It all gets swept away. Or perhaps it’s that we are swept away, like pieces of bark on a river, unable to turn back, pressed against snags and stones. The banks slide by; one glimpse, and the things we pass are gone. And finally, the inevitable: worn down by time and decay, we fragment, break apart, particles mixing into the water like dust.
Fragile. Troubled. Uncertain. That is life. A wild flower scorched by the sun, blown by the wind, its blossom fallen and its beauty forgotten (Ps 103:15-16; Job 14:2; Jas 1:10-11). Grass that springs up new in the morning but by evening is dry and withered (Ps 90:5; Isa 40:6-7). A fleeting breath, an evening shadow that fades away (Ps 102:11, 109:23, 144:4; Job 7:7, 8:9, 14:1-2).
It’s not a comfortable thought. But it’s not one that I can avoid. We live with the possibility that my husband’s cancer may return. My son’s chronic ill health continues. There are changes in work and ministry. My mentor, the woman who helps me navigate these things, is moving away.
Have you ever experienced an earthquake? I have. Though perhaps it was a meteorite that shook the ground—I don’t remember now. What I do remember is the nightmarish sensation of the earth moving underfoot, as if it had turned from solid to liquid; the sense that something you took for granted, didn’t even notice, firm under your feet, could no longer be counted on.
I am standing on shifting ground. Loss and grief and change threaten, and there is nothing I can do to control them. I want to cling to the things and people I depend on, hold tight and not let go. But I am helpless to stop the inevitable, protect those I love, prevent them from leaving, keep them whole, preserve their lives, my life, even for a day.
So I open Psalm 90. I walk with Moses, this “man of God” who knew such great salvation and such deep sorrow. If anyone was familiar with the fragility of life, it was Moses, who watched a whole generation die in the desert. His words are bleak: our days, even the best of them, are full of trouble and sorrow; they quickly pass and we fly away, swept up in the sleep of death, turned back to dust; our years, seventy or eighty if we have the strength, finish with a moan.
Yet there is something that will never change, and it is there in the opening verse of the Psalm: God himself. He is “our dwelling place in all generations”. “From everlasting to everlasting” he is Lord. “A thousand years” in his sight “are but as yesterday when it is past”. Like Moses, we cry to him for mercy, help and salvation, for his love does not fail. He alone can establish the work of our hands.
Life is brief, full of loss and change. The people and things we depend on are fragile and fleeting. We can’t hold onto them. We can’t even direct our own path. But there is one thing that never alters, one thing we can count on, and that is God himself. He is from everlasting to everlasting. He is our strong and secure dwelling place. We take refuge in him.
Father, “teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Ps 90:12).