Posted by: donnatallman | February 7, 2012

Wishful Thinking

How hard can it be? I wonder as I look over the course description for Math for Elementary School Teachers from Fairmont State College in West Virginia. It’s only a summer school course; I reason to myself. I can do this. They probably just use graduate students to teach during the summer anyway, so I doubt it’s very challenging. Besides, they can’t get much farther than long division in six weeks can they?

Pfft. I can do long division.

Math and I are not friendly; we’ve never been friendly. Ever since my 4th grade elementary school teacher told me I would be a mathematic “cripple” all of my life, I’ve been petrified to get anywhere near a square root or a prime number. I was the student who actually worked hard to earn the “D’s” and “Incompletes” I received in algebra in high school. You have no idea how much time I spent in the school’s bathroom skipping class to earn those grades. It was exhausting! The thought of facing a required math course in college was a sweat-inducing nightmare for someone like me.

It was the spring of my sophomore year at Biola University. I was nineteen years-old and needed one measly math course to fulfill my general education requirement for graduation. Math at Biola was out of the question; it would be way beyond my inability. My major was Christian Education; no math involved in that. I figured taking a math course designed for elementary school teachers was a great way to avoid anything more complicated than rounding up whole numbers. So, I hatched a plan to leave California, spend the summer with my grandparents in Fairmont, West Virginia, and take the math class at Fairmont State just a few blocks from their house. After all, how hard could it be?

Dumbest question I ever asked.

How hard could it be? Well, there was no grad student in front of the room when I walked in on my first day. My easy-peasy solution for college credit was going to be taught by the dean of the math department – a PhD in the middle of writing a textbook for some college textbook publishing house!

What had I done? I needed someone to rescue me and pull me through this stupidity. No, I needed a savior…immediately.

Her name was Barbara. She wasn’t nineteen like me; she was an adult. Actually, she was old – well into her thirties I think. (Oh, to be old and thirty again!) She sat next to me every day during that long, hot, unendurable summer. Together Barbara and I agonized over our homework studying every afternoon in the library. That summer we plodded way beyond long division, ratios, percentages, graphing and probabilities. We studied, calculated, re-calculated, crammed for tests and somewhere in all of that, became friends.

All the while I hissed, spat, fussed, whined, and complained about how I wished the summer would just hurry up and get over with. Week five arrived, and all that remained was our final exam. Barbara and I shared our last study session together and when we were done, she offered me a ride home. As I started to hop out of the car, Barbara stopped me to ask a question.

“Do you know we have just spent the summer wishing away five weeks of our lives?”

I went on to ace the math class, but failed to pass God’s assignment for being there in the first place. I had not learned how to be content in all things. Thirty years have passed since I saw Barbara, and her question still haunts me.

“Do you know you just wished away a part of your life?”

“So teach us to number our days, That we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12  (NASB)

Have you ever numbered your days? I tried it once, after I heard Dr. Bruce Wilkinson talk about doing it at a pastor’s conference. I took a piece of grid-lined paper and calculated how many days I would have left to live on earth if I lived to be 70. Based on that I number, I figured out how many days that would give me with my husband, my boys, my daughter-in-law, granddaughter, and my family. I calculated how many more days it would be until our last son moved away to attend college, how many Sundays I would have left so I could attend church, how many Christmases I’d have left, and how many summers I’d have to fulfill my dream of returning to Spain. I figured out the probability of how many days I’d have left to write, speak, and encourage others. Then, I estimated how many days of good health I might have to enjoy all of it in the first place.

I was stunned. I had actually learned something in that math class at Fairmont State years ago! No, I was stunned because there was not nearly as much time left for me on this earth as I had imagined. So, I set about to improve the probability that I would live longer to accomplish all that I desired, and all God intended for me. I began exercising and eating better. I also began to be more intentional about the things I became involved in.

Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.”  (NASB)

Photo by Joshua Casey

Realizing how short life actually is threatened to spin me off into anxious activity to ensure I got everything done on my “bucket list” before I died. The revelation I had while numbering my days wasn’t about cramming more things into my life; it was about living the days ordained for me with more intention. It was about selecting only those things God had called me to. Numbering my days provided the wisdom I needed to weed out the unnecessary.

How hard can it be?

Well, it’s not hard at all to number our days, but to make each of those days eternally significant; now, that’s a challenge! I have learned that if I wish away whole segments of my life, especially the hard ones, I will miss what God wants to offer me in the midst of them. Whether it’s a school term, internship, unfulfilling job, pregnancy, season of unemployment, diagnosis, or desert season, there is always something valuable to be mined in the challenges.

I’m trying not to “wish away” this hard season of transition I have been in since we moved from Oregon to Colorado in December. There are so many things to learn and grow from during this time, but the nineteen year-old just wants to wish them all away. The old lady in me says, “ No, you can do this! You can make the hard times eternally significant.”

How about you? What are you wishing would come to an end?  How can you make it eternally significant?



  1. Excellent column, Donna. I’ve passed it along to others.

  2. Love the entry, Donna. The verse from Psalms is a favorite for me. I’ve never had the courage to project things out and estimate how many of each days I have left in this life. It’s funny how an off hand comment by the lady in your math class stuck with you for all the years. God used her voice to say something to you.

  3. Thanks, John. Teachers have an amazing way of bypassing our defenses when we are focusing on something else. Although Barbara was a fellow student with me in the trenches that summer, she clearly taught me something that day I’ll never forget. Her tangible lesson of treasuring each day we live still echoes loudly across the decades since. Teachers can be found everywhere even in a student’s desk…and they are some of my favorite people!

  4. As with so many of your blogs, this one is very relevant today. I will take a look at my life and do some weeding….!

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