July 5, 2019
If there’s a class somewhere that teaches us what it means to be human, the centerpiece of the curriculum surely is the study of gratitude. Learning to be thankful is basic to being a person. It’s “Humanity 101.” Thankfulness is the natural impulse of the healthy heart. It is the appropriate reciprocal response of the person who is fully alive. We are never too young to enter this course of study.
In his book for children, titled, Thank You, God (Eerdmans, 2014), Dr. Brad Wigger teaches “Humanity 101.”
“Thank you, God,” we read, while our eyes are dazzled with visions of sun, space, earth and stars.”
“Thank you, God, for the sun smiling on our earth to wake up the day, for the light opening my eyes to see all you have made.”
“Thank you, God, for family and friends, … for home, … for meals together.”
“Thank you, God, for learning, and stories, and singing, and love, for all that lies outside and in, for activities and rest, and everything in between.”
There have been a lot of debates over the years about what makes humans human.
Even the Psalmist feels compelled to ask of God, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them?” (Psalm 8:4) Many answers to this question are really pretty reductionistic. While Shakespeare’s response in Hamlet soars (“What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form, in moving, how express and admirable! in action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a god!”), other answers to the question veer to the ridiculous. One college textbook, tongue in cheek, describes the human being as “an ingenious assembly of portable plumbing.”
I would venture to say, however, that beyond the tool-making and the ability to speak and reason and make and use complex tools, that which makes us human is our capacity for gratitude.
Thankfulness flows from a right understanding of our indebtedness to God for breath, and love, and life itself. Thankfulness is evidence of a human being fully aware of his or her dependence on another (an Other). In other words, thankfulness is a concrete demonstration of genuine humility, and humility is the essence of humanness.
This week I hope we will all go “back to school” and enroll with children of all ages in “Humanity 101,” and learn to say, as Dr. Wigger writes: “Thank you, God … for this day, for life, for your love holding us together. Amen.”