It felt like an act of rebellion, teaching my young daughter to “borrow and carry” when doing her math. A number of years ago now, her elementary school emphasized learning to do math with “numbers, words, and pictures,” but for some reason, the old way, the way I knew, wasn’t considered a meaningful strategy. Teachers sometimes whispered it to students who struggled, looking over their shoulders as if the math police were due to show up any moment.
These days, there are other increasingly outdated school lessons, like cursive writing, which is still sometimes taught and then not used very much, and diagramming sentences for proper grammar. Seriously, what possible good could come from diagramming sentences? Um, a deeper faith, perhaps? Let me explain.
Do you remember drawing those lines and slash marks on the chalkboard in high school? Filling in verbs and nouns, adjectives, and adverbs? There were two types of verbs, if you recall–transitive and intransitive. Transitive verbs require a direct object. They aren’t complete if you leave the verb by itself–it needs an object to receive the verb. I was thinking about this rather abstract concept this week, with Thanksgiving drawing nearer. For some reason (maybe your mind doesn’t work like this, but mine does), I was thinking of the word, “Thank,” and how the very word tells us that if we are thankful, we are thankful for something, or thankful to someone else. “Thank” by itself doesn’t really convey anything.
It reminds me a little of the nursery rhyme, “This is the House that Jack Built.” You might remember lines like:
This is the cat, That chased the rat , that ate the malt, That lay in the house that Jack built. (Thanks to www.EnchantedLearning.com for the cute graphics).
One small thing leads to another until you get to the root of things. What is at the root of what you are thankful for? Who receives your gratitude?
The Bible is an amazing book for a lot of reasons, but one reason is that it’s good at getting to the root of things. It doesn’t shy away from claims like, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1), and (Jesus speaking), “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Not a lot of wiggle room. Those kinds of statements lead maybe to more questions, don’t they? Like, if God is in control and everything is his, why did he chose to let the typhoon destroy such a large swath of the Philippines last week? What does Jesus being “the way” mean for all the people who follow different way? Some people might ask why they never seem to get much of what they want. If God’s the ultimate authority, does he care? Is he really the Giver? Does he have something against them?
There are many things we can’t get to the bottom of, this side of heaven. The Bible, again, though, helps us learn to trust in God, the ultimate root of all things. With the Psalms, we can cry out to God in our pain and fear, knowing that nothing is off limits. With the stories of the Israelites, we can learn a history of God’s faithfulness despite their “hard-headedness.” Through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, we learn “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17).
People who have put their trust in that love, despite the unanswerable questions they may still have, have found a source of strength and joy and a direct object to their verb, “Thank,” giving that verb a power that has changed their lives. It sure has changed mine– knowing who I’m thankful to is the only reason why I write. How has it changed your life? Share it with us, won’t you?
Next week: One more transitive verb, and stories of exile and coming home.