“I look down at the pen, this pen I keep wielding, one writing her way all the way to one thousand. This pen: this is nothing less than the driving of nails. Nails driving out my habits of discontent and driving in my habit of eucharisteo….Because the habit of discontentment can only be driven out by hammering in one iron sharper. The sleek pin of gratitude.” (Voskamp 49)
As I write this, Nancy Casari Dayton’s post “Learning the Discipline of Giving Thanks” has been up for two days. I recently discovered One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp and intended to introduce it to readers of the Writers Circle. Ann Voskamp makes a warm and convincing case of the benefits of watching for God’s handiwork throughout the day and recording these ‘gifts.’ Read Nancy’s post, because she explains eucharisteo—giving thanks. She understands the impact this habit can have on people who discover the dark secret of ingratitude in their souls! Building on her introduction, I will list five things to know about giving thanks.
1. Be specific. As soon as you can, get beyond the big stuff: moonlight, birds, dessert, friends. Watch for the gleam of moonlight on the snow on the porch rail, the flock of goldfinches at the birdfeeder, the sliver of New York cheesecake, the confidences of a struggling friend over a cup of coffee at Starbucks. As we practice the discipline of returning thanks to God, we find our sight improves and we see His handiwork in finer detail. When we find ourselves staring at the really ugly things, we need eyes that have learned to truly see.
2. Keep track through the day. Do not do what I have done! Years ago I set out to thank God for ten things before going to bed. Waiting until bedtime—or worse, the next morning—to squeeze out a list of ten blessings, caused me to feel more resentment than happiness. Not only that, the finer details of the day were lost to me (see #1) and I defaulted to the basics in order to finish quickly. “Healthy kids. Good dog. Sleeping husband. Clean sheets. Soft pillow. Warm quilts… Zzzzzzz.” Now I look for blessings and record them throughout the day; I am training my mind to give thanks in all things.
3. Keep a journal handy. Tape lined paper on the fridge, hang a calendar, or print the free calendar from Ann Voskamp’s website. Personally, I think a pen has something to do with defining our thoughts, but I imagine a smartphone or an iThingy would do just as well. If recording our thoughts takes too many steps we will give up. If it takes less than a minute, more than likely we will continue.
4. Include the family. Post one item every day on a calendar, create an Ebenezer journal (a reference to 1 Samuel 7:12), make a Thanksgiving tree (pin paper leaves written with God-gifts onto bare branch twigs in a vase; Voskamp has a free download). Note: The book is not without controversy. I do not recommend reading it aloud. Digest it yourself and teach the material offered in the book.
5. Do not stop at three! Promise yourself to record a minimum of three expressions of thanks no matter what the drama of the day. You may have bedroom days (see # 2), but to train our hearts to see God’s grace in all things, we need to make this more than a checklist. It takes a while to build a habit, but habits form character. Can you see yourself as the wise old lady or the gray patriarch toward whom young families gravitate because of your habit of joy? A thankful heart is a magnet and a shining testimony of God’s enduring goodness.
One more thing: persevere. Gratitude is more important than we think. This exercise is not a gimmicky fad; saints through the ages have practiced giving thanks. When we give thanks we acknowledge a giver and see ourselves as debtors. Discontent is rebellion against God. I want to drive out my discontent with gratitude. To cultivate a habit of gratitude is to see ourselves in our right place before the majesty of God.
That is a good place to be.
Voskamp, Ann. One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2010.