I am in the midst of reading Ann Voskamp’s book “One Thousand Gifts.” Part poetry, part psalm, part memoir, part study of classic Christian literature, this book is fast becoming one of my all-time favorites. I have always known God desires grateful hearts, but I never connected thankfulness with Jesus’ gift of abundant life (John 10:10), which Ann calls ‘living fully.’
Starting in chapter 1, Ann relates to readers her own closed-ness to grace after experiencing a number of losses, paramount being the death of her younger sister. After perhaps years of denial, she begins to touch the tender spots within, realizing how deeply she has doubted God’s goodness and distrusted His loving intentions. Over the course of the book she then describes life as the losses – frozen yet intact within her soul – slowly thaw, demanding her attention.
Sensing the bitterness (fruit of thanklessness) that has defined her for far too long, she peels back her shattered emotions to the bruised core beneath, and asks in a prayer-like whisper, did this really come from the hands of God?
No, God, we won’t take what You give. No, God, Your plans are a gutted, bleeding mess
and I didn’t sign up for this and You really thought I’d go for this? No, God, this
is ugly and this is a mess and can’t You get anything right and just haul all this pain
out of here and I’ll take it from here, thanks. And God? Thanks for nothing.
—Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, page 14
It has been said that life is like a tapestry. God sees the right side, the beautiful picture He is creating, from His heavenly perspective, while all we see from our earthly dwelling is the underside with its tangled, untidy, unlovely knots and stray threads. Locked as we are in this temporal existence, it’s easy to forget there is a stunning masterpiece in the works.
So, I balk at Bible verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:18 in which Paul challenges his readers to “give thanks in everything, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.” Like Ann, I don’t want to choose that road. I want to rewrite Scripture, or deconstruct it. Say, the Bible doesn’t tell us to give thanks FOR everything, only IN everything. But is there really a difference? How is it possible to thank God in the midst of losing one’s home (for instance), or one’s sister or child, without acknowledging that God ordained or allowed the loss of the house, or sister or child?
I am like Corrie ten Boom, who balked at giving thanks to God from inside the walls of one of Hitler’s concentration camps. As she said to her sister Betsy, “I can’t give thanks for these lice that make our skin crawl, that make our already miserable existence even more unbearable” (paraphrased from “The Hiding Place”). Only to find out later that the lice were the reason the guards left them and the other prisoners alone in their barracks…alone and free to study God’s word and pray and worship in that dreadful place. Their own private sanctuary.
As I read “One Thousand Gifts,” I find myself, with Ann, moving from No, God….to knowing God. To a place of acceptance and gratitude for all He allows into my life. The first step in this process is naming the pain—identifying, honestly, the source of our affliction. If we don’t do this, we will never experience the healing we so desire. Healing that will allow us to look past the untidy underside of the tapestry into the loving eyes of Christ Himself.