“Joy is the realest reality, the fullest life, and joy is always given, never grasped. God gives gifts and I give thanks and I unwrap the gift given: joy.” -Ann Voskamp
When I visited Greece last year over spring break, my friends and I arrived with little to no knowledge of the greek language. We’d looked up a few choice phrases to study on the plane, but we were essentially going in blind. Now, we didn’t leave the country feeling like we’d mastered the language, because we were still trying to figure out the latin equivalent to all the greek letters on our last days in Athens and Santorini. But we did leave with a few words and phrases in our back pockets, words and phrases that had helped us form relationships with people we encountered, even if neither of us spoke the same language, and one of the most important phrases was ‘thank you’, in Greek ‘Efharistó’ (Ευχαριστώ).
Why am I telling you all of this? Because the book I read this week, One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, put a totally new spin on that word for me. This mother, farmer, and poet from Ontario begins a journey of giving thanks, the biblical Greek word for which is ‘eucharisteo’ (εὐχαριστέω), of the same root as the modern ‘efcharisto’ my friends and I learned during our trip. She discovers that at the root of this word are two other important words: ‘charis’, grace, and ‘chara’, joy.
Dared by a friend to make a list of a thousand gifts from God, Voskamp begins to unpack what it means to live a life of eucharisteo. She starts numbering the gifts she sees around her: jam piled high on the toast, suds...all color in sun, boys humming hymns, laundry flapping, laughter. As she does this, even in the hard times, she comes to discover that giving thanks precedes the miracle, that giving thanks creates joy and creates grace, and that in order to live fully, we must see fully all those little things of our lives that are in fact gifts. I’ve always been a person who strives to be joyful, and so I enjoyed wrestling with the whole concept as I read along with Ann. She doesn’t have this blind, Pollyanna-ish joy that can’t see the hard, difficult, or bad things in life, yet she realizes that because of all of those things, she can still be joyful. Hear what she has to say:
“Holding my head in my hands, I ask it honest before God and children and my daily mess: ‘Can we really expect joy all the time?’
I know it well after a day smattered with rowdiness and worn a bit ragged with bickering, that I may feel disappointment and the despair may flood high, but to give thanks is an action and rejoice is a verb and these are not mere pulsing emotions. While I may not always feel joy, God asks me to give thanks in all things, because He knows that the feeling of joy begins in the action of thanksgiving.
True saints know that the place where all the joy comes from is far deeper than that of feelings; joy comes from the place of the very presence of God. Joy is God and God is joy and joy doesn’t negate all other emotions -- joy transcends all other emotions.”
This week, I had many things to give thanks for and be joyful about: sunlight streaming through bright green leaves, wind whipping hair on the boat, sending friends off on fabulous adventures, a job offer and the promise of one or two more, the chance to decide, hosting parties to celebrate, and the marriage of two best friends. It’s easy to be joyful this week, easy to give thanks. But on those weeks where it’s harder, those weeks where I can’t seem to see the good in things, I’d do well to remember what Ann discovered, that joy is God and God is joy, and that joy comes from the very presence of God. So because I believe that God is always right where I am, and right where you are, so I believe that we can be joyful in all things, and at all times, and in all places. It is in seeing clearly the gifts given us and practicing the discipline of thanksgiving that we begin to live lives of true joy and celebration.
Sorry if this got a bit preachy, but those of you who know me well know that I’m all about the joy, so this book just gave me more things to think (and write!) about. If this idea is at all interesting to you, I’d encourage you to pick up the book and even to visit Ann Voskamp’s blog (http://www.aholyexperience.com/). She is a poet and a wonderful photographer, and it’s great to see the world through her eyes.
Much love to you all, and may you be full of joy today! Julia