There were many things to like about Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. I enjoyed Voskamp’s writing style (at least for the first few chapters). I related to her early loss, as I too lost a sibling when I was just four. I was challenged to be more thankful amidst the never-done laundry and perpetually-crumb-covered floors. I have started a list of 1,000 gifts, and am even trying to imitate her style in doing so (#1 on my list: toddler toes, fresh clean from the bath). I am better for having read this book.
In other reviews I’ve read, Voskamp is challenged for specific comments she made; she’s been called a mystic, romantic, and panentheist (different from pantheism – who knew?) among other things. My guess is that Voskamp is a well-meaning Christian woman who just has a somewhat eclectic theology (she quotes Henri Nouwen and Annie Dillard alongside Jonathans Edwards and Piper).
My issue with her book is much broader: I think her main message could be destructive if taken at face value.
The message of One Thousand Gifts starts out simply: Be more grateful; seek God’s gifts in the ordinary. However, the message has some shifty moments: Seek God in every physical experience/thing; relish the present to find true joy. This is not necessarily a bad suggestion as one tool among many for encouraging gratitude, but Voskamp presents “eucharisteo” as she calls it as being the key to Christian living, the key to contentment. Such intense focus on experiencing each moment with all senses can lead to hedonism, worship of the temporal instead of the eternal Christ. Also, sometimes she makes comments about God being in the moon, or in a vase – I think she means that she sees the goodness of God or that she sees these as gifts of God, but taken at face value, this sounds dangerously like the mysticism and/or panentheism that others have suggested.
While those of us struggling with anxiety would do well to focus on the gifts of the present at times, the majority of Christian life should be focused on things that are unseen:“Jesus… who for the joy set before him endured the cross” – this is the secret to joy: looking at what is set before us in Christ. The joy of future riches, the joy of a glorious inheritance, the joy of eternity to bask in the light of the Lamb. We find joy in the present because of the unseen future.
Jesus did not endure the cross by focusing on the earthly gifts of the present.
Scripture is used throughout the book, but sometimes the lack of context could create confusion for the reader that has not previously studied the passages. For example, Voskamp insists that the Eucharist is the embodiment of her “be present” message. While thankfulness is a huge aspect of communion, it is thankfulness primarily for a past event in history and how that specific, historical event is beautifully affecting our present and future. Also, Voskamp insists that Paul’s secret to contentment is thankfulness, and I agree that being thankful for the present is certainly part of “being content in all circumstances.” But I fear that Voskamp’s version would have Paul contentedly praising God for the interesting cracks in his prison wall as opposed to thanking God for his glorious gifts in Christ Jesus and bringing that future joy to bear on the present. Not that thanking God for the cracks is wrong, and not that Voskamp doesn’t thank God for Christ (I’m certain that she does). But when the emphasis is on the cracks and not Christ, this can hardly be considered the key to Christian living.
Consider this: Voskamp’s philosophy of “eucharisteo” could be transported to any other religion or absence of religion. A Hindu or atheist could use Voskamp’s idea of focusing on the present to enhance her life. This is not disturbing in and of itself; many aspects of God’s Word could be applied with great benefit to non-believers. However, when Voskamp promotes “eucharisteo” as THE key to Christian living, it becomes problematic when Christ can so easily be removed from the equation.
One Thousand Gifts encourages us toward thankfulness, something I could use a great deal more of in my life. Being grateful is good, but should always lead us to the Giver, not just to celebration of the gifts. I am certain that Ann Voskamp believes that too, but at some points in her book this truth is obscured by a hyper-focus on the temporal. So I would recommend reading the book (with a heaping spoonful of sound theology), using it as an excellent tool to promote gratitude. Just don’t get stuck focusing only on the present. As Paul explained, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”