Our family recently took some time to vacation at the beach. One afternoon, while Katie and our kids soaked up some rays and played in the sand, I volunteered to make a needed run to Walmart. While I love playing with my children on the beach, I’m not a fan of the “let’s go out in the hottest, sunniest part of the day” approach. I’m a much better dad and beach playmate at 6PM. Thus, my hurried willingness to fight the crowds at Walmart.

On my return trip, I found myself riding alone in silence. It was a rare moment. My phone wasn’t ringing, my car’s DVD player wasn’t blaring VeggieTales, and no children were barking demands. It was glorious, and completely worth pushing the shopping cart with the wobbly wheel around the superstore.

In this moment, I realized that I had the opportunity to choose a radio station — any station — and listen to whatever I desired. No comments, complaints, or requests for changes would be made. Again, just glorious.

I found an 80’s station. What we would now call an “Oldies Station.” Sigh. I remember when an oldies station played music from the 1960’s. Of course, when I consider the ages of Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Billy Idol, and the guys from R.E.M., well, it makes sense. And when I think about the passing of Tom Petty, George Michael, and Prince, I guess oldie is the only logical description.

Speaking of Prince… alone in my vehicle and listening to the oldies, the song, 1999 began playing in my car speakers. This was Prince singing about the great party we would have on December 31, 1999, knowing that the inevitable annihilation of the world was only hours away. At the turn of the millennium, he imagined, the world would self-destruct and he would ride off into eternity dancing and celebrating. His song was an invitation to go ahead and party now, in the present, like this distant apocalypse was already upon us.

While Prince warned me that if I didn’t come to party, don’t bother knocking on his door, I was instantly transported to a bedroom in my childhood home. Ten-year-old me was lying across my bed listening to music on my boombox. This four feet wide by two feet high electronic contraption was my favorite possession. It had a dual tape deck which both contained blank cassette tapes. I would listen to a current station (not an oldies station playing the music from the 1960’s, but current, 1980’s music) and wait for one of my favorite songs to air. As quickly as possible, I would push down the record button on one of tape decks. This would allow me to capture the song and play it as often as I desired. I eventually produced a great mix tape containing a collection of music, all songs with the first three or four seconds missing.

I remember listening to Prince sing about the celebration we would have leading up to midnight in the year 1999. The thought of that impalpable, distant day fascinated me. I will be so old, I thought. You know, in my twenties. I wonder what I’ll be doing? Will I be at some great party? Will it be on the moon? Will I take a rocket ship back home after the party, or will I be living there on the moon? Will I be married? Will she be from earth or some other planet?

I had a vivid imagination.

That once far away future date is now far away again, but this time it’s in the rear-view mirror. In just a few months, we will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the non-Y2K meltdown. Turns out that the doomsday sayers and Prince were both wrong. Life at 12AM on January 1, 2000, wasn’t all that different from the minute before. Our computer systems didn’t crash, nor was the sky purple with people running everywhere. Purple was a major theme of Prince’s life.

What seemed like a day that would never arrive has now long come and gone. That’s life. If you’re a millennial or a Gen Z’er reading these words, you’re probably rolling your eyes right about now. Or maybe you’re mildly curious enough that you’ve Googled Y2K since that reference was completely foreign to you. Know this: as you are, I once was. As I am, so you will be. Unless Jesus returns or you pass from this life early, you’ll one day have these same epiphanic moments. It may come, like mine, when you’re listening to an old song. Or maybe when you’re watching a favorite movie. Or, when a photo memory of your preschool daughter pops up on your phone and you realize she’s heading to college in the fall. These moments will hit you at random times, stop your heart, and cause you to enter into an emotionally pensive state of mind. Don’t believe me? Call me in twenty years when you hear Old Town Road playing through the speakers in your personal space vehicle and you get all teary-eyed.

We have a saying at our home: The days are long, but the years are short. With four young children, life is a whirlwind of activity: from potty training and wiping the noses of our youngest, to the sports activities and school projects of our oldest. I watch very little television not because I lack interest, but because I can’t seem to stay awake for more than fifteen minutes when I sit or lie down in the evenings. There are days I’m so exhausted from trying to balance kids, my job, and life in general that I begin to wish away the moments I’m in. I find myself dreaming of the days when my children are all either working or in college, and Katie and I will have the freedom to do what we want, when we want, and to finish our conversations without interruption.

Then, I remember Prince singing about 1999. In 1982. Seems like just yesterday to me.

“The days are long, but the years are short.”

On this same beach vacation, Katie and I watched with our two older children the 1991 movie, Father of the Bride. I quietly wept for about forty-five of the ninety minutes it played. Sure, this was not my first time watching the movie, but previous viewings were years ago, before my children (including two daughters) came along. This time, I saw it through different, tear-filled eyes. Gut-wrenching.

Alas, this is more than just my personal musings about the passing of time. There is a lesson to be learned from Prince and Steve Martin and Franck the wedding coordinator. It’s a truth most of us know, but is easily and often forgotten: Life is short. In the mundane activities of your days, or in the chaotic moments of dealing with screaming children, or in the tedious grind of your job, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. God has given you this one life and a limited number of years. What are you doing to make the most of it?

Several thousand years ago Moses wrote out a prayer to the Lord: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). I don’t think Moses needed knowledge on the subject. He wasn’t confused about the biology of the human body and the average life-span of man. Moses knew well that people grow old and die after seventy or eighty or, in some rare cases, ninety or a hundred years. He wasn’t asking God to reveal to him a previously unknown truth. Rather, his prayer was for wisdom on how to make the most of the days he’d been given.

“There is a lesson to be learned from Prince and
Steve Martin and Franck the wedding coordinator.”

Teach me to number my days is something I’ve recently begun to pray each morning. I believe it has benefited me greatly and allowed me to keep a better perspective on life. The small things aren’t so big or overwhelming. My three-year-old daughter asking me the same question for the twentieth time isn’t quite as annoying, knowing that one day I’ll be walking her down an aisle and wishing like crazy she was only three years old again.

The normal frustrations of life aren’t as enormous. The software update that causes me to lose files on my computer; the red light flashing on the dashboard of my car; the person in front of me with 40 items in the “15 items or less” line at the grocery story; the way my son always has to use the potty as soon as the food arrives when we’re at a restaurant… all of these aren’t quite the buzz killers they’ve been in the past. Teach me to number my days has helped me to remember what is really important in life.

So, my thanks to Moses for teaching me this prayer. And to Prince for singing about this apocalyptic party decades ago. And to Steve Martin for doing everything he could to stop his daughter’s wedding.

I will do my best to live today knowing that life really is short.

Kevin Mills is the Lead Pastor at Northway Church in Macon, Georgia.