"How do we live fully so we are fully ready to die?"
by Patrick Lafferty
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Whatever your prejudices toward that nebulous category called Christian chick-lit, Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts, will have you from hello. She may contribute to the Christian subsidiary of Hallmark, but this is anything but trite, packaged, campy, platitudinous prose. She speaks transparently of the path from life on the borders of faith into its messy, but glorious center. She asks the questions life foists upon you—questions our faith seeks to answer and whose answers require faith (and grace) to take refuge in.
Early in the book, Voskamp tells the story of being fearfully awakened from a nightmare—cancer, her sleeping imagination hauntingly intoned, had come for her. As mortified by the thought as she was relieved to find it but issuing from her subconscious, the dreadful vision left behind an abiding question all people, if only unconsciously, pose to themselves: “How do we live fully so we are fully ready to die?” The quotidian contours of her life—wife to a farmer, mother and teacher to six children, paragon of domesticity—led her to question anxiously if her station would supply that fullness this world promises but which never takes the time to define.
Must your passport be full of stamps, she wonders? Must your palate reach the rank of connoisseur before you’ve found the full life we all long for, secretly if not openly?
Last week our pastor spoke of the righteousness we’re to hunger and thirst for, in all its legal, moral, and social dimensions. He warned of counterfeit objects of our appetites and of the even greater self-deception that this appetite is cultivated apart from God’s grace in Christ.
What does this hunger and thirst for righteousness look like? How shall we know our appetites are rightly directed? As it relates to the question her nightmare provoked, Voskamp might say the righteous life, the full life, and the joyful life are but synonyms for each other. But she was led to discover that common to them all is how each is dependent on and evidenced by gratitude. Gratitude for the enduring realities that ground us, and the fleeting incursions of laughter and wonder that buoy us—for things seen with our eyes, and things seen only with the heart illumined by the grace of the Lord. Abiding joy—itself a mark of real righteousness and true fullness—depends mightily upon abundant thanks.
Don’t think—just respond: is gratitude more a chore for you than a natural occurrence? What might its absence—or at least its infrequent presence—reveal? What gifts beneath your nose, between your toes, and above your head have your circumstances eclipsed from the eyes of your heart? What cherished memories or anticipated bounties have your present challenges obscured? Voskamp does not mean to tamp down our sorrows, to pretend the havoc life often wreaks is something less than it is. Rather she would simply have us, just as our Lord would have us, widen our gaze to gain eternal perspective, and slow our pace that we might not miss the unexpected graces in our very midst.
Mostly she beckons us to notice the integral relationship between thanksgiving and our salvation. Can we say we’ve accepted His grace if thanksgiving has never risen to the surface from the core of our souls? Does not thanksgiving pervade our Lord’s very soul—even at the precipice of His darkest hour: “on the night when [Jesus] was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it" (1 Corinthians 11:23–24). How can the Lord bring to completion the good work He began in us unless gratitude becomes an increasingly pervasive quality in us? Does not, then, the essentiality of thanksgiving for the fullness of life confirm our need to make the abundance of God’s kindness the center of our attention? “We only enter into the full life if our faith gives thanks,” Voskamp concludes.
How practically might one begin to cultivate the thankfulness that leads to a righteous fullness? Voskamp found help from Erasmus: “A nail is driven out by another nail; a habit is overcome by a habit.” Our habit of ingratitude—perhaps as firmly fixed in us as a nail in wood—can only be dislodged by another habit. For Voskamp that new habit has been to record in short phrases any good thing that comes her way—things like the stillness of the morning, the piquancy of coffee, the short note from a friend that speaks well of God’s love. O, how we fret, and thus forget our reasons to be thankful. O, the possibilities for change in us by taking time to remember His goodness to us.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness until their satisfaction manifests in thanksgiving.
What might begin your list of gifts this morning?