There can be no questioning Ann Vokamp’s talents as a writer. Her ability to paint pictures with words in her latest book, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are is admirable. But unfortunately her theology isn’t on par with her writing, and the book overall leaves you wanting. In a nutshell, the central point of One Thousand Gifts is simple: “Eucharisteo – thanksgiving – always precedes the miracle.” And after retelling the tragedy of her family’s life, and confronting the age old question “Where is God in the midst of suffering and evil?” through her own personal tragedies, Ann quickly arrives at the conclusion that Eucharisteo, thankfulness is the answer to everything: “gratitude is what births trust…the true belief.”
As nice as Ann’s catch phrases may sound, they don’t mirror the Gospel, and her central point is quickly lost as it fails to align with the heart of Scripture. Scripture informs us that salvation comes through faith and that through grace. Faith doesn’t find us by choosing gratitude, as Ann asserts in the book, any more than we can will ourselves to do good works and earn God’s favor.
Logically, Eucharisteo (thankfulness) cannot precede God’s grace. Gratitude punctuates his grace. Gratitude is our spiritual response to God’s unfathomable mercies and thankfulness always requires an object to be thankful over. As far as Christianity goes: God gives, we rejoice. We don’t rejoice, and then demand that God is beholden to us to give. In fact, the greatest miracle of all, to see Jesus as the supreme and ultimate treasure of life, is a gift that Scripture tells us finds his people when they were ” dead in their trespasses and sins” and “while they were yet sinners.” God gives us the greatest of all possible graces in a state of ungratefulness – even as he blesses his enemies with the same common graces, that Ann lauds throughout the book, while mired in lives that are wholly ungrateful. Ann overlooks these key Scriptures when she repeatedly confuses her gratitude for what gratitude actually is. It’s our response to him, not something we conjure up.
As the book evolves, so does Ann’s definition of euchariesto, and soon the word gets stretched beyond recognition. The word at times becomes a placeholder for all heavenly things…grace, faith, love, mercy, and eventually you begin to wonder why Ann is waging so hard to replace so many simple biblical concepts – almost as if she’s trying to brand a new movement or fad.
From Ann’s introduction to “the eucharisteo life,” she soon explains how she came to embrace it through making a list of 1,000 things for which she is grateful . But what’s interesting about the list is what’s missing. Ann has all sorts of pleasant things in her list: “leafy life scent of the florist shop,” “moonlight on pillows,” “new toothbrushes,” “kisses in the dark” and “wind flying cold wild in hair.” Yet in One Thousand Gifts there’s little mention of specific things she’s grateful to Jesus for. This was probably most surprising aspect of the book, a once struggling Christian immersed in the hardships of life, extolling how she had found true salvation in a grateful life, that doesn’t seem to include the things about Jesus that she’s truly thankful for. Creation, family, friends – these are all things that rests on Christ’s gifts, but they aren’t things that directly rest him. Though God’s earthly mercies are certainly things to be thankful for, they aren’t the end of the road. These are things that urge us on into the deeper eternal realities they point to in Christ. As Christians, eternal things are things where all our hopes must lie, and while these are things Ann will flirt with in the book, she never seems able plunge into them. She never seems able to get beyond the earthly.
Ann’s philosophical journey through the book also seems to slip in and out of her ability to remain in a grateful state-of-mind rather than relying on the Spirit of God within to carry her when she lacks the strength to do so. Gratitude in the Christian’s life rises and falls daily. But Ann puts both the existence and health of faith squarely on the back of one’s gratefulness. So what happens when the soul is dry? Is there no faith? Was there no faith? Ann really doesn’t address these hardships much since her epiphanies, as if spiritual hardship is a thing she’s mostly long left behind.
One Thousand Gifts isn’t irredeemable. Ann’s exhortations to live a grateful life, her willingness to honestly confront death and the problems it presents to the self-absorbed Christianity of this age, an appreciation for God see through the wisdom of his creation and to remind us that gratitude is an essential component of saving faith are notable things. I appreciated her reminders that point us to those Scriptures that urge us to be content and rejoice in all things, to number our days and to take joy in God. But these are things the reader must sift out on their own, and Ann’s overemphasis of gratitude often eclipses the central pleas of the New Testament writers to embrace Jesus by a simple, unwavering faith regardless of how we feel.