I’ve started this year reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts. The style is poetic, sometimes intrusively so, but the thesis is wonderful, and wonderfully elaborated. We all need this.
This bit of analysis from chapter 2 summarizes it:
“And he took bread, gave thanks and brake it, and gave it to them…” (Luke 22:19 NIV).
….I thumb, run my finger across the pages of the heavy and thick books bound. I read it slowly. In the original language, “he gave thanks” reads “eucharisteo.”
I underline it on the page. Can it lay a sure foundation under a life? Offer the fullest life?
The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning “grace.” Jesus took the bread and saw it as grace and gave thanks. He took the bread and knew it to be gift and gave thanks.
But there is more, and I read it. Eucharisteo, thanksgiving, envelopes the Greek word for grace, charis. But it also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning “joy.” Joy…..
Deep chara joy is found only at the table of the euCHARisteo–the table of thanksgiving. I sit there long…wondering…is it that simple?
Is the height of my chara joy dependent on the depths of my eucharisteo thanks?
So then as long as thanks is possible…I think this through. As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible. Joy is always possible. Whenever, meaning–now; wherever, meaning–here. The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some emotional mountain peak experience. The joy wonder could be here! Here, in the messy, piercing ache of now, joy might be–unbelievably–possible! The only place we need to see before we die is this place of seeing God, here and now.
Specific prayers bring specific blessings, I’ve heard, and this seems to be most especially true of asking for small spiritual blessings today.
Many of us probably pray for peace and insight, patience and charity, but I’ve been astounded by the power of pleading with God to favor me with a noticeable measure of these things in the same day I’m praying. I don’t mean this in the sense of, “Give me this thing I want right now,” but in a more appropriately humble attitude of, “I really feel like I need this blessing, and I want to use it to serve, and I trust you enough to know it can happen today.”
I also try to be immediately grateful in more prayer for any evidence of progress from such prayers. Again, what I try to ask for are gifts of noticing beauty in the world, or the ability to be more Christlike in specific situations I expect that day, or simply to be grateful for and accepting of whatever will happen soon. I’ve found such an attitude to be immensely faith developing.
I think our Father in Heaven wants to give us blessings when we ask for them, and not always at some unknown point in the future, either. When I ponder praying for things to be realized, at least to a degree, in the same day I want to plead for it, I usually feel a spiritual assurance that such requests are welcomed.
It reminds me of the injunction in the Lord’s Prayer to ask for things this way: “Give us this day our daily bread.” I think the core of this prayer method is that it teaches us to be continually reliant on God. We can’t pray, “Please give me whatever bread I’ll need every day from now on.” That would go against the requirement for frequent, even constant, prayer itself. One of the purposes of prayer, or daily scripture study, is to keep us in remembrance of our need to depend on God at all times. One time prayers, or permanent blessings, just couldn’t do that.
And when we’re tempted to think of prayer and scripture study–or any other gospel routine–as chores, I think this understanding is liberating. Yes, we will need to pour out our hearts today, and we will need to do it as much as we can; and no matter how much we exert ourselves now, we will need to do it again tomorrow, anyway. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, and it opens the way for great blessings. Thank God for it.
I think we as Latter-day Saints should consider reforming how we pray over meals. The primary purpose of these prayers, I’d say, is to offer gratitude that we get to have such wonderful food for us and our families, yet again.
But listen to our prayers, and they almost always ask for Heavenly Father to “bless” the food for us now. (My colleague even once wrote a satire of this tendency to request food be blessed to “nourish and strengthen” us.) Is this, perhaps, un-grateful? It seems to say, “Yes, thank you for the food. But I’m not satisfied. Could you now do more to make it good for us?” As if the gift of ongoing sustenance itself isn’t enough. As if our routine, rote recitation will automatically make whatever we’re eating healthy (I’ve heard such prayers over desserts many times, as I’m sure we all have).
In fact, our predictable habit of asking for our meals to “nourish and strengthen” us strikes me as similar to the kind of set prayer we typically try to avoid.
Also, when people are called on to offer such prayers, it’s usually with this wording: “Would you please bless the meal?” As in some requests for priesthood blessings, this might be polite, but it’s inaccurate: we don’t bless anything. We ask God to bless things for us.
Maybe the most appropriate thing to do in these prayers is to simply offer real and humble gratitude that we are so constantly blessed with an abundance of delicious food. Even without extraneous supplications for nutritoinal improvement, it’s already a profoundly amazing blessing.