Psalm 49

Psalm 49 opens with a serious tone and calls the reader to immediate attention (i.e., “Listen, everyone, listen–)
49 1-2 Listen, everyone, listen—
    earth-dwellers, don’t miss this.
All you haves
and have-nots,
All together now: listen.

3-4 I set plainspoken wisdom before you,
my heart-seasoned understandings of life.
I fine-tuned my ear to the sayings of the wise,
I solve life’s riddle with the help of a harp.

5-6 So why should I fear in bad times,
hemmed in by enemy malice,
Shoved around by bullies,
demeaned by the arrogant rich?

7-9 Really! There’s no such thing as self-rescue,
pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.
The cost of rescue is beyond our means,
and even then it doesn’t guarantee
Life forever, or insurance
against the Black Hole.

10-11 Anyone can see that the brightest and best die,
wiped out right along with fools and dunces.
They leave all their prowess behind,
move into their new home, The Coffin,
The cemetery their permanent address.
And to think they named counties after themselves!

12 We aren’t immortal. We don’t last long.
Like our dogs, we age and weaken. And die.

13-15 This is what happens to those who live for the moment,
who only look out for themselves:
Death herds them like sheep straight to hell;
they disappear down the gullet of the grave;
They waste away to nothing—
nothing left but a marker in a cemetery.
But me? God snatches me from the clutch of death,
he reaches down and grabs me.

16-19 So don’t be impressed with those who get rich
and pile up fame and fortune.
They can’t take it with them;
fame and fortune all get left behind.
Just when they think they’ve arrived
and folks praise them because they’ve made good,
They enter the family burial plot
where they’ll never see sunshine again.

20 We aren’t immortal. We don’t last long.
Like our dogs, we age and weaken. And die.

This is a shift from the celebratory tone of the previous two chapters to a solemn tone of salvation. The psalmist is painting a clear portrait of the inevitability of death, and consequently, the impermanence of life. The Psalm as I read it aloud gave me pause at the v15 mark when it reads, “But me? God snatches me from the clutch of death,
he reaches down and grabs me.” this was extremely relevant for me because of a very vivid dream I had about being chased. The dream ended with me being hurt, near death (scary, I know!), and laying on the ground singing “Hallelujah, Salvation, & Glory” . Anyway, the dream is very present for me at the time of this writing so (even though it was a dream) I am remembering the simultaneous feelings of pain and peace. And in that very moment, like the psalmist outlines, God reached down and grabbed me. This is key.

If we make ourselves available to God at all times, but especially those times when we feel consumed by internal or external darkness, it is in God’s desire and God’s ability to ACT to save us. She’s not a passive God to watch and give small warm and fuzzy signs of direction out of the abyss; no, She’s an active God who extends loving, frantic arms to literally and figuratively snatch us from doom.

Let’s pause on that promise of salvation for a moment. You are saved, despite. Walk in that, breathe that in all the way. You are saved, despite. I don’t care what the world tells you! You are worthy, just as our God is worthy. Trust.

The above point about not caring what the world tells you is a good segue to the next portions of the text, v20 “We aren’t immortal. We don’t last long. Like our dogs, we age and weaken. And die.” which to me is saying be very careful what you put your stock in, your “fame fortune and riches” (v16) can be taken to the family burial plot, but no further than that. So, what are you doing today to leave a greater legacy behind? God will protect your reputation. Honor and serve Her, not the bling and all will be granted in your favor. On some days when I read this, it feels like an uphill battle. Have you ever tried, really tried, to ignore world?! It’s everywhere! (smile). One key takeaway for me is despite the impermanence of life, it is our duty to celebrate and love what matters, in our short time here.

Once we are keenly aware of our own mortality, our actions can be set accordingly. Spend time on that which matters, Friend!  As a framing tool, perhaps this list of the “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying” by Bonnie Ware, a palliative nurse, can shed light on what others feel when they can no longer avoid their own mortality (i.e., they are faced with their own death). The list is as follows:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.”

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

“Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

“Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.”

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”

What can we learn from this list of regrets of the dying? How do we avoid experiencing these same regrets? Through daily action! Allow yourself to feel happier today. Out of love (not fear) call that old friend you’ve been meaning to catch up with. Accept a little bit more about your own shortcomings. Chief among them for me is the theme of forgiveness. Forgive yourself. Now. Not not in a few minutes– right at this very moment.

As the psalmist notes twice in this passage (v12, v20), “We aren’t immortal. We don’t last long.” My prayer is that for today, and each day that follows, we are so inspired by our own mortality that we live with an unparalleled zest, fearlessness, and passion for life.

Per #3, I will have the courage today to tell you exactly how I feel: I love you.