Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts made a lasting mark on Christian culture, and rightly so. In her “dare to live fully right where you are,” she recounts her transformation from despair into joyful gratitude through the simple practice of counting her gifts, blessings from God that are all too easy to miss unless we commit our eyes to intentional sight.
“Morning shadows across the old floors,” she writes. “Jam piled high on the toast. Cry of blue jay from high in the spruce” (p. 45).
I read the book when it came out in 2010 and was captivated by Voskamp’s poetic writing and fresh expression of a timeless truth. And today, healthy and healed, when I count God’s gifts, a gloomy demeanor on an off day is put into perspective, an inward focus turns upward and outward, and joy begins to diffuse the despair.
But when I was severely depressed, this practice backfired. In the years of the deepest depression, I fought back with Voskamp’s advice. In a tear-riddled journal, I etched my gifts hard into the pages day after day.
And all I felt was shame.
Shame at how God had given me so much, yet I still had a perpetual lump in my throat.
Shame that the hopelessness I felt outshouted the hope I had in Christ.
Shame that God had given me so much to live for, yet, on some days, I wanted to die.
If the same has happened to you, you are not alone.And if the same has happened to you, remember this:
Faith and feelings are not synonyms.
When the gifts you are supposed to be counting turn astringent on your tongue, know that your inability to manufacture feelings doesn’t anger him. The lovely truth is this:
“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103: 13-14)
Armed with these words of compassion, you can be confident that your emotions do not sway his love and faithfulness. My emotions took years to align with the truth, but during that winter season, He taught me 3 ways of fighting depression that banished shame and gave me hope:
1.Instead of counting your gifts, count His promises.
Whereas counting my gifts brought shame, writing out Scripture showed me that this shame was not from Him. The book of Psalms is a game changer when shame comes knocking. In the Psalms, we see the raw cries of those who felt forgotten and abandoned by God. In their prayers, two themes emerge:
- They were unafraid of pouring out the darkest thoughts of their heart to God.
- While shouting their afflictions, they kept His promises in view.
Psalm 42 is a beautiful example of these 2 themes. The Psalmist is honest about his state: “My tears have been my food day and night…I say to God my Rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me?”, but comes back to the Lord’s goodness: “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”
For me, a journal was how I followed the pattern of the Psalmists. Writing Scripture focused my mind in a way that speaking did not, but for you, it might be saying Scripture out loud or singing. Whatever your preference, know that proclaiming the promises of God is a beautiful and powerful act of defiance against Satan’s schemes.
Some great places to start are Psalm 42, Psalm 73, and Romans 8.
I cannot think of one example in Scripture of a human saving himself, yet that is exactly what I was trying to do in counting my gifts. I thought that with enough grit and drive, I could lift myself out of the pit and get on with the things that God wanted me to do. What he was actually calling me to do was rest. I am not saying that you shouldn’t pursue help when depressed. Seeking out counselors and doctors was an integral part of my journey. What I am saying is that in trying to find a quick fix in counting my gifts, I put more stock in my own power to save than in the One who created me.
Soon after the Israelites fled Egypt, the Egyptian army came after them armed and furious. Understandably terrified, the people said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?”
Instead of devising a battle plan, Moses said this: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today….The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:13a, 14).
In a culture that idolizes initiative and action, being still can feel uncomfortable and even wrong. But in that season, that was exactly what the Lord was asking of me. And as I sat in that uncomfortable place of rest, he sanded away my perceptions of him as a harsh taskmaster and revealed just how much he loved me regardless of what I was able to do or produce.
3. Talk to a believer who has been there
Sharing my heart with believers who have struggled with depression paved the way for hope and healing. Having been there, they didn’t judge my inability to manufacture feelings. They knew what it was like to doubt God’s goodness, to feel unwarranted shame, to feel there was no way out, yet they had emerged on the other side even more convinced of God’s goodness and compassion.
It is vital to be wise and selective in whom you choose to confide. A prime example of this need for selectiveness is in the account of Job’s friends, who, though well-meaning, spoke in ignorance and ultimately slandered God’s character. Similarly, I have talked to believers who just don’t get itbecause they haven’t been there. I even had one believer who didn’t know about my struggle harshly label his sister’s mental illness as sin. If you don’t know a believer who has been there, I strongly recommend talking to a pastor at a local church who can connect you with someone trustworthy. I realize that this is a big step, as depression has been stigmatized by the church in the past. But I will tell you that in my experience, fewer and fewer church leaders stigmatize depression, and it is worth the effort in seeking them out in pursuit of a confidant.
So, friend, do not feel ashamed if counting your gifts has left you with a lump in your throat.
Instead, remember that faith and feelings are not synonyms.
Know that your emotions are not a measure of your faith, that God looks on you with compassion and acts toward you with love, and that He truly is mighty to save.