Tuesday, July 17, 2012
One Thousand Gifts, chapter 3
Her friend suggested this: Could Ann write a list of 1000 things that she loves? 1000 blessings, 1000 gifts. Through the course of the chapter, Ann goes from thinking "Sure, whatever" about the list, to sitting up at night or waking early just to add to it, to thinking it's a juvenile, ridiculous waste of time. But in the end, she sticks with it because it did the trick -- it forced her, regularly and often, to remember to be thankful.
Gratitude was, for some reason, the water that Ann's parched soil needed. She was crying out for it. I smiled as I read how she responded to the simple act of writing down beautiful things. The act felt like "unwrapping love" to her. "Writing the list, it makes me feel ... happy." She adds one more thing to the list, just to feel that happiness again. She's taking another sip, and another sip, and another sip, of the pleasant drink of realizing how much God loves her.
Ann notes how we are driven by our habits. She'd nourished a habit of discontent, a life very empty. She's striving now to nourish a new habit, which will water her life. One habit must be replaced by the other.
And although I don't intend to mention Ann's writing style much, I'll note that her list -- one noun after another, each with its attached adjectives -- is very poetic in its form. Ann is a poet. I think perhaps the "taste" of the list, the sound of the word structure, was appealing to her poetic heart. I imagine her list would read rather like a poem. When she transfers this somewhat choppy style into prose, sometimes it works well, and sometimes it doesn't. That's the challenge of the poet.
Ann enjoys the biblical act of naming things, naming her gifts from God. She feels like Adam, naming animals. We all enjoy naming things. She puts quite a bit of emphasis on making a physical list, on the value of pen and paper. It would not be enough for Ann to make a mental list, or even verbally to tell God each day the named list of gifts. She's a writer; she must write it down. Because naming is a work of God, and a work of Eden, she feels it is holy work, this list of hers. She goes so far as to say this: "If clinging to His goodness is the highest form of prayer, then this seeing His goodness with a pen, with a shutter (of a camera), with a word of thanks, these really are the most sacred acts conceivable." (p. 61)
And it is here, in the last two pages of this chapter, that I must take some exception to Ann's argument. "...the most sacred acts conceivable." Well, perhaps the most conceivable to her. I think other Christians might come up with acts of worship that they would consider more sacred, more holy, than making lists or taking photographs. Her goal, I think, is to make an activity that is accessible to anyone, anywhere. But there are many Christians on the earth without pens, paper, or certainly cameras. Some can't write. Some have no eyes, no hands. Some, frankly, aren't living the life that Ann is living.
In her enthusiasm (which is beautiful to behold) she uses superlatives that are disturbing to me; they are presumptive. "The only real prayers are the ones mouthed with thankful lips." (p. 60) Aside from the fact that I can give hundreds of prayers from Scripture that are deep, wrenching, sincere, and answered, which are not expressions of thanks, I must also say it's the ultimate cheek in her to insist that everyone else's prayers conform to her prescription. Thanksgiving is wonderful! It is commanded and desired by God. It is a beautiful response from His children's hearts. But God's Word never says that without thanks, we cannot please Him. It says that without faith we cannot please Him.
"Prayer, to be prayer, to have any power to change anything, must first speak thanks ...." She uses Philippians 4:6 to support this assertion. It's true that thanksgiving is often tied to the believers' prayers, in Scripture. But not always. It's not so essential to begin with "and thank you, Lord, for ..." that without it, you're not praying at all. Think of Peter, praying to Jesus right in front of him: "Lord! Save me!" That was an immediately effectual prayer. James says that the effectual prayer of a righteous man, accomplishes much. No mention of thanksgiving there. Does that mean the righteous man is an ingrate? No. But James doesn't feel compelled to mention the necessity of gratitude; righteousness is the essential element for effectual prayer in this passage.
James has a lot to say about prayer in this passage. If you're suffering, pray. If you're cheerful, sing. If you're sick, get anointed (!!) Confession, intercession and righteousness are mentioned as important to prayers that get answered. Thanksgiving doesn't happen to be mentioned by the brother of Jesus, not here.
So, do we all pull out our favorite prayer verses and battle it out? Of course not. I take no exception to the value of thanksgiving. I agree with Ann that it's of great importance. I take exception to her assertion that prayer isn't really prayer, without it, that prayer without a word of thanks goes nowhere, and God does not hear. "Prayer without ceasing is only possible in a life of continual thanks." And, "...the only way to be a woman of prayer is to be a woman of thanks."
Notice Ann's use of the word "only." It seems very much like she's saying we must pray as she says, or we're not praying. Thus, a chapter full of joy and new life and happiness becomes rather legalistic, at the end. It was a bit of a sadness to me. I am thrilled that Ann found a solution that worked so well for her, and I know that it has been very helpful to other women. That is great!!! But she need not beat others over the head with it. "Do it my way! If you don't, you're not praying!" I wish I could ignore this tone, helpful as it might be intended, but I can't.
I wonder, are there women out there who read Ann's blog and her book, and happily started on a list, only to find it did not do the magic for them that it did for her? Were they disappointed? Did they feel like failures? Did a list-making not create the grateful heart within? What if there are other equally valid ways to get the same joyful result? I hope these women will not read Ann's words, "The only real prayers ...." and "Prayer, to be prayer ..." and lose heart. I think that would accomplish the opposite of what she hoped.
[Addendum: some prayers to think about:
"God, I thank thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer ...."
"God, be merciful to me, the sinner!"
Jesus's prayer, instructing us how to pray -- no word of thanks, but much request, reverence and confession.
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
"Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" and "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" Stephen says both these prayers as he is gazing at heaven itself.
My only point here is that, although thanksgiving is a wonderful component of prayer, it is not the essential item that Ann makes it out to be, without which a prayer is not really a prayer.]