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.
I read about monastic practices, taped prayers all over my home. I told myself to pray during snack time and lunchtime and every moment of pause in my day as a SAHM. Some days it worked. Some days I felt the failure I'd been bearing for the entirety of my son's life.
Fast-forward: Mom to two, longing for the quiet days of my first son's babyhood, longing for the right catalyst to launch me into the kind of praying life, the constant response to Christ, the renewed sense of the Spirit in my day, that I know would make me more kind to my children, less anxious, more wholehearted in my view of the world and joyful toward the monotony of the work of the home.
I read Voskamp's book and began listing 1,000 things for which I am grateful. And I learned why this book , despite its improper grammar, is so popular: Mothers love this book because we have forgotten how to connect with God. We've lost our sense of wonder at the world. Many of us are so consumed with the details and demands of motherhood that the line linking us to God has gotten tangled and dusty. In One Thousand Gifts, we find a wise mother telling us how she discovered God in the midst of this life with children. It isn't by recommending another Bible study. (We've tried it.) It isn't by guilting us into more time in prayer. (We feel guilty enough.) It's as simple as listing the beautiful things God is giving us, right now in this moment.
One Thousand Gifts is changing my life, not because gratitude is the key to salvation, but because gratefulness brings me into God's presence every time. Gratefulness is simple, yet it is shaping me into a woman who prays while doing the dishes, folding the laundry, and singing in the car with my kid. Without God's healing presence, I am like Voskamp was: anxious, quick to despair, continually asking questions about why God allows what God allows. When I escape my glaring natural (and broken) tendencies and thank my Lord for what is truly a gift in my everyday life, the poopy underwear is not a deal breaker for my mood, the baby's cries are not worth my raised blood pressure and raised voice at my preschooler. When I'm grateful, the world is not only beautiful, God is good and worthy of adoration too.
As Voskamp says, "Eucharisteo precedes the miracle." We enter into "his gates with thanksgiving," not with plans, not with goals, or books, or commitments.
Thanksgiving is simple. And that's the beauty of this book. Sometimes we all need to remember that God is here right now, in the midst of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And that's a sandwich I'm suddenly grateful for. Who knew?
Micha Boyett blogs at MamaMonk.com, and just moved from San Francisco to Austin with her husband and two boys. This is her first Her.meneutics post.