Who Knows Where the Time Goes?

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—An updated post from the 2015 archives—

Music anchors memories for me. While a few songs are forever tied to a specific event or place in my mind, I think almost every song that I’ve ever enjoyed is tied to a particular season or time in my life. They’re like the soundtrack of the mental movie of that part of my life. When I hear the song, I see that part of my story. I was flying home alone from Nashville, TN a couple of years ago. While standing in line at Starbucks before boarding, I heard Judy Collins singing “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” like a distant voice from the end of a long tunnel of time (the speaker in the ceiling above me). In that moment, I was back in my freshman dorm room at UT Austin in the fall of 1969 listening to that album, pondering my first eighteen years of life and wondering what was ahead. And forty-two years later, waiting for coffee at an airport kiosk, I realized I was still pondering and wondering the same musical question.

I turned sixty-four last week. My final year before earning my “Senior citizen” merit badge. Of course, “When I’m Sixty-Four” was on a continuous loop in my brain. Is it coincidence that Paul McCartney’s song was released one year prior to Judy Collins’ folk-pop classic? Just as often as I heard myself singing the Beatles’ ditty, I would also wistfully sing to myself, Who knows where the time goes, who knows where the time goes? That song has stayed in my mind through the years, but somehow it seemed like it had come to full maturity for me now at sixty-four. It is, after all, a deeply spiritual question that the songwriter, Sandy Denny, expressed in her haunting melody. For me it is a musical anchor, but it has transcended times and seasons.

Moses sang a similar song. And it, too, is a kind of uber anchor. It is the lone song attributed to Israel’s patriarch in what has become known as the Bible’s “Psalter.” Psalm 90 leads off Book 4 (out of 5) of the section of the Hebrew Bible that contains the tehillim, or “Praises,” a Hebrew word that was translated into the Greek as psalmoi, which was later anglicized as “Psalms,” and which simply means “songs.” Moses’ song, which is expressed as a prayer to God on behalf of Israel, is written in the Hebraic literary form of poetic thought. He “sings” about the same kinds of “who knows where the time goes” issues every mortal person faces. If his song has a chorus, for me it is in verses 9-12:

For all our days have declined in Your fury; we have finished our years like a sigh. As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away. Who understands the power of Your anger and Your fury, according to the fear that is due You? So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.

Most of what Moses says can be compressed into pithy soundbites we toss around today: Life is short, life is hard, then you die. Those reductionist truths haven’t changed in the 3,500 years since Moses’ song was recorded in the Psalms, and never will. The time just goes, and it goes quickly. But Moses doesn’t leave it there. Verse 12 is his denoument: “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” For those who know God, that’s the logical conclusion and the answer to the question, “Who knows where the time goes?” God knows. He cares. And He wants to “teach us” where it goes.

It’s quite a different thing to say my days are numbered, than it is to say I should number my days. I didn’t know God yet as a college freshman, so I just passively accepted the fatalism inherent in Judy Collins’ unanswerable musical question. As a believer, though, and especially as one on the brink of graduating into Senior adulthood, Moses’ song is quite different. He moves me to actively take hold of the limited time I have on this earth, and to use it well to prepare myself to see God. His answer to Collins’ rhetorical question is obvious: the time goes to God. He is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega, the creator of time. And what I do with my “seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years” of life here on earth will make a difference in my time with God in eternity. Somehow, I will take the wisdom I learn here and “present” it to God in eternity. Think about that for a moment! Rather than passively giving in to fatalism, I can actively pursue a life of faith that will impact my life in eternity. So that’s what I want to do “when I’m sixty-four.”

Who knows where the time goes? God does, but here’s the real kicker–so do I. I know I won’t live forever here, but I will live forever with God. If I know that’s true, sitting passively by while life passes by is just not an option. I want God to “teach” me how to keep on “numbering my days” so I will use them wisely so my heart is prepared for my time with Him. Overcoming fatalistic passivity is not easy, and I don’t suppose I’ll ever need to stop learning how to do that, but thank God I can also live by faith. And that’s where I want to know my time will go now that I’m sixty-four.

What about you? Do you know where the time goes? Are you passively passing your numbered days, or actively numbering your days by faith? What does God need to teach you about faith? The horizon of your life may seem far off for now, but the “time goes” by quickly. Don’t wait to start numbering your days to gain a heart of wisdom for God.