Category Archives: Gratitude

On Pursuing Virtue: Gratitude

Author’s note: Although we have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/03/01/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), we will continue this series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!
We will begin this conversation where we often end other ones: with gratitude. We teach our children to say “thank you,” but gratitude is much more than remembering to say these words after receiving a gift or eating a meal! True gratitude is a lifestyle. Fr. Thomas Hopko, in his book The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality, says, “The spiritual person is the one who is grateful for everything. He is the one who receives everything with thanksgiving, and who knows that he has nothing except what he has received from God.”
St. Nikolai Velimirovich agrees, and elaborates in his Prologue from Ochrid: “For as long as you are on earth, consider yourself a guest in the Household of Christ. If you are at the table, it is He who treats you. If you breathe air, it is His air you breathe. If you bathe, it is in His water you are bathing. If you are traveling, it is over His land that you are traveling. If you are amassing goods, it is His goods you are amassing. If you are squandering, it is His goods that you are squandering. If you are powerful, it is by His permission that you are strong. If you are in the company of men, you and the others are His guests. If you are out in nature, you are in His garden. If you are alone, He is present. If you set out or turn anywhere, He sees you. If you do anything, He remembers. He is the most considerate Householder by Whom you were ever hosted. Be careful then toward Him. In a good household, the guest is required to behave. These are all simple words but they convey to you a great truth. All the saints knew this truth and they governed their lives by it. That is why the Eternal Householder rewarded them with eternal life in heaven and glory on earth.” This type of mindset – really remembering that everything, EVERYTHING, is God’s and we are simply His guests, staying in His home and borrowing His linens – completely changes our possessive assumptions and multiplies our gratitude.
Fr. Hopko continues his discussion on gratitude by pointing out that from the time of the Old Testament, thanksgiving has been central to life for the people of God. In the Old Testament times, sacrifices of thanksgiving were offered in the temple, and the Psalms sang thanks to God. This attitude continued in the New Testament times! The word “eucharist” means thanksgiving, so from that time to this day, our worship centers around being grateful: we lift up our hearts and give thanks to the Lord!
Fr. Hopko points out that the Scriptures and the lives of the saints are full of thanksgiving to God, not just for the “good” things, but for everything! The saints have shown their complete trust in God’s provision and care. They have modeled gratitude for us in their deeds and words. St. John Chrysostom reminds us that even things that may look bad to us can be used to bring spiritual growth and salvation by God’s grace! (And he did not just say this. He lived it. He was in the process of being exiled in old age when he died, and yet his last words were, “Glory to God for all things!”)
Fr. Hopko states that the opposite of gratitude is bitterness and complaining. If we are proud and covetous, we will complain about our life. Complaining shows that we are lacking a humble trust in God, and thereby we do not thank Him for everything! When we trust Him absolutely, we will be at peace.
Fr. Hopko closes his chapter on gratitude with this statement: “A person is grateful to the extent that he trusts in the Lord and has love for God and man.”

