Three Score Years and Ten

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. (Psalm 90:10)

On Thursday this week (November 9), I mark my three-score-years-and-ten as I celebrate my 70th birthday. My wife has promised to make her greatly lauded banana pudding. It will otherwise be a low-key day.

I have been reflecting on its approach for some time, however. Yesterday I described it as the “expiration of my warranty” as I sat in my doctor’s examining room with two geriatric complaints. I note that with the achievement of the 70 mark, there ensues the “labor and sorrow” of the bonus years. There is a common joke that runs: “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.” I add to that the observation that no matter how much care you take, you will still be “cut off” and “fly away.”

The fathers of the desert taught that we should “keep death before our eyes.” At a recent gathering (for my youngest daughter’s wedding) I made a comment to a group of strangers that referenced my death (I think I was wondering out loud when the next time would be when I would see all four of my children together at the same time). Their reaction surprised me – as they were quickly suggesting that I shouldn’t say such things (much less think about them). I forgot how much the general public fears death.

From 1998-2000 I worked as a hospice chaplain in the mountains of East Tennessee. On average, I saw three deaths per week. Some of the patients I came to know quite well. Death is an intimate thing. The experience pressed upon me the reality of my own mortality. There is the common epitaph on gravestones in old New England:

Remember me as you pass by. 
As you are now, so once was I; 
As I am now, so you must be, 
Therefore prepare to follow me.

A similar sentiment can be found associated with the bones of monks on Mt. Athos.

That our culture is governed by a cult of youth is a mark of its foolishness and a prime example of its denial of reality. Modernity’s championing of technology often provokes the young into imagining that they know more than the generations that went before. Knowing how to program a tv-remote or manipulate the in’s and out’s of computer programs does not constitute wisdom. Often, it constitutes nothing more than a testimony to wasted time.

We’re all going to die.

The outcome of my hospice experience was to give serious thought to what it means to “die well.” It is actually a question that seriously ponders what it is to “live well.” What things do those who are dying value most? What things do they most regret? As a Christian, we can rightly ask, “Am I ready to stand naked before Christ?”

I like a statement attributed to a mouse. In CS Lewis’ The Dawn Treader, the courageous mouse Reepicheep describes his plans. The ship he is on is sailing East (toward Aslan’s Land). He says:

“My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.”

Mutatis mutandis, it seems to describe the desire of my heart.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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50 responses to “Three Score Years and Ten”

  1. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear Father,
    A blessed and happy birthday. Many are blessed by your ministry. We pray for many more years of the Lord’s continual blessings in your ministry.

  2. Margaret Avatar
    Margaret

    Thank you Fr. Stephen, I appreciate your words here so very much. I have appreciated all you share concerning your experience as a hospice chaplain. God bless you and all you love, always. (And I recognized the quote from Reepicheep from “My own plans are made.” from the time I first read those words as a young teen, they have spoken to my heart, so I greatly appreciate your encouragement to reflection here.

  3. Justin Avatar
    Justin

    Father Stephen,

    God grant you many [more] years! Happy Birthday.

    But I agree with you. While I am only two-score-and eleven, I am reminded by what the monks declare from their crypt below Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini in Rome:

    You will become what I am.

    Many years, whether in this life or the next!

  4. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Margaret,
    I thought to myself today, “Gee. You’d think that no one had ever turned 70 before.” But, of course, it’s my first and only time. I find that I am continually surprised by life – and long to remain that way.

    Thank you for your prayers!

  5. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    May God guide you East and grant you many years!

  6. Katherine Avatar
    Katherine

    Dear Father Stephen,

    A Blessed birthday to you, and may He grant you many more (a partly selfish wish I’m afraid – given that I hope to read many more of your words in the days to come). I have never read The Dawn Treader, but that quote resonates so strongly with me that I shall now do so – thank you.

  7. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Happy Birthday. I am afraid I am ahead of you at 75 and I have a doctor and a pill for each body part. Still, the Lord is with me in ways I cannot really describe.

    Part of morning prayers;
    “O heavenly King, O comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who art in all places and fillest all things and Giver of life: Come and dwell in us and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Gracious Lord.”

    May it be so for everyone here, especially you Father.

