The Reading Nook: One Thousand Gifts

If you haven’t heard of Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts, you just might have been living under a rock. It spent 50 weeks on the NYT best seller list. It’s made the round of women’s Bible studies and Christian bookstores’ best-seller shelves. Ann’s blog “A Holy Experience” has nearly 74,000 subscribers and almost 7,000 Google fans. You can get the smart phone app, buy a gift book for your friends, and link your blog up to Ann’s. The book and subsequent spin-off products are wildly popular.

I went into the book a bit skeptical, but willing to give it a chance.

I like the way Ann writes. She has a style that is definitely her own, an unusual voice in the cacophony of the Christian “self-help” sphere. Her stories were interesting – some sad, some heartwarming.

But she didn’t convince me.

The premise of the book was a challenge Ann received to write down 1000 things she is grateful for. She shares her experience of learning gratitude through journaling and photographing the things that she appreciates in her life. She is trying to learn what she calls “eucharisteo” – the act of expressing thanks to God – which she considers to be fundamental to the Christian faith. I’m no theologian, so I’m not going to touch the theological debates that are out there surrounding this book. My review is based solely on my reactions to what I read.

There wasn’t a single thing that Ann wrote that I could outright disagreed with. Gratitude is important. Gratitude for every single thing that comes to our lives – whether we want them or not. Gratitude that recognizes that God in his sovereignty gives us that which is good for us.

But she just didn’t convince me.

There are two things that have stuck out as I’ve reflected back on Ann’s book.

The first is a chapter where she waxes eloquent about a soap bubble. The point wasn’t the soap bubble, but I remembered thinking, as I struggled through the chapter, how truly stupid I thought it was that she wanted me to be thankful for a soap bubble. How stupid it was that she was thankful for a soap bubble. I wanted to take her by the shoulders and shake her, saying “My child is dead! What good are soap bubbles?!”

Yes, bubbles can be pretty. Yes, it is nice to have something pretty to look at in the midst of the ordinary. But who cares, in the light of the darkness of sin and the discouragement of every day life? Who cares about soap bubbles when children are starving and men can’t find jobs and women are battered? That soap bubble fixes nothing; it is insignificant. You can call it sin if you want, but I am not, and will not be, grateful for a soap bubble. No matter how pretty it is.

The other thing that stood out to me was her description of being grateful in the midst of the difficult things in life. She talks about an accident her son had with farming equipment: an accident that could have taken his arm or his life, but did not. Around the same time, a neighbor had a son involved in a similar accident; that child died. And Ann wonders “Do they say “Thank God” in the house of the dead boy?”

My answer, Ann, is yes. They do. They say it through gritted teeth. They say it unwillingly. They say it because there is nothing else to say. They say it because they must.

I asked myself if I felt like Ann actually learned gratitude in the midst of the difficult. I’m not convinced she did. When you’re the mother of the dead boy, her son’s broken arm and surgery don’t sound all that difficult.

I found myself resenting Ann. Her simple gratitude seemed so smug. Her ability to find beauty in sunshine on hardwood floors and under full moons seemed so childish. I find myself resenting what, even through the shades of Ann’s struggles, looks like a nice life – things that many of us may never have: the ability to work from home, six beautiful children, a big farmhouse and lots of farmland, a supportive church family, fame, influence in the lives of many. I wonder why she ever had a problem with gratitude at all. If we traded places, could she have written the same book?

I feel guilty writing this review. Its part of the reason I’ve been putting it off. Tens of thousands of people seem to think she’s right on track, that she has everything figured out. They think she’s found the solution to happiness and righteousness. Most of them would point fingers at me, criticizing me for not letting go of my pain and just being grateful. Being in such a minority, I’ve been wondering if I’m wrong. Maybe my heart is hard and bitter, and I sin daily in the act of ingratitude because I don’t notice soap bubbles and sunshine. If this is true, I’ll pray for conviction.

Until I figure out exactly why my heart is so resistant to One Thousand Gifts, I won’t be making my own list. I won’t be downloading the app onto my iPhone, and I won’t be subscribing to her blog. There is a reason her words do not sit well with me but I don’t know what that reason is just yet.

So, should you read it? I cannot give you one single reason to not read this book, other than I didn’t like it. Read it for yourself; perhaps you will be encouraged and inspired by it. I would love it if her book drew you into deeper relationship with Christ. It simply didn’t happen for me.

