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We are living in difficult times, but Jenny Beck finds a concentration on "micro-thanks" can be life-changing.
"Tell me what’s wrong!” I said, alarmed at her burdened presentation. I’ll admit I was also surprised that she should seem so down, since we were reaching the end of a long-running legal dispute. The future for her, I fancied, was bright.
“Overwhelmed,” she said heavily. “By everything — Covid 19, the financial pressures it’s brought, masks and vaccine passes everywhere you look, bad news every time I turn on the TV.” She took a breath. “I know God’s in charge, but I’m just not sure how I can connect with him right now in the midst of all this. I feel so ... um, jaded.”
Her words gave me pause. From talking to other people, I now realise it’s a common position: after 2021 (“appalling year” as one of my clients said recently with gusto), what guarantee is there that 2022 will be any different? Where is God, and how does one connect with him regardless of the mess it might seem we’re living in?
In the early 2000s Ann Voskamp, a farmer’s wife in rural Canada and home-schooling mother of six, had a similar sense of being overwhelmed. She was tired of her life and its myriad responsibilities, of its humdrum grind as well as the disappointments and griefs of years that had left her feeling beaten down. She wanted to live her one life well.
But how? And where, she asked herself, was the joy to be found?
It came to her through the encouragement of a friend — the joy was in thanksgiving. But how, exactly, to go about being thankful? Focus on the small, said the friend, in effect. Give God thanks for the blessings that make up your (utterly ordinary) days. Write them down.
Ann started recording gifts, despite feeling a little silly to start with. The first three she wrote down were:
1. Morning shadows across the old floors.
2. Jam piled high on toast.
3. Cry of a blue jay from high in the spruce.
So developed The List, the recording of gifts right in front of her and already enjoyed, her own Eucharisteo (Thanksgiving). This spiritual discipline of enumerating God’s everyday gifts (because that’s what it amounted to) became transformative in her life. She went on and on and on:
1. Clean sheets smelling like the wind.
2. Hot oatmeal tasting like home.
3. Bare toes in early light.
Right up to 1000. (You can read more in her 2011 memoir, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are). In all this noticing and enjoying of small gifts, Ann found herself profoundly changed, blessed with a renewed view of herself and her place in the world, and a new connection with the God who’d made her and loved her beyond imagining. She found herself against all inclination becoming a joyful person.
I’ve found this an instructive practice myself, this concentration on “micro-thanks” in the midst of, and indeed, for the everyday. I mean, of course I’m thankful for the big things, God’s love in Jesus and the new life I’ve been given, but sometimes when I’m weary within or jaded-feeling, small bursts of gratitude for small things are more effective for delivering me straight into appreciation of the undeserved grace that energises my life.
In this spirit, while I’m writing this, I’m thanking God for the warm mug in my left hand and the almond cappuccino it contains, the greeting of fellow cafe-goers doing their crossword a couple of metres away, my new notebook with its easy-on-the-eye off-white pages. Sudden sunlight pouring in through the top window at the fire station after two days of rain. Dust particles caught in the bright shafts. Holidays a-coming with time to read and think.
When you think about it, there’s so much to be thankful for.
Kate Bowler, memoirist (Everything Happens for a Reason) and podcaster, is a prolific writer of blessings. Here’s one you might enjoy and find entirely apposite:
... but blessed are we who discover that
even in the smallness, our attention might
compress even more.
we who pull out a magnifying glass to
discover ... to notice ... to taste ... to smell ...
the small joys and simple pleasures that
make a life worth living.
Happy New Year, a year possibly filled with tiny doses of gratitude for tiny things. May you find this just the way to usher God’s presence into your daily life in 2022.
- Jenny Beck is a lawyer and member of Dunedin City Baptist Church.