My first experience with the poetic prose of the “on earth as it is in heaven” expressive Ann Voskamp was a blog post shared with me by my wife. The piano music on her blog by itself calms the savage beast of your day. And then the rich writing of this grace-grateful, hurt-being-healed mother of six enriches even the poorest of souls. And the message is a simple one.
For when we do, sightings of grace become more frequently obvious. And the recognition of the presence of His grace sprouts into joy both experienced and given.
On Easter Sunday, recently, I read six pages from Ann’s book as a closing illustration to why resurrection even matters in the midst of our often very difficult daily lives. It is likely very obvious that gratitude for the resurrection is a must in the life of a follower of the Risen One. But maybe it is less obvious that gratitude for His resurrection and His grace and His love and His nearness may be necessary for me to live the life the Risen One intended for me to live. Not one of self-absorbed, intellectually-developed, consumer religion. No. Instead, maybe His intention was a full life. He seemed to say so (John 10:10).
“How do I give up resentment for gratitude? Gnawing anger for spilling joy? Self-focus for God-communion?
To fully live–to live full of grace and joy and all that is beauty eternal. It is possible, wildly. I now see and testify. So this story – my story. A dare to an emptier, fuller life.”
-Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts
And Jesus seemed to teach over and over that an “emptier, fuller life” is full for that very reason. Because we daily empty ourselves for the sake of the God whom we love and the neighbor whose interests are more important than our own.
Gratitude and beyond-me living go hand in hand. To live sent would be to live like the Sent One (John 20:21). This is especially important when it comes to a God who Himself, out of an overflowing heart of love, gratefully and joyfully took up a cross declaring us a people worth dying for. And a people whose hearts most reconnect with Him when we live grateful for such a demonstration of His overflowing heart of love.
Ann’s book may not be liked by the person whose religious perspective is one of gratefulness for how me, myself, and I improved myself to be a “good” person who now lives fully FOR God. It may be a book that would offer further benefit and rebuke, but maybe not well-liked. However, Ann’s book is more the story of a person who admitted a poverty of soul and discovered a wealth beyond measure that is given graciously and generously and abundantly when a “not-so-good” person now lives fully WITH God.
Your choice. Live FOR God? Live WITH God? The intention seems to have been the latter. With God with gratefulness for the God who is with us (Emmanuel).
But enough of my verbosity. You probably came here to this post to read Ann’s words. So here you go. A very heart-felt interview with one of my new favorite authors, Ann Voskamp. I am so grateful she agreed. Thank you, Ann.
ME: So someone asks me, “What would Ann really pray and hope that I would learn from and live out as a result of reading this book?” What would you want me to tell them?
ANN: That our understanding of God’s sovereignty, of His character, His love, His grace, His wisdom, His righteousness, all orbit around our gratefulness. Simply: Gratitude is at the center of a life of faith. It sounds to simple to be true, but isn’t that the sign of all deep truth: so simple we’re tempted to dismiss it, and so hard, it is exactly what God uses to change our hard lives. It’s Christ Himself instituted the act of thanksgiving as central to what it means to be a Christ-follower — to take and give thanks, and to do so in remembrance of Him. That in the very act of re-membering to give thanks for all He has done, we are literally re-membered — put back together again, us in a fallen world restoring our communion with Him. Gratitude truly is the gravity of the Christ-centered life — it keeps us walking in Him.
ME: You speak of a very tragic situation in the book that in some ways acted as an obstacle to joy and a thief of gratefulness. I lost my mom in 2009 to a tragic accident very much like the one you describe. Many people we connect with can speak of similar difficulties, as I am sure you have found. What’s that first step that you would encourage people to take toward gratefulness, even in the midst of or following such an event that disturbs our outlook and beliefs?
ANN: Ah, the ache of this wounded world, yes? Like the Israelites, God sometimes feeds us manna, that which literally makes no sense to us, the “what is it ?” food, and He asks us to eat the mystery of circumstances we don’t understand. I am sorry for your scars — us all walking with our scars. And God, the pierced Physician showing us His own, healing us with His stripes. How to find gratefulness when we weep? Does it comfort at all to know that in the midst of our pain, God is keeping a list, a list of that turns us and the cosmos inside out and changes everything, changes me and my perspective and the way I brain-film my life:
“You have recorded my troubles. You have kept a list of my tears. Aren’t they in your records?” ~Ps. 56:8
Does it comfort that God does not slumber for He cannot cease to bear testimony to our hurt? God keeps a list. It’s the wildest Love that drives the Father to record His child’s every lament. We never ache without God attending, and He can’t stand to see a tear fall to the floor. God cups our grief and ”puts our tears in His bottle” (Ps. 56:8).
If God makes a list of our laments, might we make a list of God’s love? Even just one thing, today. Just one. If God has a list of our pain, might we may have a list of our praise? Just look for one grace today in the midst. If God writes a list of our tears, might we write a list of our thanks? Just one. And know that even though we cry, He’s faithfully making His list too, catching everyone of our tears.
It’s Love that makes God a list keeper of our brokenness, and it’s love that may make us a list keeper of our blessings, and in this we might meet together in communion.
ME: For those parents out there, can you share a few of the ways that you and “the Farmer” cultivate for gratefulness into one another and into your kids?
