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Two “Wise Ways” to Help Us Number our Days

ending well family john trent Jun 01, 2020

By: Dr. John Trent

Recently, without realizing it, I crossed a milestone. 25,000 days on earth. (Yes I’m old. Our new granddaughter has been around for a whole 124 days!). I came up with the idea to find out those numbers by reading a verse that is familiar to many of us. “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12 

I was struggling with what does this verse really mean? For me? For those I work and counsel with? Perhaps, as some commentators note, it’s just saying life’s a countdown clock or an hourglass with days running out. Which certainly looks at the immediate context of the verse. But the fact is, we’re good at numbering things in our life. Cars. Jobs. How many games our favorite team has won or lost. But besides avid journalists or weather trackers, who really thinks to number days?

Which is why, I think, Moses, the writer of this Psalm (Psalm 90:1), asks God to “teach us” to number our days.  Which was when I pulled up Google and ask, “How many days since the day I was born?” Which didn’t teach me very much. But recently, with this verse in mind, I feel God did show me two “wise ways” to number our days as I spoke with two amazing people and friends.

Each wrote an outstanding book on essentially the same topic. But each book looks at that topic in a totally different direction. Yet both have been a great help to me in understanding just how important it is to in fact, “number our days.” So let’s look at two ways to understand this idea of “counting” our days, for what it can say to us, and to mean to those we coach and counsel.  

  1. The First Way to Bring Wisdom to Numbering our Days – “Turn the Page”

The first person I spoke with, and whose book I read, was Dr. Johnny Parker. His book is titled, “Turn the Page: Unlocking the Story Within You.” It’s a book that challenges you to look at your life like a story. Spoiler alert – his life-story is amazing. But what he’s world-class at doing is encouraging students at John Hopkins, Pro Athletes, and those in ministry and business to “turn the page.” Particularly on those tough “days” in our life.

Picture your life like a story. But then the day comes when something goes wrong. A student fails an exam – and we give up and drop that major, and thus a career. A High School Athlete throws 4 interceptions – and quits the team. We totally blow a sermon or fail to help a couple in counseling – and feel we have nothing left to offer. We lose or break an important relationship. 

Or maybe we’re like Johnny Parker and we grew up in a tough part of New York. Facing challenging days and racial discrimination that could easily have left someone feeling like their life doesn’t have a future. Which, if we’re like many people, can cause us to quit counting days. To erase the possibility of anything that sounds like a Jeremiah 29:11 day being our next day. To feel like our days are already finished, when there’s yet many more in front of us.

What are we to do on such “page stopping” days? According to Dr. Parker - “Turn the page.” One thing “numbering our days” does is help us see that there was a day before that trial or tough time – and a day after it. We can make a decision to not let one day – or even a series of particularly sad or terrible days – stop us from having a life-story that God can use, redeem, and bless. We can, as Dr. Parker writes, “Turn the page” to a new story of God’s love and presence He can give us. We can still count on the fact that “He who called, created, blessed, chose, sealed, predestined, redeemed, adopted, forgave, gives us hope and an inheritance” (all in Eph. 1) isn’t finished with us yet. Because our “story” can change in the days ahead. Including our bringing with us the wisdom learned from facing trials from those page-stopping days.

Consider taking a book off your shelf after you’ve listened well to someone who feels their life story is over with yet so much left to live. Have them flip through the pages until they get to the middle of the book. It may seem to them that the story is over. But the Author of their story has much more in store for them.

  1. A Second Way to Bring Wisdom to Numbering Our Days – “Count Your Final Days”

The second person I spoke with, and book I read, was by Kimberly Best. It’s also a book on looking at your life like a story.  And it too has much to say to us about “numbering days.” Only her focus is very different from Dr. Parkers. His focus is on the days yet before us we can count. Kim Best’s focus is on the “story” we should write in the last days of our life. 

Kim began her career in emergency medicine, which led her to often face death and dying and eventually to become a Hospice nurse. There she saw many people who had lived a great story – but too often died alone. Without their story ever being told. It was because of all the challenges she saw surrounding the last chapter of a person’s life, that Kim also went back to school and became a world-class Professional Conflict Negotiator. Focusing on “end of life” issues with families.

From that unique, duel vantagepoint of compassionate medicine and conflict negotiation, Kim has written an outstanding book. One that helps people look closely at – or to “number” if you will – the last days of their life-story. Wisdom in ending well so that you don’t need a “conflict negotiator” in that challenging time – when an amazing number of people do.

It’s titled, How to Live Forever. A Guide to Writing the Final Chapter of Your Life Story.  But unlike Dr. Parker’s book which gets us inspired to move into the future yet ahead of us, this book gets us to deal wisely and well with that time in our lives when the days are down to a very few! 

Kim Best is an expert at helping people have those incredibly difficult conversations around death and dying in a positive, God-honoring way. Those tough talks on closing loops. Preparing ahead of time for those difficult days when so many medical and legal issues can collide with relational factors. And as a result of the stress and loss and with so much to do and learn, angry words fly or loving words are left unsaid between family or friends.  

If Dr. Parker’s book is important to read because of how inspirational it is to move forward in numbering our days in a positive way, Kim Best’s book is incredibly helpful in calmly, respectfully, healthily getting us to have those conversations about the end of our days.

The book highlights all the legal and health care decisions we need to make ahead of those last days. Things that when well-prepared create a far less challenging time both for us and our family during that difficult time. Freeing us to focus on ending well, not what can seem like mountains of paperwork and decisions. She also gives great advice on planning your “celebration of life” and how to work through conflicts that come up during this very difficult time.

But perhaps most important – she shows how we can capture through tape/writing/video key parts of our life story! A way for you to go back through those days of your life God Himself “numbered” for you. Capturing important truths and stories for your family, and generations behind you. Your story that has been shaped and impacted your journey of faith and family and more. A story that doesn’t have to go unsaid or leave our loved ones unsure of what happened when we’re gone.

If there’s ever been a time for numbering days…

I’ve already had COVID and at least at this point in time, I’m grateful I’m healthy and am still thinking that a “final countdown or numbering” of days is years away. But we are living in COVID days, that constantly remind us a final day will come. Which is why right now I’m working through Kim’s book with my wife, Cindy. So that both of us do what we need to do to be as prepared as possible for making the most of those last days when they do come. Not just having the right documents. But taking the time to capture the story of God’s grace in our lives as well.

Those then, are two ways of looking at “numbering” our days. To “turn the page” from those difficult days that can STOP us from believing God isn’t finished with us yet. And to START numbering ahead of time our last days. Cutting down on the stress and capturing our story for our loved ones. Both things we can teach and coach others and need to learn and apply ourselves.

Dr. John Trent is a best-selling, award-winning author and speaker, of books like The Two Sides of Love, the Language of Love, and The Blessing (which has sold over 2 million copies). He is the President and Founder of StrongFamilies, a 501c3 he runs with his oldest daughter. StrongFamilies is dedicated to helping others end loneliness and create genuine attachment through The Blessing.

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