Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Why Gratitude Is Not Enough

Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts threatens to turn thanksgiving into the key to our salvation.

"I spend most of my time on domestic chores and child care, and I’m inclined to see those tasks in a sacramental light, looking for moments to reflect on with gratitude. Also, I cherish the seemingly small. My son’s dimples, my tomato plants grown from seed, and wild animals and flowers call me to spontaneous thanks and praise of my Creator. Thanking God is both biblical and psychologically beneficial, a correct creaturely response to his goodness. So for all these reasons, I was intrigued by Ann Voskamp’s new book, One Thousand Gifts, and its growing popularity. It’s subtitle — "A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are" — and Voskamp’s challenge to list 1,000 things to be grateful for seemed to me to hold promise.

The book, following the popularity of Voskamp’s blog, loosely chronicles Voskamp’s journey from doubting God’s goodness to a deep commitment to practicing gratitude. Early in childhood, Voskamp’s family lived through something unspeakably tragic: the accidental death of her 4-year-old sister. This cast a long shadow of fear over Voskamp’s life, bringing up the age-old problem of pain and the questions that plague the very depressed: Why delight in anything or anyone at all if nothing lasts? When a friend jokingly challenged Voskamp to list 1,000 things for which she was grateful, Voskamp took up the challenge, and began seeing gratitude’s importance confirmed everywhere she looked.

Voskamp’s holy grail is eucharisteo: joyful thanksgiving, gratitude. And why not? Who can forget Corrie and Betsie ten Boom thanking God for their fleas even before they knew that the tiny tormentors would keep guards out of their barracks so they could hold a prayer meeting? It’s a beautiful example of gratitude under the harshest conditions. But one major weakness of One Thousand Gifts is that it threatens to flatten all of Scripture to fit Voskamp’s eucharisteo vision: “A Greek word that might make meaning of everything,” a concept that’s “necessary to live the whole, well, fullest life.” The fall of Adam and Eve, for Voskamp, is called “non-eucharisteo” — ingratitude, and salvation is “intimately related to eucharisteo.” “Do I really want to be saved?” she writes.

I get nervous when any concept — even a biblical one — is offered as the key that opens all locks. Scripture is far too deep and broad to be placed under a single heading. There’s the risk of stretching all passages on the rack of our concept until they confess what we want them to say. I get it that gratitude has been transformative for Voskamp, who once struggled mightily with anxiety, pessimism, and agoraphobia. But in this book she preaches eucharisteo in a way that seems to make the concept a new law, a practice necessary to live a truly Christian life...." To read more, click here.

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