Read more of Fr. Thomas Hopko’s wise words about the virtues, as written in his book, here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues
Here are some scriptures and quotes from saints about gratitude, as well as a few related links that can encourage us as we become more grateful:
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Scriptures related to gratitude that can be helpful to meditate upon or memorize:
And from His fullness have we all received, grace upon grace (Jn 1.16).
Sing praises to the Lord, O you His saints, and give thanks to His Holy Name.
Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving. Let us enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name!
It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to Thy Name, O Most High; to declare Thy steadfast love in the morning, and Thy faithfulness by night.
O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is gracious, for His mercy endures forever! (Pss 30.4, 95.2, 92.1, 107.1).
Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving . . . always and for ­everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father (Eph 5.4, 20).
Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess 5.16–18).
Rejoice always in the Lord; again I say, Rejoice! Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4.4–7).
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“Thank God every day with your whole heart for having given to your life according to His image and likeness – an intelligently free and immortal life…Thank Him also for again daily bestowing life upon you, who have fallen an innumerable multitude of times, by your own free will, through sins, from life unto death, and that He does so as soon as you only say from your whole heart: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee!’” (Luke 15:18). – St. John of Kronstadt
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“Grumbling is caused by misery and it can be put aside by doxology (giving praise). Grumbling begets grumbling and doxology begets doxology. when someone doesn’t grumble over a problem troubling him, but rather praises God, then the devil gets frustrated and goes off to someone else who grumbles, in order to cause everything to go even worse for him. You see, the more one grumbles, the more one falls into ruin.” ~ St. Paisios the Athonite
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“Let us give thanks to God continually. For, it is outrageous that when we enjoy His benefaction to us in deed every single day, we do not acknowledge the favor with so much as a word; and this, when the acknowledgment confers great benefit on us. He does not need anything of ours, but we stand in need of all things from Him.
In point of fact, thanksgiving adds nothing to Him, but it brings us closer to Him. For if, when we recall the benefactions of men, we are the more warmed by affection for them; much more, when we continually bring to mind the benefits of the Master towards us, shall we be more earnest with regard to His commandments.” ~ St. John Chrysostom
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“Happiness can only be achieved by looking inward and learning to enjoy whatever life has and this requires transforming greed into gratitude.” ~ St. John Chrysostom
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“Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” ~St. Paul, Philippians 4:6
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“When you are subjected to the malicious and furious violence of the passions, and to the harassments of the Devil, during the fulfillment of various works for God, accept these sufferings as sufferings for the name of Christ, and rejoice in your sufferings, thanking God; for the Devil is preparing you, without knowing it himself, the most shining crowns from the Lord.”~ St. John of Kronstadt
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“For if God does not for a moment tire of giving us good things, how can we tire of thanking Him for these good things?” ~ St. Nikolaj Velimirovic
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“We must begin with thanksgiving for everything. The beginning of joy is to be content with your situation.” ~ St. Ambrose of Optina
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“Maintaining a spirit of gratitude, and seeing all of life – even with its surprises, struggles, disappointments, and crises – learning to see all of life through this prism of thankfulness is an extremely important spiritual discipline. It doesn’t come naturally or easily to many, but it’s a discipline we cultivate over time.” Read more of this inspiring sermon on “Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude” here: http://www.schwebster.org/sermons/cultivating-an-attitude-of-gratitude
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“We may tell our kids to take their worries to God, but have we told them that they should be presenting those anxieties and struggles with thanksgiving?” Read more in this blog which will help us to get our own gratitude in shape, thereby allowing us to better model it for our children: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/raisingsaints/gratitude/
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“When God showers us with blessings, we seldom look up to Him and say, ‘Why me, Lord?’ But when a stone falls on our life, we always look up and complain, ‘Why me, Lord?’” – from a sermon on gratitude by Fr. Rick Andrews. Read or listen to the sermon at http://stgeorgegoc.org/pastors-corner/fr-ricks-sermons/attitude-of-gratitude
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Need some ideas of ways to walk in gratitude? Check out this blog post: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2015/11/25/on-living-a-life-of-gratitude/

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On Living a Life of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is the time of year when most Americans pause to be grateful for the blessings in their life. In recent years, some have begun “30 Days of Gratitude” and write down (some, publicly; for example, on Facebook) one thing for which they are grateful every day of November. Then the end of November comes, Thanksgiving passes, and that’s that. On to the next challenge.

Perhaps we should not stop being cognizant of our blessings just because Thanksgiving is over, or when our 30-day challenge is up. As Christians, we are commanded to “in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5:18) Giving thanks for everything is a much more daunting (but longer-lasting) project. Should we decide to truly live according to St. Paul’s directions, gratitude will change our life. Someone once said, “it is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy.”

August Gold has written a sweet picture book called Thank You, God, for Everything, which follows a little girl on her journey to learning to be grateful for all around her. Gold says in the introduction: “one important thing I discovered is that [happy people] didn’t wait to say ‘Thank you, God’ until after they received what they wanted. Instead, throughout their day they said, ‘Thank you, God’ for everything. They saw everything as a gift in their lives… and gave thanks for everything …even the things most people take for granted.”

Let us find ways to continue living gratefully. Let us keep on expressing our gratitude for everything in our lives as well, long beyond the Thanksgiving season. We will be living in obedience to God, and we will be happy.

Blessed continued Thanksgiving!

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One way to continue to practice gratitude is to keep a gratitude journal. It can be weekly, daily, or occasional. It can be a large journal, with whole pages dedicated to a theme. It can even be small; just enough to write one thing for which you are grateful each day/week. Transform a dollar-store week-at-a-glance calendar a small personalized gratitude journal. Need ideas? http://snailpacetransformations.com/make-your-own-inexpensive-gratitude-journal/

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Another idea for becoming more grateful is to write about it in a public forum. Perhaps you could create a blog, and regularly write what you are thankful for, in that blog. One person blogged their gratitude once a week for a year. Check out their list of topics here: http://localadventurer.com/52-weeks-of-gratitude-challenge-complete/

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Create a “gratitude jar” in which to store bits of paper on which you have written your gratitude. Some days you may add many new grateful notes; some days none: but your jar will always be there, reminding you that God is good and providing for your needs. (And those notes can be revisited anytime you are feeling otherwise!) See http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-11062/how-to-create-a-gratitude-jar.html for one suggested way to do so.

