By Joe LaGuardia
Reflecting on the fragility of life and the significance of gratitude, the poet of Psalm 39 wrote, “Hear my prayer, O Lord … for I am your passing guest, a sojourner, like my ancestors” (v. 12).
This author is not alone in facing the finality of life, the gloom of grief and the dark of night. Most of us, be it at a funeral, in solitude with God, or even driving down the interstate while in prayer, have contemplated the brief existence that all of us share on our tiny planet in the cosmos.
When that realization comes, people take one of two paths: Some take the path of despair and resignation, forgetting to give thanks to God. They brood on the morbid and slowly isolate themselves under the dark clouds of negativity and regret.
This path often ends at the bottom of a spiritual well, where the only light that provides any rescue is far overhead.
The second path is that of gratitude and appreciation.
Even when great calamity strikes, these folks ride above the storms of hardship and thank God for every breath that comes with the gift of life.
Things are not perfect, but hope is accessible. There may be doubt, but that does not lead to despair. Happiness may be hard to find, but joy continues to define a life well-seated in trust and faith in God.
People on that second path know that all of life is a movement of worship, even when worship is expressed in lament. (It is unfortunate we forget that lamentation is a part of worship, not solely reserved for funerals or memorial services.)
St. Paul is an example for those who choose to follow in the second path. He made an intentional effort to approach all of life in a state of worship even when conflict and the threat of death overshadowed his desire to spread the Gospel of Christ.
In the second letter to Corinthian churches, he wrote, “Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2:14-15).
A pleasant fragrance passes through space and time briefly. A person enjoys it for a moment, and it dissipates as soon as one feels its breezy touch. The author of Psalm 39 wrote, “You have made my days a few handbreaths … we go about like shadows” (v. 5, 6).
From Paul’s perspective, even a moment in the presence of God provides an eternity of bliss and fulfillment. Each passing instance was a gift from the Lord.
Do you see life (as fleeting as it is) as a breath that passes through the universe or like a sweet fragrance rising before the very throne of God?
In his commentary on Psalm 39, scholar F. B. Meyer noted that the good news in this poetry, even for those who face uncertain days and have but miniscule joy, is that God will never leave our side: “We are sojourners ‘with God,’ he is our constant companion. … We may be strangers [in life], but we are not solitary. The Father is with us.”
After spending many years in ministry and too many days beside the beds of loved ones facing hardship, I have come to realize that all of us face a choice each day: Will this day be lived out in desperation and self-centered striving, or will the day be welcomed as a gift to be enjoyed, one filled with the promise of hope and gratitude, held firmly in the embrace of the God who promises eternal life?