  8. Dn Nicholas Avatar
    Dn Nicholas

    Father, many years. While Michael B is ahead of you by five, I’m trailing you by five. May the Lord continue to bless us all as we head for His country.

  9. Fr. Ron Hatton Avatar
    Fr. Ron Hatton

    Father Stephen,
    God grant you many years of peace, health and happiness. I reached that milestone on October 1, and can echo your words here. My older parishioners have told me I’m a youngster and I’ve said, “it’s the first time I’ve turned 70!” I know I’m in the later years of my time on earth and thank God for what is in my past and pray that I draw nearer to Him in whatever time I have left and do the work He has given me well and to His glory. Thank you for your ministry to me and all you have touched.

  10. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    A blessed birthday to you Fr. Stephen. I am really so new to this blog, but it has been so helpful to me even for the short few months I have been around.

    When I was in the clinic here in Germany going from one therapy to the next in an attempt to deal with my ongoing anxiety, something came to me:

    At the end of the day, I think what scares people the most is death. If people could only deal with their fear of death so much in their lives might very well be healed.

    Orthodoxy loudly proclaims that death has been defeated in and through Jesus Christ. Why have so many not heard this message? Why do so many reject this truth? Why do so many streams of Christianity seem to miss this crucial point?

    Thanks so much for this blog and your ministry Fr. Stephen. I wish you well.

  11. Allen Avatar
    Allen

    At 55, I am at stage where some parents have died and others require care giving. I am increasingly aware of the passing of time.

  12. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Hello Allen. 53 years old. So resonate with your comment. Thank you.

  13. Miranda Avatar
    Miranda

    May God grant you many years, Fr. Stephen. Your words bless many!

  14. Jessica Mathews Avatar
    Jessica Mathews

    Happy birthday! May God grant you many years.

  15. Gigi Murphy Avatar
    Gigi Murphy

    that hideous strength is always trying to take away the magic and wonder of the starry host, but as i grow older and closer to our beautiful creator, my longing soul grows perpetually younger in wonder and awe of His amazing love. He is our fountain. our fountain of youth. we will die to never die. i wish you joy and banana pudding. you have been such a gift to us. happy birthday.

  16. Drewster2000 Avatar
    Drewster2000

    Fr. Stephen,

    If given a choice, how long would you like to live?

    I know many people would defer and say it’s not up to us and such things, and generally they would be right. The 70-80 generally stands – and comes at its own preordained time.

    But I also believe the question can in some cases be worth a short ponderance. I think God sometimes allows the choice. This belief comes from the fact that God partners with us and, as far as is good, likes us to be on the journey with Him willingly instead of just being dragged around everywhere.

    Your well has provided living water to many a dry soul in this arid land. Is it running dry? Are you getting tired in your bones? Is the weather knee acting up, indicating rain? It doesn’t always work that way but often there are signs.

    Any thoughts?

  17. Laurie Avatar
    Laurie

    Happy Birthday to you, Fr. Stephen. Many Years? Or just a few? May God bless them all abundantly.

  18. Andrew Avatar
    Andrew

    Happy birthday and many years! Thank you for all the wisdom you’ve shared over the years. It’s been invaluable to me on my journey. At 2 score and 5, I suspect on some level I still imagine I’ll live forever. Though, I think the reality is slowing dawning on me as I begin to slow down and acquire new and mysterious aches, pains and ailments with each passing year. Momento mori.

  19. Gretchen Joanna Avatar

    Many years, Father Stephen!

    I often say the same about my five children — they were last all together at their father’s funeral, and the way things have been going since then, I don’t know if I’ll see them in a group again until I’m in my coffin. I’m happy they at least aren’t disturbed by my talking about my death.

    Reepicheep’s vision and goal are quite evocative and lovable. ❤️

  20. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Congratulations, Father Stephen. To add to what others have said, your writing speaks to those who read it, and, although it will persist, I particularly enjoy being able to discuss it with you and seek clarification while you’re still so accessible.

    So many of your posts are keepers, but the thorough and thoughtful response you gave to Leah, for example, is helpful in a personal way–the “particular” that is difficult to achieve in mass communication. Likewise, knowing you in person and not only as words on a screen means I can hear your voice when I read and even picture your face saying them.

