By Julia Amting
Guys, my life is so good.
I have beautiful friendships. I get to go on trips and retreats and vacations. I get opportunities to learn and to grow in healthy environments. I go to dances and have plenty of people in my life who love me unconditionally. I have Jesus in my life and I know that I am loved. Looking through pictures of all the great things I have done and all the great people in my life only in the last year show me how many awesome opportunities I get to have.
Yes, good. very very very good. But of course a far cry from perfect.
There are plenty of days where I find myself feeling unappreciated and unloved. When I undertake a difficult task and wonder if this time I will fail and I will fall. I often feel weak and embarrassed and incapable. I sometimes wonder how on earth I’m going to find enough money to pay for everything in my life. There are days where I’m angry at God, where I can’t find the energy in me to trust and would much rather eat junk food in submission to the feeling that I can’t handle my life. There are seasons where life seems like a to-do list, when change is overwhelming. Those days when the self worth level is not soaring. Those days where I don’t feel capable of representing the joy I’m “supposed”
to represent as a Christian.
On all of these days, I look for my life to give something to me, something refreshing, comforting, or fulfilling. Something to satiate the restlessness in my heart. But nothing does.
Because I’m grasping. Striving. Searching for something good to sink my teeth into, a place to rest. A mental disposition of peace.
But my life is filled with so many good things, good moments, good friends. Why do those things go so quickly out of mind and out of heart? Why do I so easily become discouraged again?
When I talk to my mom about this feeling, this depressing feeling that life is a never ending to do list, she mentioned to keep a gratitude journal, to list the things that I’m thankful for. Upon receiving the suggestion, I proceed to roll my eyes at the utter cliché-ness of such a thing.
Because when those aforementioned hard times occur, I refuse to be thankful. So I continued with this grasping and striving lifestyle, thinking that things would change when I refuse to allow my thinking to change.
And then I read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Vokskamp.
So this book, One Thousand Gifts, is all about gratitude. It comes from a perspective of a woman who watched her little sister bleed to death from a car accident a very young age. Whose brother had to bury his two little boys both under a year old. Who has dealt with self-harm and self-hatred. From the perspective of a crazy busy woman with six kids. A woman who has been brokenhearted just like the rest of us. But a woman who has let the Lord work through her to create a book about daily gratitude and joyful living by counting 1000 gifts in her life. This book is by no means fluffy and feel good, and demands to be taken seriously.
So here are a few lessons I’ve learned from this book.
I often hear the phrase “Give thanks always” (Ephesians 5:20) and tend to just pray “yeah, thank you for everything, God” as an umbrella statement. By no means is there anything wrong with this prayer, but it easily begins to feel like an empty prayer. That blanket statement often seems like a check on the obligation list to God.
We always want more time. And we waste so much of what we have. And we’re always anxious for the next thing, the next event, getting to where we’re supposed to be. I often think, “Okay, after I finish (insert task here), then I can slow down.” But the thing is, there is always something new to worry about. There is always a new thing to become overwhelmed by. It is an awful cycle. Life blurs together and we get lost in the shuffle, wondering where on earth the time has gone.
We see pictures of beautiful times, beautiful moments, and we think “Oh yeah” and remember the feeling that came from that moment in time, that day, that weekend. And it’s not just beautiful moments, it’s beautiful things like sunsets and the way the light comes through the window and succulents and food that tastes good and coffee shops and a child’s laughter and beautiful people and the push and pulls of melodies and words that express exactly what our souls need to hear. We are so busy looking ahead that we forget to hold those moments in our hearts and frantically move along to what is next. Acting like something ahead will fill that ever-feared emptiness.
The trick that Satan doesn’t want us to know is that when we absorb the sacrament of the present moment we can put an anchor down in time. We can appreciate a moment for what it is, absorb the beauty in the world that points to God Himself. Time goes just as fast whether we’re in a hurry or not. 5 minutes is 5 minutes whether we’re hurried or we’re peaceful. Our God is a God of peace. He can only work when our hearts and minds have room to work, and aren’t shut down by anxious thoughts and fears and the hurry of life. Why do we hurry so we can hurry some more?
Why can’t we appreciate things like how books feel in our hands and the smell after the rain and how sweatpants feel after we’ve been swimming.
The theme of thanksgiving and praise is so prevalent in scriptures. It precedes all miracles, all amazing works of God. He gave thanks and then multiplied the loaves to feed the 5000. He gave thanks and broke the bread that would give us life forever. The Psalms are packed with praise for all things before the lamentation. Why are we like the Israelites and grumble and fail to be thankful for our daily manna?
I am learning that such an emphasis on praise in scripture cannot be simply satiated by a blanket praise every now and then. Thanksgiving needs to become a lifestyle. My life needs to be lived in praise. And with the knowledge that my praise, my surrender, must be born anew each day
My challenge is to praise the small things. To hold the goodness of moments, things, joys, beautiful people and good times in your hearts instead of just forgetting about them. Little notes that people leave you and the laughter that you share with your closest friends. To put an anchor in moments, to find joy in this hunt for good things. To hold those things deep in your hearts instead of absorbing the awkward interactions and the times that you don’t feel like enough and the pimples on your face and that person who doesn’t seem to like you. Because it’s unimportant. That’s what the devil wants you to hold in your heart.
So that’s all great,
but there really are awful things that happen, like 5 year olds slowly bleeding to death by car accidents and human trafficking and terrorism and broken families that produce broken people. Things that you can’t really bring yourself thank God for.
There honestly is no concrete answer to the question of why a good God allows evil. I don’t think that’s a question that can be answered in an earthly lifetime. But I do know that the only way true joy is begotten is through suffering. That only through the cross could we acquire eternal life. We see deficits of joy and sorrow in our earthly lives and it points to a God who saves us from it all, who promises us better things. If our world was perfect we would not need a Savior, we would not hunger for eternal life.
The seasons were placed that we would hunger for God. All things do work for our good. It is a mystery, but it is a mystery I choose to embrace. He teaches hard lessons, and I will not put myself into the position of judge.
Search for the beauty, hunger for the joy, seek it and embrace it. Put your anchor down in time to catch this sacrament of the present moment, to live with a heart full of peace and praise. It’s so so hard, but force your mind to slow down and defeat the urge to hurry through life. To stop rushing through life, and realize how much more life you then have time for.