You hear it all the time: “I’m doing the best that I can.” It comes out of the mouth of the kid playing little league baseball, the mom parenting three kids, and the corporate executive drowning under mounting deadlines. And I say it too—a lot. If not out loud, it's often a frequent part of my inner dialogue.
I resonate with these words because they faithfully capture what happens when I bump up against my finitude. When I come face to face with my creatureliness, I can only say, “I’m doing the best that I can.” I have limits—and I reach my limits.
One such area of my life is public speaking. While it's a necessary component of my job, it's not one that I’ve grown particularly comfortable with, nor substantially better at over time. Even with the addition of seminars, helpful suggestions, and years of practice, I still have that constant feeling of being a fish out of water.
Because of what this looks like in my life, I tend to think of “I’m doing the best I can” as a kind of feeble prayer. My internal repetition of this phrase is an appeal to the perfect and powerful God that I am indeed trying to do what he asks, but also a recognition that I am woefully inadequate.
This is where Psalm 90 comes in for me. It doesn’t explain away the realities of my limitations. But neither does it tell me that I should be ashamed or crushed by them. Psalm 90 simply directs me to see my limitations for what they are—proof of the inevitable reality that I am a creature, not God. Verses 9–10 reinforce that I have limited strength, that I am given limited time, and that I live amidst limitless toil and trouble.
For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away. (v.9–10)
However, instead of losing myself in hopeless resignation or arrogantly trying to solve my fragility and dependence, I am told to learn from it. It’s not a problem that can be rectified or conquered, or fixed. Rather, Psalm 90 tells me to learn to number my days and gain wisdom. I am told to humble myself and recognize reality for what it is.
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom. (v.12)
Psalm 90 pushes me to learn God’s economy. Like the psalmist, I'm supposed to have a conflicted relationship with my finitude. I’m supposed to acknowledge and feel the discomfort of being mortal and having limited control. But though I am at the mercy of a broken and fallen world, there is also hope and power and reliance on a God who calls us his own, who is for us and with us.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands! (v.17)
My stability, security, and well-being are not secured by my own efforts but by the efforts of my Lord and God, Jesus Christ. The reason any of my works are established, and I can have any confidence in the future, is that I am bound to the one who controls the future. In the Lord, my labor is not in vain. My identity, my work, and my purposes are not futile. Psalm 90 does not say I need to hide from my limitations and vulnerabilities or buffer myself with my own abilities and power. Rather, it tells me to look my mortality and finitude straight in the eye and gain a heart of wisdom as I lean into the Lord’s compassion and unfailing love. This amounts to a radical confrontation with my fragility and an affirmation of God’s sovereign power and steadfast love.
So, where do we go from here? For many of us, “doing the best I can” is going to be akin to praying, “establish the work of my hands.” Doing the best we can is a simple yet poignant prayer of dependence and, at times, desperation. Here is a slightly longer version:
Jesus, help me. I’m not ready for this, but you have put this in front of me. I am not adequate for this, but you are with me. I’m not sure of the outcome, but I will do the best I can. Have mercy on me, and establish the works of my hands. Amen.