Count your blessings, see what God hath done! Count your blessings, name them one by one And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done. Johnson Oatman, Jr., 1897
In the course of about a month, three people told me about One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. Told me how good it was. How I really should read it. Then a fourth friend gave it to me. Every time I smiled politely, said, “Oh, that sounds goood,” and cringed inside.
Why? Full disclosure: I didn’t want to read a book telling me to be thankful. Telling me to be grateful for all things, joyful in all things. I didn’t want to read it, hear it, do it, deal with it.
Here the crowd gasps. “How very . . . unchristian!”
Yes, well . . . truth be told, that was part of the reason I didn’t want to read it. I didn’t want to read it just because it would be a seemingly good thing for me to do. Just because I should. Just because we Christians are supposed to be thankful, grateful, and filled with joy. I also didn’t want to read it because, frankly, I wasn’t in a very grateful state of mind (read: I was filled with self-pity). I didn’t want to feel bad (read: convicted) for remaining that way either.
So, the book got shelved. When I finally picked it up about four months later, it still wasn’t because I wanted to; I figured that, like it or not, it was time I do something that was good for me. So, in a very mind-over-matter, gritting-my-teeth sort of way, I began.
But it didn’t take long to realize that One Thousand Gifts is not so much a book about giving thanks as it is about knowing God. Encountering him in our midst. Encountering him, well, as much as possible. Voskamp’s life experience and personal study has led her to believe that thankfulness is the key that opens the doorway into His presence—the only place where we truly experience life-giving, life-sustaining joy. Yes, we are exhorted many times throughout the Bible to bless the Lord with praise, thanksgiving, and gratefulness (Phil. 4:4,6; Col. 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:16-18). But it is so we might know the full and eternal life of God that He desires to share with us (Ps. 16:11, 50:23; Jn. 17:3; Col. 2:6-7, 9-10).
The farmer’s wife and mother of six from Ontario, Canada, found herself wondering what it is we all wonder: How do I live the full life I long for? Where is the full life Christ promised? He did promise it after all (Jn. 10:10). But the busyness and trials of life are distracting at best and suffocating at worst; experience often tells us that fleeting moments of happiness and respite are all we’ve been allotted. So what of the full life? Where does it lie? How do we get there?
The same way Jesus, who is anointed with joy and gladness more than any other, did: by giving thanks (Ps. 45:7; Lk. 10:21).
Voskamp explores and unpacks the meaning of eucharisteo, the Greek root word found in Luke 22:19 when Jesus, mere hours before His gruesome death, gave thanks to the Father, broke bread with his disciples, and instituted the act of communion. At its deepest levels, eucharisteo implies there is a connection between grace, thanksgiving, and joy. Voskamp delicately and artfully shares the personal journey she took that led her to understand: It is our continual and persistent thanksgiving to God for His gracious gifts to us that ultimately leads us to experience deep, abiding, and yes, full joy.
So, what did she do? How did she take the concept of eucharisteo and make it a real and practical part of her daily life? Did she take spiritual retreats to remote places of barren beauty? Did she take a vow of silence until a spirit of thanksgiving was burned upon her heart? Hardly. She’s a mother of six, remember? The demands and hardships of life are as heavy upon her as on anyone. So she did something much, much simpler. (Simpler in theory at least.) She started a list. A list of 1,000 gifts from God. One thousand reasons to say “thank You.”
Realizing that was a lot of gifts to find, she started looking intently. Resolutely. Every day. Every moment. In the process of counting she realized gifts were all around her—God was all around her—in small, great, and very present ways. She merely had to take the time to see. In slowly but surely realizing His presence, she experienced what she longed for: that full and promised joy.
Now some of you might be rolling your eyes. One thousand gifts? All written down? Newfound joy waiting blissfully at the end? Riiight. That sounds a little too neat. A little too easy. A little too much . . . like a Hallmark movie.
As one who started this book with the aforementioned bad attitude, I feel qualified to assure you: This is by no means a fluffy book. Voskamp writes the way the wind blows through the trees: quietly, the soft rustle of words deftly changing from soothing to haunting in a moment. She also does not confuse lightweight, sentimental happiness with tangible, marrow-filled joy. Nor does she gloss over the hard questions or deep pains. She asks, blatantly: Does God give us all things —even the bad things—and say they are good gifts? She answers, definitively: Yes.
“The Eucharist invites us to give thanks for dying. To participate in His death with our own daily dying and give thanks for it” (Voskamp, 37). Deliberate, intentional thanksgiving is an act we must choose—often in the face of death to self, so that we might experience God’s life in us. Such words are not the couplets of coffee-table devotionals. Quite honestly, many chapters left me with more questions than I had at the outset, and at times I found this book more frustrating than hope-giving. Frustrating because it revealed new levels of my own ungratefulness and unbelief in God’s ultimate goodness . . . and yet most decidedly hope-giving because the wisdom—and the fruit—of a grateful heart and thankful lifestyle became abundantly clear.
Does this mean I’ve started my own gratitude list? No. Reading a book, whether it be about giving thanks, knowing God, or both, doesn’t necessarily make attaining either goal any easier. But do I believe that a heart of gratitude for God’s graciousness—even when I don’t understand it—leads to joy? Yes. Do I see how, as Voskamp says, “thanksgiving always precedes the miracle”? Yes. Thanksgiving was there when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. It was there when He Himself was raised from the dead. Thanksgiving always precedes the miracle of restored, full, new life.
While it might be helpful, I don’t need to start a list and number to 1,000.I must simply look for His gifts, give thanks for them, and wait for the miracle: the full life of God filling up mine.
To learn more about Ann Voskamp and One Thousand Gifts, visit her website.
Image copyright Zondervan.
Annie Provencher is a writer living in Virginia.
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