And on that day when my strength is failing,
The end draws near and my time has come—
Still my soul will sing your praise unending,
Ten thousand years and then forevermore.
In the last few weeks, I’ve sung those words three times, in different worship contexts. These lyrics and others like them, that point toward the end of this earthly life and the beginning of the next, always seem to stir something deep inside me. There is a resonance, even a longing. Sometimes, tears come to my eyes, unbidden.
It may be that I’ve become increasingly aware of my own mortality in recent years. Death and infirmity can be heedlessly abstract concepts when you’re younger, busily writing the script of your own personal drama. But my father’s decline and demise reordered the stage somewhat for the next act: not so much a complete rewrite as the addition of depth, coloration.
I’ve been told over and over that I don’t look my age. I appreciate the compliment. But I feel my age.
A simple and homely example: I never remember to warm up and stretch before doing certain jobs around the house that require stooping and squatting. After all, I never had to do that when I was younger! But now, that neglect can cost me days of sore muscles, as it has this past week. So there I was, lying on my back, doing stretching exercises after the fact, trying to work out the stiffness in my lower back—and I gave myself a cramp in my foot.
Sometimes I just have to laugh at my increasing creakiness.
But other times, it’s no laughing matter. My tales of little aches and pains seem like petty whining compared to what I’ve watched others suffer.
My wife and I sometimes wonder what news the next phone call, email, or Facebook notification will bring: which of our friends or family members is in the hospital? Who’s fallen? Who’s been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness?
On that day, when my strength is failing…
I may be perpetually tired, and often sore. But I can’t say that my strength hasn’t failed. Not quite. Not yet.
But something’s different. It has become increasingly difficult to see the world as I once did, to take vitality for granted, to live as if I would always be able to use my strength to accomplish my goals, as long as I worked hard enough, long enough, smart enough.
Still my soul will sing your praise unending…
What is it about these lyrics that move me? It’s as if, without my even being consciously aware of it, I have a need to know, deep in my spirit, that there is more to life—to my life—than the surfaces of daily routine, the management of responsibilities, the accomplishment of tasks.
The waning of my own strength can mean letting go of illusion and leaving more and more space to be filled with power of God. Such songs point to a different reality, to a kingdom in which we are called to work, but in which our place is given by gracious fiat. In that kingdom, we have the freedom to work for his pleasure, with what strength we have.
And the good news is that when strength fails, his pleasure remains.
Bless the Lord, O my soul; worship his Holy name.