Our Joyous Response to God’s Blessings

By Rebekah Moll

As a high school teacher I have been very blessed to develop trusting relationships with some students.  One of my students, a devout Christian who is very open about her faith once asked me, “how do you keep God in your everyday life?”   I thought about the times in which I was most aware of him and found that it was when I was simply saying thank you.

Thanking God for the simple things reminded me of a book I was lead to read, The Ascetic of Love[1] in which Nun Gavrilia’s words emphasized the importance of thanksgiving as a sense of joy in the Lord,

When we become truly conscious of the gifts of God, we no longer have the time to ask for anything.  We keep going and saying Thank You….Thank You…Thank You…Thank You…  We see a person…Thank You…We see a flower…Thank You…We see a glass of milk…Thank You…Thank You….for everything!  And such a joy enters into our life that many, even of those that are close to us, cannot understand what’s all this.  When I lived in England sometimes people asked:  What’s up?  Why are you so happy”?  “Because I am alive and I see you…Good day to you”!

“We see a flower…”

Likewise, Matushka Juliana Schmemann said something similar in her lecture “A Joy to Serve” posted on Ancient Faith Radio.[2]

 Empty yourselves and be grateful just for being alive, for a morning, a day, or sunshine for solitude.  One can always find something to be grateful for, even .troubles, tribulations and suffering because they teach you to be strong, forgiving and full of light.

When we take the time to give thanks, we become aware that nothing comes from us.  My student’s question led me to further reflection to a period in my life when I was very “me focused.”  I have always been a busy person, occupying myself with all things that interested me, from teaching to taking college master courses, to coaching extracurricular activities, to working with youth outside of school through church, through having a husband, etc.  There was a point in my life when I was doing all these things and I became so worked up about things when they did not go my way or there was trouble along the way.  I did not realize it at the time, but I wasn’t giving God credit for anything.  I was constantly relying on myself which brought about a great deal of anxiety and worry.

It wasn’t until a quiet drive home from a day of teaching that God let me know that something was missing in my life and I realized it was Him.  Yes, I went to church and yes, I said my prayers, but I realized that amidst my actions, I wasn’t allowing Him to actually work in my life.  I realized my egotistical ways and my sin of pride.

I realized that I needed to hand things over to God and not do things for myself anymore.  Without giving thanks for all things we end up trapped in a spirit of pride and we forget where all things come from, good and bad.

I started to take baby steps, praying before and after tasks thanking God for allowing me opportunities and abilities.  I began to recognize that I am nothing and that God is everything.  He does not need me, but I need Him.

Again, this notion is emphasized by Nun Gavrilia[3] when she said,

It is you who must be grateful, immensely grateful.  When you become conscious of that, you will have God’s blessing.  Do you know why?  Because when God wants to help someone – you , for example – He will send somebody to do it.  This somebody could be anyone.  That is to say, if God had not sent this particular person, He would have sent another one.  You would have been helped anyhow.  “My help is from the Lord.”  Who am I therefore – this ”˜anyone’ – to take pride in helping?  Sometimes we hear someone say:  “If it weren’t for me, this could not have been done”!  and other such nonsense.  Whereas everything would have been done!  Do you understand why?  Because, as we are told God can make children for Abraham even out of stones and send them to help the world!

The idea of letting God take charge is also addressed in Dorotheos of Gaza:  Discourses and Sayings:[4]

A man standing in need of everything from God is ready to make progress; he knows how he will make progress, and cannot be puffed up.  He does not rely on his own abilities but attributes to God everything he does right and always gives thanks to him.

If we refuse to let God in, what we do is meaningless. There comes a sense of peace when you realize that no matter what, He is in control.

Saint Dorotheus of Gaza

“I’m not so good at this, but I believe it is when I thank Him for even the little things life brings,” was my reply to the student. So you see, even my student asking that question was not an accident!  It helped me to realize the meaningfulness of thanksgiving – to put together these moments in my life to find the deeper meaning – that in order to truly experience a sense of joy in our Lord, to praise God and be (re-)united with God; we need to give thanks for everything and to always give everything up to Him!

[1] Nun Gavrilla, The Ascetic of Love, 3rd Ed. (Athens: Tertios, 1999).

[2] Juliana Schmemann, “A Joy to Serve” Women Disciples of the Lord, Part II in Voices from St Vladimir’s Seminary Podcast Series. July 6, 2011, 37:31. The podcast is hosted by Ancient Faith Radio (ancientfaith.com)and can be heard at: http://ancientfaith.com/podcasts/svsvoices/women_disciples_of_the_lord_part_two

[3] The Ascetic of Love, 3rd Ed. (Athens: Tertios, 1999).

[4] Dorotheos of Gaza, Discourses and Sayings. Cistercian Studies Series, No. 33 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1978), 259pp.