What are you reading this week?



9 thoughts on “The Reading Nook: One Thousand Gifts

  1. I started the book and couldn’t finish it. Maybe it is just where I am. Friends had been raving about it and I even told my mom. I was excited for it to get here in the mail. It was too depressing hearing all the stories. People say the end gets better but I just couldn’t get through it. My mom did the same thing. i do love her blog. There are days that I am very encouraged. Maybe its not my thing or maybe it isn’t my season to read the book. I am not making the list either but that doesn’t make me any less grateful for what I have. xx

    • Katie, I am so grateful for your thoughts! Its nice to not feel alone in how I felt about the book.

      And I love what you said “I’m not making the list either, but that doesn’t make me any less grateful for what I have.” I will give that a loud amen!

      Bless you, lady!

  2. I also started the book several months ago and didn’t finish it. I agree we have much to be grateful for and that God is good and faithful. But we are in a war, I believe, and there is much grief and loss and things that should not have happend…it sounds trite, but we *do* live in a fallen world and people are sinners. Some of us are redeemed sinners, but sometimes that makes betrayal and hurt harder to stomach. I think what made me uneasy was the feeling that the author was just a little too comfy. I want to be aware of the things that are not as they should be, because I truly want to long for heaven and Jesus’s reign and the thought that everything will be different someday. I never want to forget that there is illness that will not be cured, and mommies who never got to know their babies, and crimes that should never had been committed and children who should never have starved. Perhaps if I were a more spiritual person, I would be more holy while being content…but I need a certain amount of unease in my life to make me hungry for God. Yes, I’m grateful for the small and large blessings and I love a good meal or a laugh with friends or a beautiful sunset, too…but there is more and I want those things to whet my appetite, not satisfy it.

    • Oh, Paula, you’re so right! We need difficult things in our lives to keep us tuned into God – to keep us desiring Christ and his righteousness, instead of desiring the creature comforts of the world. How much more crisis, trouble and hardship keeps me turning to the Father; how much less when I am comfortable and physically fulfilled.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts – it is so good to hear that I wasn’t alone in my discomfort!

  3. A dear friend of mine (whom you might have met last summer and who got married yesterday) just gave this book to me so I’ll be reading it sometime fairly soon. Thanks for your honesty. Now that I’ve heard opposing opinions, reading it myself will be more thought provoking.

  4. I think the reason her book has been so popular is that it appeals to people who really want to find beauty in everyday things, and gives them instructions to do so in a nice, step-by-step application (this is what I’ve gathered anyway – I didn’t make it through the entire book). It seems like it’s just a quick fix for ennui, which seems to be so prevalent in our society today. I think we all desire for something – anything – to make our days special and by finding beauty in a soap bubble, well, maybe we can have that feeling on a permanent basis. This actually sounds kind of exhausting to me.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong in finding beauty in a soap bubble, but it sounds like she suggests that maybe finding the beauty in the soap bubble negates the heartache of the tragedies in our lives…as if seeing that beauty will erase the sadness or we’ll be so overwhelmed by the beauty that the sadness will only be a sort of shadow of itself in the background. Like I said, I never made it through the book but from what I remember of it, it seemed like that’s where she was headed. If that is what she meant, I heartily disagree.

    To go along with what Paula said, I read another book (I believe it was John Eldredge, but I can’t remember now) that said those brief glimpses of true beauty….a good meal with friends or an amazing sunset (he didn’t mention soap bubbles) were also reminders that this world is not our home. That our ache for those times to last is a sign that we weren’t supposed to be here surrounded by the ugliness that currently makes up our home. So there is discontent even in beauty….maybe even in soap bubbles.

    I’ve babbled. I mainly wanted to say that I didn’t care for it either. 🙂

    • You’re probably quite right, and I agree substantially with the idea of John Eldredge’s – beauty does create in us a longing for Paradise, for which we were created.

      I’m sure that Ann’s theory, in general, is that if we can practice gratitude in the little things, we can be grateful in the big things. I fundamentally have no disagreement with that theory, or with the practice of gratitude. I think there is a link between gratitude and joy, but I think, as you’ve said, its just taken a little far in this book.

  5. Pingback: Illuminate Week 3: Perspective | Echoing Footsteps

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