Using our four thousand weeks

‘The length of our days is seventy years-or eighty, if we have the strength’, wrote the author of Psalm 90.

Monday, 18th October 2021, 10:14 am
Rev David Clarke

The American psychologist Oliver Burkeman has taken the latter figure as the theme for his recent book, ‘Four thousand weeks’.

Eighty years of life works out at just over 4,000 weeks, and although some enjoy more, others sadly others are denied even that.

The purpose of Burkeman’s intriguing choice of title is simply to remind us of our mortality, and the fleeting and uncertain nature of human life.

To those whose days are filled with feverish activity, to achieve this goal and that, he states that life is too short for us ever to reach all the targets we set.

Books that flood the market with such titles as ‘1001 paintings your must see before you die’ and ‘1001 golf holes to play before you die’ set unrealistic targets.

All the time in the world, and the unlimited finance of the new owners of Newcastle United Football Club would not be sufficient for such purposes.

Since this is an inescapable fact, we ought, Burkeman argues, to abandon the frenetic rush to pack life full of activity.

Since life is short, we ought to enjoy and savour each moment as it comes.

That is not to say that we should refuse to strive for ideals that may never be accomplished in our lifetime.

To work for justice, and to make the planet safe from climate change are worthy goals.

But even as we make our contributions to such causes we must strive to live in the moment.

Burkeman tells of being in Oregon with a group of travellers marvelling at the deepest fresh-water lake in the United States.

Many of them paused for only a few minutes before the spectacle, then snapped a picture with their mobile phones and moved on.

While most would later use their photographs to recall the visit in retrospect, few allowed the wonder of the view to hold their attention for more than a few moments.

Burkeman is appealing for a willingness to saturate oneself in the joys of the present, rather than postponing the enjoyment to a future which may never transpire.

Now is the time to enjoy and appreciate a grandchild’s smile or a spouse’s love.

He is echoing the sentiment expressed in a poem by Walter de la Mare; ‘Look thy last on all things lovely, Every hour’.

It is an echo also of the teaching of Jesus.

Telling us not to worry about our agendas, Jesus said, ‘Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.

‘ Each day has enough trouble of its own’ (Matthew 6; 34).

Like Jesus, Burkeman encourage us to make the most of our four thousand weeks by living in day-tight compartments, free from endless worry and striving.

Try it!