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Some say that it takes 21 days to create a habit. If you intend to become a grateful person and do not know how to begin on that journey, here is a bookmark featuring 21 journal/blog/gratitude jar prompts: http://a.dilcdn.com/bl/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2013/10/21-Days-of-Gratitude-Prompts-Printable.pdf

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Whether you are journaling, blogging, or gratitude-jar-filling, sometimes your heart will be naturally full of thanks, and you will know right away what you want to write about. Other times, you may be stumped or just need something to get the grateful “juices flowing.” For those times, check out: http://ripplerevolution.com/17-gratitude-prompting-questions-for-your-gratitude-journal/ and http://ripplerevolution.com/17-more-gratitude-prompting-questions/

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Check out these quotes about gratitude. Select a few to help you be more grateful, and plan how you will use them: http://www.quotegarden.com/gratitude.html

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The scriptures have much to say about gratitude. Find out for yourself here: http://www.openbible.info/topics/gratitude. Select a verse to memorize or to make your theme for the week.

 

To Celebrate Picture Book Month With Books About Thankfulness

Did you know that November is International Picture Book Month? It’s the month of the year when people of all ages are encouraged to enjoy carefully worded writing paired with beautiful illustrations. For those of us living in the United States, November is also the time when we focus on Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving season is a welcome change from the norm, offering a break from school and perhaps also from work. Let us consider spending some of this extra family time in reading together. Many happy memories can be built during family read-aloud times, so why not add to the fun of Thanksgiving memories by reading and discussing some related picture books?

There are a plethora of books available today that are appropriate reads for the Thanksgiving season. We will offer a few here, in no particular order, for your perusal. Children of all ages (even adults!) will enjoy these books. While they don’t take long to read, they are thought provoking and can offer many opportunities for discussion!

For more on Picture Book Month, see http://picturebookmonth.com/.

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Thankful by Eileen Spinelli is a rollicking rhyme about all kinds of people, each thankful for something that makes their work or their life more enjoyable. Illustrator Archie Preston adds a heartwarming and playful twist in his illustrations. The pictures show a family whose children dress up as those “all kinds of people,” playing their roles, and interacting with each other in ways that will make readers of all ages smile. Watch the trailer for the book here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXLhjE9J-EU. You can buy the book here: http://www.zondervan.com/thankful. Discussion: Ask each person to share one thing that they are thankful for. Challenge: Together think of how Archie Preston would illustrate what you have just said. How would he show what each person is thankful for? How would he tie them together in the illustrations?

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The Secret of Saying Thanks by Douglas Wood follows a young girl through her day, as she savors the beauty of nature around her. Greg Shed’s gentle gouache illustrations reflect that beauty so that the reader can see it for themselves. Throughout the book, the young girl is looking for something secret. Along the way, she offers words of gratitude for the loveliness around her. In the end, she realizes the secret she had been seeking is this: “The heart that gives thanks is a happy one, for we cannot feel thankful and unhappy at the same time.” You can buy the book here:http://books.simonandschuster.com/Secret-of-Saying-Thanks/Douglas-Wood/9780689854101. Discussion: Ask each person to think back through this day and share one thing of beauty which they saw, for which they are thankful. Then take time to actually thank God for all of that beauty! Challenge: Take a look at the Akathist of Thanksgiving (http://www.stnicholasdc.org/files/Prayers/Akathist-of-Thanksgiving.pdf), and talk about how it compares to this book! If time allows, pray the Akathist of Thanksgiving together, giving Glory to God for all things!

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Thank you, God, by J. Bradley Wigger, is a prayer that thanks God for everything. Jago’s illustrations, created in digital paint with photographic textures, add a deep richness to the book. Watch the trailer and/or buy this book here: http://www.eerdmans.com/Products/5424/thank-you-god.aspx Discussion: After reading the book, ask, “If you were the author, what would you add to this book?” Then page through the book again and take turns adding more things that could have been mentioned on each page. Challenge: Work together to write and illustrate your own “Thank You, God” prayer. (You could even make it into a book!)

