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'One Thousand Gifts,' Reconsidered


Aug 26 2011
A second take on Ann Voskamp's bestseller about gratitude.

Like every other woman in Western Christendom it seems, I've been reading Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts. This month our family moved from San Francisco to Austin, Texas. The book group for the church I visited last week? Reading it in October. The women's group of the church I looked up on the Internet? Reading it in September. And why? With its lyrical—some might say grammatically adventurous—prose ("I am all eye, seeing through life as glass to God"), the book is nothing like the prose we're used to from our Zondervan-pressed inspirationals.

Though everyone may be talking about it, not everyone is convinced that the book belongs alongside C. S. Lewis and Oswald Chambers in the devotional canon. Two weeks ago, regular Her.meneutics writer Rachel Marie Stone critiqued the book, believing Voskamp's emphasis on Eucharisteo (joyful gratitude) is overreaching as "the key that opens all locks" in the Christian's spiritual life. Stone expressed concern that gratitude was being upheld as an additional requirement for salvation to be effective.

Stone also noted that Voskamp's "wrestling to be grateful for everything" is not necessarily biblical, citing a scene from the book in which one of Voskamp's sons throws a piece of toast in his brother's face. In that moment of anger and frustration, time seems to pause and Voskamp grasps for thanksgiving, a "Zen-like acceptance" that seems Stone says runs counter to biblical examples. Stone cited the Book of Job and Jesus' prayer from the cross as proof that thanksgiving is not a proper response to all of life's circumstances.

The comments in response to Stone's post were passionate. Whatever the concerns many of us may have (I for one could have done without the bit about making love to God in Paris—what would John Calvin say?), women are connecting to this book. It's worth asking why the book has captivated enough women to keep it on The New York Times bestseller list for months?

When my 3-year-old was born, I had romantic notions of the hours I would spend breastfeeding him: hours to finally be the woman of intercessory prayer I'd always wanted to be, hours for motherhood to wise me up, make me deep and transformed. Instead, my nipples hurt. I worried about homemade baby food versus the jarred stuff and whether I was enforcing enough tummy time. I smiled at him and he stared at me. After months of this, I realized I'd been failing the "motherhood is making me a wise woman of God" plan.

Then he was crawling, walking, running, shouting "no!" And I lost all sense of quiet in my life. I'd try to wake up early for prayer, and he would wake up early as well. I'd plan on transformative contemplation during naptime, but my sleep-deprived body would nod off along with him. I realized I needed to relearn prayer.

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'One Thousand Gifts,' Reconsidered