life’s difficulties! And reality is showing me that these words are coming true in my life (and the world) right now. God was good enough to provide a warning – He is not surprised or alarmed so I don’t need to be either. The reality is that I will have troubles on this earth. Even Jesus did. God says He will even take the bad and use it for good. God is in control, He understands, and I am not alone. Therefore, I have HOPE.
But wait…what does John 16:33 really mean? It certainly doesn’t seem like He has “overcome” the world right now. I, and so many others in this world, are troubled and suffering. I even know someone who is dealing with this trouble: ________ (you fill in the blank). What about Coronavirus; why hasn’t God overcome the devastation and pain that is being caused by it?
That question leads me to my next thought– I reaffirm my belief that because of Jesus’ bodily resurrection after dying on the cross, which I believe to be a true, historical event, God has overcome the world – both sin and physical death. Out of my love for what He has done through Christ, I choose to love Him and live for Him. This is what I believe “number my days” means. Put another way, I have chosen to devote my life to God. He created me and sustains my life. I choose daily to fix my mind on God – not on the news or promise of medicines or data analysis or medical research or new test kits or face masks or antibacterial wipes (as informative and helpful as they can be).
Moreover, as I number my days for God, He takes it a step further by living in me through His Holy Spirit, guiding and giving me everything I need – including His power – to live out this earthly life. My days are relatively short and brief in number compared to eternity, but God even helps me to number them because He is with me every moment of every day. There is a purpose and plan, and I am not alone. Therefore, I have HOPE.
I repeatedly say to myself, “Carolyn, given this God-knowledge and experience of past troubles when I tangibly experienced God carrying me along, day-by-day, you can rest now. Rest. Trust God and let go. Don’t be afraid. I, Carolyn, have peace in my mind, my heart, my soul. I have HOPE.”
Lastly, I can experience peace because I know I don’t have to engage in a flurry of activity to make my days count. God is not keeping track of my business and counting how I use my days to make sure I’m measuring up. I will stay-at-home and do my best to seek God with the means available to me right now. Through seeking Him, God will show me the way and provide me wisdom. Therefore, once again I solidly claim, “Carolyn, there is HOPE! I have HOPE.”
Do you find yourself struggling with ups and downs, anxiety, doubt, hopelessness, questions and no answers, shock, denial, and maybe even avoidance in dealing with our troubled world? With your own life? If you do, please know you are not alone.
Forty-two (42) days. I understand this is a long time and the consequences to our world are already proving to be devastating to many, including myself. I don’t ever want to minimize or deny the discomfort, pain, suffering, disappointments, and immense grief over lost lives that surround us at every turn. It is hard, really hard.
But maybe this time of staying at home warrants asking ourselves, How will I “number my days?” Can I gaze on God and try to remember the big picture in light of who He is, what He has done, what He has promised, and all of eternity? Are there difficult and painful experiences in my past where God helped me? Thank Him and remember that He will help you again during this pandemic.
I share my personal reflections out of humility and humbleness. While navigating these choppy waters, with no certain end in sight, I personally have been challenged to ask for wisdom on how to “number my days” while remembering “this too shall pass.” I feel this is worthy of my time for I believe it is not an accident that this is happening. And through my own little process of searching for meaning and purpose amidst history playing itself out – in my life and the world’s larger story – I have HOPE. I pray that the same for you, dear one.
About the author–Carolyn Berry Swofford is a Bible Study Leader and retired administrator. She was instrumental in planting DeerGrove Covenant Church in Palatine. Carolyn now serves in the ministries of Willow Creek Community Church and lives with her husband Steve in Inverness, IL.