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Bear Says Thanks, by Karma Wilson, is a charming poem-story about a bear who wants to throw a dinner for his friends to show his gratitude for their friendship. Unfortunately, as he prepares to do so, the bear discovers that he has no food left in his house! The friends come over anyway, each bringing food to share, and they assure the bear that his stories are his contribution to the gathering. Jane Chapman’s charming acrylic illustrations make the story infinitely more adorable and sweet! Purchase the book here: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Bear-Says-Thanks/Karma-Wilson/The-Bear-Books/9781416958567. Find a free reproducible pdf (geared to 1st or 2nd graders) with activities related to the book here: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Bear-Says-Thanks-A-FREE-Mini-Unit-1546522. Discuss: Talk together about the book. Bear felt like he didn’t deserve to be part of the party, since he didn’t have any food to contribute. Talk about times when anyone in your family has felt inadequate or like their contribution was lacking. How did it end up? Talk about how bear’s friends saw the value in his stories, and considered the stories to be his contribution to the gathering. Challenge: Encourage each other to be sensitive to others’ feelings of inadequacy, and find ways to affirm their strengths! You could begin by creating a “Thank you beary much” card to give to someone you appreciate, as suggested here: http://d28hgpri8am2if.cloudfront.net/tagged_assets/13330_40818%20cheer%20on%20reading%20activities_bearsaysthanks.pdf.

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Giving Thanks, by Jonathan London, follows a boy and his dad through their day’s walk in the woods. Throughout the book, the father notices and thanks the beautiful items in nature (because he believes that all things in nature are a gift) for being and for sharing their beauty with him. The boy confesses that he feels a little embarrassed by the fact that his father is thanking everything, but his father tells him how much better he feels when he is thankful, and in the end, the boy thanks the stars as they appear in the night sky. Gregory Manchess’ oil paintings are right for this book, a charming combination of generalities in the illustrations with just the right touch of details. Purchase the book here: http://www.candlewick.com/cat.asp?browse=Title&mode=book&isbn=0763655945&pix=n. Discuss: Talk about the idea of thanking things in nature. What do you think about that? Is there Anyone else Who we should thank for creating those natural things? Challenge: Go for a hike together, and, like the boy and his dad, practice noticing the detailed beauty of the world around you. Stop at points along the way to listen and look, talk about what you hear/see, and then take a moment to give thanks for it!

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My Book of Thanks by Hennessy offers thanks to God for something different on every page; and asks God for help with regard to that thing/person. For example, “Thank you for the earth. Help me to take care of it for you.” Hiroe Nakata’s playful watercolor-and-ink illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to the powerfully concise words of the prayer. (Note: the book is no longer available from publisher Candlewick Press, but can still be found from various online distributors.) Discuss: Talk about the prayer as it is written in the book. Why do you think the author included a prayer for help after each thanksgiving? Is that important? Why or why not? Challenge: Make a personalized extender to the book! Take time to each write down one “thank you” that you would add to this prayer. Remember to also include a related prayer for help! If you own the book, keep the extender page(s) in the book for future readings.

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Giving Thanks: Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs of Thanksgiving edited by Katherine Paterson is a book full of just that! The poems, prayers, and songs from many different cultures and beliefs offer food for thought for an older audience. The book is divided into themed collections, and each collection begins with a personal reflection written as only Katherine Paterson can write, straight from the heart. Pamela Dalton’s detailed scherenschnitte (detailed cut-paper) and watercolor illustrations are mesmerizing, and provide an appropriate backdrop for each page of the book. Buy the book here: http://www.chroniclebooks.com/titles/giving-thanks.html. Discuss: Paterson’s reflections in and of themselves offer good discussion starters! As you read each section, discuss her thoughts before you dive into the selections in the section. Since each prayer/poem/song is from a different part of the world, discuss the thought behind it. Make connections to our Orthodox beliefs: how is this thought similar/different? How do you suppose the people who first prayed/sang this arrived at these words? Challenge: Have each member of the family find and share their favorite selection from the book, and explain why they like it so much. For an added challenge: Learn more about scherenschnitte (see Dalton’s explanation of her work on another book at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wfyIQFYaao) and/or check out Dalton’s website at http://www.pameladaltonpapercutting.com/. Create your own piece of scherenschnitte art, then copy your favorite selection from Giving Thanks onto your work!