From our earliest days it seems that we have been taught to count something. One sheep. Two sheep. Three sheep. Our Sesame Street friends, Bert and Ernie, have coached us well. Now that I’m into my middle years, my counting patterns have changed somewhat. Two pounds lost last week. Gas prices are up two cents today. Stocks down 1/2 a percentage point. Fifty more dollars in my savings account. Yesterday I counted six slugs in my garden.
Being a pastor has brought more counting into my life. Five more people were in attendance last Sunday. Three less people this week. Numbers can become the barometer of how well we’re doing in life, measuring either the happiness or the sorrow of the day.
One of the ancient writers invites us to consider another counting scheme. Not our bank accounts or weight gained or lost or stock portfolios. Moses wrote, “Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” The number of seconds and minutes and hours allocated to each of us is the same. No need for comparison. Each day is a gift, not brought about by our own ingenuity or efforts, but simply as a present. What would our lives look like if we were to count or number our days rather than our portfolios?
It might mean that we take ourselves less seriously. Does a pound either way make a difference, especially if it can ruin a day that I want to count? Do I really need to keep this particular quarrel going? How important is it that I have the last word? If I’m counting my days, maybe this might be the last one. It might be better that I make up with that person now.
Or maybe it means that we take ourselves more seriously. Maybe it is time that I take that course I’m always been thinking about. But I might not enjoy it. It will take three years. What if I’m not good at it. I’m already counting my excuses.
One of my favourite movies is Groundhog Day. Actor Bill Murray plays a reporter who is sent with other reporters to cover the annual Feb. 2nd festivities in smalltown USA. He is mean, nasty and bored, and both the townspeople and his colleagues are happy when the assignment is over. But as Murray wakes up the next morning he finds that he’s reliving Groundhog Day all over again. At first he believes that he’s going crazy. But as each morning dawns and he is assigned to relive the day again and again, he gradually begins to change his attitude. He saves the person that he knows is going to fall. He helps people that need direction. He learns his colleagues’ likes and dislikes. He takes music lessons. By the end of the movie he has redeemed his own life, found love, and changed the lives of many in the small town.
Bill Murray got a chance to relive one day over and over until he ‘got it right.’ We aren’t given that luxury. But if we think that a voice from the past might have some wisdom for us, let’s try counting our days. They are finite and precious. May we number them as such and bring to each one the unique gifts and skills that we have been given. Enjoy the summer. Happy Canada Day. And may you have a heart of wisdom.
Rev. Shelley McVea is the priest-in-charge at St. Saviour’s Anglican Church at Kimberley and Swanwick Avenues.