ANN: Oh, our default is not doxology, us fallen folks, and we’re down in the trenches, daily purposing to give Him thanks, to intentionally make gratitude our habit. We often sing, Count Your Blessings around the dinner table and after the refrain, we each recall that which to give God thanks for from our day. We have several family rhythms that help us to live out thanks to God:
- keeping a sticky pad in the caddy at the table and jot down a few blessings before noon meal, passing the sticky pad around, sticking the notes up on our chalkboard
- a family gratitude journal out also on a table and scratch out our blessings throughout the day.
- little 7 Gifts: Good and Perfect booklets tucked in our pockets, for jotting down our graces throughout the day, 7 blessings for 7 days of the week
- a free printable monthly gratitude calendar for the fridge, for the Peace Retreat
- ultimately, we have to preach it — to who needs to hear it most: ourselves. I often have to audibly give God thanks throughout the day as a means of stress intervention, as a means of vocally fixing the eyes of the heart on Christ. This too is a way of cultivating a family culture of gratitude.
ME: You suggest that gratefulness is an essential evidence of our salvation. I happen to agree. Why do you think “the church” has not emphasized that more, and what are some of the obstacles, in your opinion, as to why church leaders may not have emphasized it more?
ANN: Keen insights. Yes, I understand Scripture to submit that thanksgiving is evidence of our salvation, as evidenced by the story of the one leper who returns to thanks Jesus and the Saviour says to Him: ‘Having risen, be going on, thy faith has saved thee.’” Saved thee? Digging deeper, we read that it’s sozo in the Greek — and its literal meaning is “to save.” Sozo means salvation. And when did the leper receive sozo—the saving to the full, whole life? When he returned and gave thanks. Our very saving is associated with our gratitude. Which follows: if our fall in the garden was ingratitude, then salvation must be intimately related to giving of thanks. Jesus counts thanksgiving as integral in a faith that saves. We only enter into the full, whole life if our faith gives thanks.
Because how else do we accept His free gift of salvation if not with thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives. Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our Yes! to His grace.
Why hasn’t “the church” emphasized this? Has it not been emphasized because we’re concerned that it’s too hard to ask hurting people to give thanks? And yet — even in this there is healing, saving from our brokenness, wholeness — sozo. Has it not been emphasized because we haven’t really comes to terms with the character of God, His sovereignty, His grace and where pain figures into this world? Honestly, I humbly offer that I’m not exactly sure why, but I fervently pray that together, we can begin a movement of radical gratitude to God? Where else will we find deep healing, the full, whole life, sozo, if not in giving thanks to Him?
ME: When do you pause for time alone with the Father, and when do you find the time to write? Six kids. A farm. A house to keep up. A church family that you walk with. How would you encourage other parents to be able to prioritize to hold sabbath sacred?
ANN: Time alone with God: Late and early, the fringe hours, the margin on the edges of day — but too discovering this: When memorizing Scripture, turning His Words about us during the day, all time becomes time with Him. Writing: Our six kids wake also in the dark, and head out to the barn and chores for the first two-three hours of everyday — this too gives me time to write, which for me, in the writing of words, I meet the Spirit of God. Keeping Sabbath Sacred: It is an honoring of God first in all things, and how we spend the first day of the week, is the framing of how we spend our lives.
ME: You and your family READ A LOT!!! Can you share with folks why this has become so important to you guys, and why it should be important to us?
ANN: Ah, God makes us all differently and for the Farmer, reading Scripture is paramount, but otherwise he works quietly with his hands. For me, reading is a way to learn and be mentored by wise Christ-followers whom I will never have the privilege of meeting, a way of our children being taught by deeply thoughtful minds. And importantly, if we are a literature-based family, our thinking and minds are more likely to be shaped by words, and less by visual stimulation, and this is a very different way of thinking — an old, deep, historical way of thinking.
ME: What’s next for you as an author?
ANN: Ah, yes. I confess: I don’t think of myself as an author. But simply as a a grateful child of God, adopted only by His Cross-grace, simply this: To stay on my knees. John 3:27 has long been a life verse: “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.” Any more words, will only be solely a gift from Him. I can only faithfully wait.
ME: We have been given all these gifts. What are some suggestions that you might give to people to encourage them to be generous daily with all they’ve been given, giving our lives away as followers of Jesus into the lives of others and cultivating for gratefulness in them?
ANN: This! Isn’t this the wonder of counting gifts? That we are overwhelmed with gratitude, that we realize that it’s all a gift and a gift always remains a gifts, is always meant to be given. If there was a movement of radical gratitude, how might we be moved to give to the least of these? A way of giving to Jesus Himself. The greatest blessing is to become the blessing for others, to be bread for a starving world.
My first suggestion is to make time reflecting on the everyday grace of God in your life a daily priority. If we don’t make focusing on His personal grace to us a priority, filling on His love for us, how can we give grace to the persons around us — what do we have to pour out? When we know how abundantly we’ve received grace, only then will we abundantly reach out in.
And then, second suggestion: expose your life to real need. Visit a developing a country. Take a short term mission trip. Write an inmate, send a letter to a sponsored child, serve in the inner city, at a food bank, with a crisis pregnancy center. Make time for shut-ins, the elderly, the sick, the single-parents, the new believers. As a family, for each person in the family: Just find one way you can make your awareness of your gift-graced life intersect with a real place of need — and Christ in us will do the rest.
Thanks again to Ann Voskamp for taking of her time to answer these questions. And thank you, Ann, for sharing your story of transformation from resentment to gratitude with all of the rest of us hoping to live “an emptier, fuller life.”