It’s Thanksgiving week and I’m so excited to introduce you to Adam and Christine Jeske, co-authors of the new IVP book This Ordinary Adventure: Settling Down Without Settling. Listen in as Adam and Christine share some candid thoughts about living gratefully in the midst of normal, regular, everyday life.
Adam: We floss daily. We can levitate. Our two kids never fight, and have never yelled at them. We sit up straight and never slouch. We give away over 100% of our income, which is possible, because we’re not very good at math. Our home is a bastion of aesthetic bliss, from the pioneer vibe, to an epic treehouse, to the raging keggers. We are sarcastic.
(OK, sidenote readers! I’ll fill you in on the Jeskes: After years doing aid work on the international scene, the Jeskes now live in Wisconsin where Christine teaches at Eastern University and Adam serves as associate director of communications for my favorite campus ministry, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.)
This month we’re focusing on gratitude on my site. So quick, right off the top of your head, what are 5 thing you’re grateful for?
Christine: Just last night before bed with our kids we listed singing songs together, the board game our son made up, warm fall weather, eating dinner in our tree house, and having enough money to buy what we need.
Adam: Doing pilates yesterday (I’m secure in my masculinity, and increasing my core strength helps), drinking Tetley British Blend tea with milk as I type this, having a couple Nerf guns at work, occasionally having a chance to rattle people’s cages, and your request to interview us!
It can be very easy, I think, to live “normal life” in grumbling and a state of discontent — to be envious of the adventures, the experiences, the seemingly better lives of others. From your own experiences, what’s the spiritual danger of this type of mindset? How can we combat it’s creeping power in our lives?
Christine: Yes, we have definitely felt that slide into grumbling over “normal life,” especially in the last couple years back in the U.S. after years overseas. So many people live idolizing adventure, and when they don’t get that adventure, they end up believing, “My life is nothing but a bare little cage I pace around in all day.” But on the other hand, you can also end up idolizing comfort, and get too settled, too far toward the “I love the feeling of my butt sinking into this safe, comfy couch” side of life.
There’s a sweet spot we need to find every day between idolizing adventure and idolizing comfort. In our experience, part of hitting that sweet spot comes from actively noticing what God is doing in your present reality. Phrases like “I will tell of God’s wonderful acts” are used at least sixteen times in the Psalms alone. We need to stop and tell ourselves, and tell other people, about the gorgeous snowfalls, conversations with lonely people, astounding ideas, and all the other daily miracles that remind us we are never just living in a dull prison cell. And when we savor notice and savor these, it also creates a craving in us to see more of God’s work in our world, so much so that we get off our couch and find and create more of it.
Gratitude is a thread woven throughout your new book, This Ordinary Adventure, in the sense that God has been teaching you to receive and gratefully appreciate a way of life that’s — by outward appearances — unadventurous. What practices and habits in your life drive this sense of gratitude?
Christine: One simple practical step that’s helped us appreciate both normal and extraordinary ways God works is to keep a list we call “Amazing Days.” For over 13 years now we’ve kept this list. We write on it whatever makes a day bold, unusual, bright, faithful, or miraculous. As we look back on the list and share it with others, we celebrate the ways God shapes big things through many small days of little things, and also wows us with a few big things now and then. It’s a way to stop “should-ing” ourselves about what doesn’t fit into an already busy and frazzled existence, and instead celebrate what we can experience with and from God Almighty, here and now.
Gratitude is a lesson that our culture seems to need to learn over and over. You would think as one of the wealthiest societies in the world, we would be good at being grateful, but actually it seems to work in reverse. We’ve seen in first-hand in our kids as they went from living the bulk of their lives overseas to living in middle-class U.S. They went from actually laughing at the suggestion that we were poor (when our previous income overseas qualified us for free school lunches), to crying that they didn’t have an iPad.
We need to learn from people around the world who live with much less materially, but a much richer spiritual depth of gratitude. One way to start is to remind yourself, “I am rich.” By world standards, you are. For a lot of people, saying that dredges up a lot of guilt, but that guilt isn’t productive; it makes us stuck and miserable. Give that guilt over to God. Instead be specific in naming the things that make you rich. You’ll notice what really makes you rich is the intangibles, the grace, creation, and love stuff that doesn’t depend on money. The gratitude we’ve seen among our sisters and brothers around the world starts from noticing all that we take for granted when we focus only on material stuff.
How have practices of gratitude drawn you closer to God? How have you been personally challenged and changed by intentionally living life with an “Amazing Days” mindset?
Adam: Being grateful implicitly requires an entity to which you give thanks. When we give thanks, that’s to the God of the Bible. When we thank him, we think about him, his ways, and his action. We desire more of these in our lives and the lives around us. By giving thanks, we are caught up in God’s big plans rather than only our own. By giving thanks, we start to see our little plans in the light of God’s character and priorities.
Trying to notice what’s amazing in a given day isn’t too hard. It’s just cultivating a habit of the mind, an attentiveness to that type of things in your daily life. It’s much more challenging to try to intentionally live more Amazing Days. We’ve been doing that for a long time, and we’re thankful for the journey. But it is often really, really hard.
At its core, this Amazing Days approach to life is about being thankful enough for opportunities that you take them. Back here in the U.S., the amount of opportunity — freedom, wealth, skills, friendships, churches — is staggering. It can overwhelm us. But through the years, taking faithful steps has brought tremendous satisfaction, adventure, joy, and more faith. Like we say in the book, “When Chrissy or I voice one of these ‘what if’ ideas, we smile and say, ‘Amazing Day!’ thereby prepping ourselves to live out whatever craziness we have just uttered.”
And that is something to be thankful for.
Thank you, Adam and Christine, for sharing your thoughts — and blessed Thanksgiving to you and your family!