True Wisdom, Death of a Daughter, and Pandemics

A little reflection on our daughter's birthday...

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” -Psalm 90:12

Today marks the eleventh anniversary of the death of our daughter, Samantha. We enjoyed four precious days with our fiery redhead, and then God needed her. Every year on March 13  I’m reminded that life is short, sustained by grace, and not owed to anyone. 

I’m reminded to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. 

When the economy tanked in 2007, it reminded me that life is fragile and our hope can’t be primarily monetary. Our world is being pummeled by a virus with no end in sight. Again, in times like these, we’re remained life is fragile and uncertain. I need wisdom, but it’s often elusive. 

 Psalm 90 haunts my selfish life. A life I believe is my own and used as I please. A life sustained by trips to the gym and promised longevity by how much green stuff I cram in my mouth. I want a heart of wisdom to number my days. But my wisdom will suffice, thank you very much. Until it doesn’t.

My wisdom is fine until you have to bury your daughter. A wisdom sufficient until no amount of cardio or supplements can fight off COVID-19. My wisdom works when I’m healthy, the job is interesting, and the family is living in harmony. 

My wisdom works until it doesn’t.

In a recent article by David Brooks, “Pandemics Kill Compassion, Too,” he reminds us of an ugly truth.  We think we’re in control of our lives until we’re not.

“Pandemics induce a feeling of enervating fatalism. People realize how little they control their lives.”

Despite the gift of facing our immorality in the midst of uncertain times, it doesn’t always produce the compassion we’d hoped. Brooks would argue from history that in the cases of flus, viruses, and plagues people become more selfish, not less. More turned inward than outward toward their neighbor. 

Instead of a heart of wisdom and counting our days and living thankful lives. Instead of marveling at the grace of this thing called: Life. We isolate, panic, and turn away from the realities of suffering in the land. Instead of volunteering in hospitals and helping those affected by these viruses, we blame and treat the other as a leper.

I believe in these moments of disorder and dis-ease we either will lean into a Wisdom that counts our days, knows they are brief, and responds with compassion because the entire thing runs on grace. We either believe life is ultimately in my hands, or sustained by the Divine. There is no fuzzy middle.

Let's be honest. Humans are capable of incredible compassion when we see others suffer. In Brooks article he talks about our propensity to turn inward and run from compassion in the face of suffering. But another interesting phenomenon we’ve seen in history is that many healthcare workers stuck it out in the middle of pandemics. Many ordinary people didn’t run from the pain, but toward it. We’re seeing people right now all over the world, answering the call to care for people infected by COVID-19. 

Here’s the question: Will we step up? Will we give our time, gifts, skills, and money to those in greatest need?

Or will we continue to be the Captain of Our Own Ship and not let anyone on board? Will we get a heart of wisdom and consider the number of our days? Making our limited time on earth count.

I can write this as a healthy person not infected at this point and say: "Yes, I will answer the call."

But I’m not immune to turning inward and running from compassion. I've been a coward in times when people needed me the most.

As we celebrate Samantha’s birthday at the cemetery, she’s taught me many things. And one is: a heart of wisdom comes from counting and numbering our days.

We do not find our hope in hoarding our lives, rather giving them away because they already belong to Another. As the Heidelberg Catechism says: 

“What is your only comfort in life and death? That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.”

I’m praying we all remember life is here and gone. The entire thing is grace. Let’s not waste it thinking everything revolves around the orbit of self. Let’s rise to the occasion and lead with compassion and love for our neighbor. 

Do we have a heart of wisdom?

Time will soon tell.