    On the subject of aging, I found a little slider on the Internet the other day that you could position to see which percentage of the population is younger or older than any given age. Not too surprisingly given life expectancy, the halfway mark was as I recall 38. In other words, someone who is 39 is already older than most.

    I think that we like to forget that when they think of “middle age” and “old.” When I look outward, I am using the same eyes as when I was a teenager, and since I’ve had bad eyesight since the 4th grade, it’s easy to forget how much the person they belong to has changed.

    Until they see a mirror 🙂

  21. Esmée Noelle Covey Avatar
    Esmée Noelle Covey

    In the last three months, four people in my close community have reposed, both expected and unexpected, ages 40 to 88. We never know when our time will arrive. These recent reminders, all so close together, have brought my own eventual physical death into sharp focus. I even bought my grave and gravestone where my body will be laid to help keep me aware that this life is limited and I must use my time here wisely with my eyes facing East toward the sunrise. Thank you for a beautiful reflection.

    If possible, please pray for the recently reposed:
    Daniel
    Matushka Priscilla
    Reader Stephen
    Richard

  22. Kay Harkins Avatar
    Kay Harkins

    God grant you many years, Father Stephen. I am grateful to God for the blessing you have been in my life and the lives of countless others. I will mark 77 years on November 10. There’s something wonderful about autumn birthdays. Enjoy that banana pudding!

  23. Helen Avatar
    Helen

    Many years to you Father.! You share a birthday with my son!

  24. Leah K Avatar
    Leah K

    Happy Birthday! Your writings have been such a blessing to me. May you continue to be fruitful in the years you have remaining!

  25. Nathan Fischer Avatar
    Nathan Fischer

    God grant you many years, Father!

  26. Maria Jerinic Avatar
    Maria Jerinic

    Many Years Father Stephen. (November 9 is also my husband’s birthday.)
    Thank you for the gift of your words and wisdom.

  27. Theresa Schumann Avatar
    Theresa Schumann

    Congratulations on reaching the ripe age of 70. I have surpassed you since I am now 83 and with every passing day the thought of death arises. I surprise myself some times when I open my eyes in the morning to celebrate a new day! I am in God’s hands and only He knows when I shall join him in Paradise.
    I so enjoy reading your posts and all Glory to God for his inspiration to you.

  28. Rachael Avatar
    Rachael

    Many years Father!
    I would like to say I don’t fear death, but boy I wish it were not so. Alas it’s probably my youth, which is starting to come to an end. Middle age is coming! Along with health complaints. Your blog has meant so much to me and as my spiritual Father (memory eternal) died this year, I think of your blog as a second spiritual father of sorts. So thank you for writing and uplifting my soul.
    Also it’s a great day for a birthday!

  29. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Yes, Father, Happy birthday!
    I recall you saying that your father-in-law had said to those close to him, when he knew he was dying, “watch how I die.”
    I am 77 and think of my death everyday and pray for a good defense before God’s fearful day of judgment (I recall you writing that the judgment for us is Christ’s cross).
    Actually, just sitting here writing I feel that I could be 35. It’s only when I move that I know that that’s not true! 🙂
    Upon awakening each day I do sincerely thank our dear Lord for another day of life. And, His lovingkindness is better than life!

  30. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Drewster,
    That’s a question that asks me to manage my own life – something I would prefer not to do (it’s idolatry). I’ll take as many days as I’m given and pray to live each one faithfully. That’s enough.

  31. sgage Avatar
    sgage

    Dear Father Stephen,

    Happy Birthday, and many more!

    When I think of aging (I am a boyish 68, ha ha), I think of my old Grandpa who lived to be 98. As he was fading, we would tell him that we didn’t want to lose him. He said that he had to go. After his wife of 65 years died (his second wife, mind you! His first wife died young in the Influenza Epidemic in 1918), he didn’t really feel a need to stick around. Besides, he said, “All my friends are gone, and I have to hang out with a bunch of 80-year old punks.” Kind of puts things into perspective 😉

  32. Adriana Avatar
    Adriana

    Dear Father Stephen,
    thank you for being a true Father to so many of us. It’s not a small thing.
    And thank you to your lovely family for agreeing to share you with us.
    Happy Birthday!

