Oh the irony: we give thanks and bask in the contented glow of food and family, only to wake up and launch into Black-Friday–the starting gun for fulfilling long Christmas lists on short budgets. ‘Tis the season of discontent.
Family gatherings may mean hours of navigating broken relationships and difficult people. Or the aching absence of those we love. Holiday festivities constantly invite us to measure our looks, dress, domiciles and social skills against others far more gifted or well-endowed.
It’s the perfect time to read or refresh our reading of Ann Voskamp’s book, 1000 Gifts. I read her book seven years ago and it changed me. Ann describes herself as a “woman who speaks one language, the language of the fall—discontentment and self-condemnation, the critical eye and the never satisfied.”
But she took a dare to list 1000 gifts in her everyday experience. In the midst of piles of dirty laundry, piles of dirty dishes, squabbles among six children and her husband’s concern over the viability of their farm in the great recession, Ann began to train her eyes to see God’s gifts and record them on her blog.
This Thanksgiving I give thanks for Ann’s book, and in the Christmas season ahead I’m refocusing on three deep insights that have radically altered my life and will prepare our hearts for a Christmas of contentment and joy.
First, there is a connection between searching out and listing God’s gifts and his Spirit opening the eyes of our hearts to see their true value.
Try as we might to see the spiritual reality of what is really important, it is a work of God’s spirit. Paul prays for the Ephesians (1:18) that God would “open the eyes of their hearts.” Sometimes God gives us the grace to see the treasures of his kingdom fully and sometimes he withholds until the right moment.
An unmistakable link unfolds in Ann’s life. As she intentionally seeks and lists God’s good gifts, the Holy Spirit’s gives her another gift–the gift of seeing the true worth and spiritual beauty of those gifts.
As Ann records the richness and abundance of her often overlooked gifts, her focus changes from what she does not have to what she does have. Gratitude enables a way of seeing that leads to a deeply authentic contentment which leads to more gratitude. We catch a glimpse of it in this terrific video by Forest Hill Church in Charlotte, NC (I immediately watched it three times! and carry it in my heart):
Secondly, our gratitude leads to a deepening trust in God.
The longer Ann’s list becomes and the more she expresses thanks, the more she sees, experiences and feels the goodness of God’s heart. She becomes overwhelmed with God’s grace and lavish generosity in her life. She counts the ways in which he deeply loves her and is for her, more than she ever realized.
There is, she notes, a direct correlation between gratitude and trust simply because, when you have eyes to see all God’s gifts in your life, you begin to value the giver more and more. Like a bride drawn to her groom’s lavish and sacrificial gifts given to woo her. When you begin to richly experience God’s goodness in that way, you naturally begin to trust his heart far more. Even when the giving of thanks–for a child’s maimed hand, a Mother’s betrayal by her spouse–is hard, hard, hard.
Thirdly, as I journeyed with Ann through those hard places and watched her choose to say words of thanks instead of words of anger or despair, I was inspired to do the same.
We all find ourselves in hard places. Someone lets us down. We want to write “the book” on how unfair it is. How damaging to our relationship. How all these negative consequences will ripple out to diminish and destroy.
Instead we make our mouths say “thank you for”…and force our minds to fill in the blank. We do it again. And again. And, as Ann bears witness, it is the closest thing to magic we may ever experience.
Our anger softens, the eyes of our hearts are opened to God at work. God drawing near. Love returns. This too shall pass. All is well. We are learning. We’ve not arrived. But we find that wellspring of contentment in searching out the gifts of our Father and seeking, really seeking his face…
This holiday, when you find yourself slipping into “discontent, the critical eye and never enough,” put down your shopping list and add to your gratitude list. Don’t have one? Buy yourself the gift of a journal and start writing them down. “Shoes!” “A car!” And most of all, the beautiful gift of his Son. Have yourself a contented, Merry Christmas!
Do you list the gifts he has given you? How does it impact you? What good gifts has he given you? Please respond in the comment section below…