  33. A Reader Avatar
    A Reader

    Love this reflection. I’m a mere 10 months behind you, Father Stephen. Happy birthday to you. Thank you for the quote from “The Dawn Treader,” which I have not read. Mutatis mutandis, indeed. I’m going to put that quote in a prominent place for a time to remind my heart, when it wavers, of its true desire.

  34. Jamie Avatar
    Jamie

    After reading your reflection, I carried my harp outside and sat under some pear trees and played every song I know.

    My harp, which was once a living mahogany tree, and the pear trees and I seemed to be part of each other’s life. I don’t think I’ve ever had that sort of experience before. Thank you.

  35. Ook Avatar
    Ook

    I’ve long been fascinated by that passage of Psalm 90, and sometimes reflect that my 99 year old mother is in much better condition physically, mentally, and possibly spiritually than my 59 year old brother.

  36. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    May God grant you to share in days of peace, and at the end to arrive on the shores of the Undying Lands.

  37. Art Pederson Avatar
    Art Pederson

    Wishing you a Blessed 70th Birthday! At 76, I am in my bonus years. I work part-time for a Funeral Home, so probably experience many of the things you encountered as a Chaplain and still do as a Priest. This past week was more than I usually encounter in a week. Three friends died. Claude, well into his bonus years, was a Pentecostal Minister and former co-worker in the Funeral Home with me. Eva, also well into her bonus years was the wife of a Pastor, who had served many years as President of a Bible College. Bill was a fellow Amateur Radio friend just a few years into the bonus years. I thank the Lord for a relative healthy life with the assistance of some medications which allow me to enjoy and appreciate my bonus years.

  38. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Dear Father, much love to you as always, and prayers for today and all your remaining days – and may they be blessed. So grateful to God for you.

    Dana

  39. hélène d. Avatar
    hélène d.

    Blessed and warm birthday dear P.Stephen !
    May the Lord grant you everything that is good for you !
    And time to continue this ministry of life, of faith, which inspires so many people !

  40. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Jamie,
    What a joy-filled image!

  41. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Many thanks to all for the well-wishes and the encouraging words! I’m traveling to South Carolina (land of my birth) this weekend to speak at a conference that seeks to support the on-going mission work of some Orthodox people in a county not presently served by a Church. Indeed, my calendar is pretty full this autumn. I still have things to iron-out on the new blog site (but have been too busy to tend to). I hope to settle down to some fresh writing soon – my efforts have largely been spent working on talks for up-coming engagements.

    I have enough health issues to remind me of my dependence on God, but nothing of such significance to be more than a nagging presence. Like many of you, my heart aches for the heavy burdens of our present culture – and the madness that daily engulfs the world. May God protect our children and grandchildren.

  42. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Jamie,
    As a fellow harp player, your comment brought much joy to read. I’ve been slammed with work this week and have neglected my harp playing.

    With your inspiration, I will do the same (but not outside in the snows!)

  43. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear Father, Safe travels!

  44. Alan Avatar
    Alan

    Happy Birthday Father Stephen!
    May God grant you many years!

  45. Lewis Avatar
    Lewis

    And your humor is healthy and ageless, Father Stephen.

  46. Jon Avatar
    Jon

    Father please forgive me but I am reading the psalter According to the Seventy from Holy Transfiguration Monastery and
    Psalm 90-10 doesn’t say that. Am I looking in the wrong place.
    Jon

  47. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Jon,
    Yes. The Psalter you are using follows the numbering of the Greek Septuagint Old Testament. I was quoting from the King James which uses the Hebrew Masoretic numbering. In your Psalter, look at Psalm 89:10

  48. Leah Avatar
    Leah

    Many happy returns of the day! I am grateful for you and your writings/talks and for the internet that makes them available to me.

  49. Michael Yates Avatar

    God grant you many years!

  50. Marie Stoltz Avatar
    Marie Stoltz

    70 trips around the sun! Congratulations! I have had 73. Thank you for this article, just another bit of wisdom that keeps me learning and growing. I started the fast yesterday with your beautiful wisdom about preparation from the book “Behold a great light” it reminds me of St Isaac the Syrians wisdom about carrying Christ. Keep it coming you are the source of much of my daily bread.

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