Entries with tag gratitude .

Remember The Good

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”

A.A. Milne,  Winnie-the-Pooh

 

The beginning of a new year always makes me reflect.

 

And I’m not alone.

 

It’s why new year resolutions are so popular: you start to think about all the things you accomplished (or didn’t) in the past year and want to project yourself on a better (or just different) path for the year ahead.  

 

And I love the opportunity to try and set myself up for success and new beginnings.  The new year is a fresh start and a time to be concrete about how you want to improve.  (It’s particularly helpful if you’ve forced everyone to write their resolutions on a poster board in glitter paint.)

 

But it’s more than just a time to look forward; the new year gives us a special opportunity to look back on everything that has happened in our lives.  It’s a great time to see how we want to change, sure, but it’s a perfect time to acknowledge all the blessings we’ve experienced in the past year.  

 

It’s the perfect time to express gratitude to all the people who helped get us through.  

 

That gratitude, rather than regret, helps us lean into the things that are going well in our lives.  Rather than focusing on the mistakes I made last year (there are more than a few) I’m trying to focus on all the things that I’m doing right, and working on offering thanks to those who have helped get me there.  

 

Instead of trying to fight all my terrible habits, I’m going to try and build upon my good ones.  

 

Instead of being disappointed in the difficulties of last year, I’m going to be thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had, and all the incredible people I’ve encountered.  

 

Because as St Porphyrios said, it’s easier to build our love for Christ rather than to spend our energy fighting against sin. “Do not fight to expel the darkness from the chamber of your soul.  Open a tiny aperture for light to enter, and the darkness will disappear.”

 

We can’t spend our lives simply running from sin; that’s incomplete. The more important (not to mention easy and fulfilling) thing is to spend our lives running towards Christ.

 

And an important part of building up my love for Christ is expressing gratitude.

 

I like to think the people I love know how much I love them.  But I also know that, despite my best efforts, I occasionally take them for granted.  It’s easy to fall into a rhythm when someone is there for you all the time.  We come to see their presence in our lives as a guarantee rather than a blessing, and forget to be appreciative of who they are and what they do.

 

And that starts with acknowledging that there are things you couldn’t do without them.  

 

Not only does acknowledging and offering thanks remind those in your life how much you need them, but it also reminds you that there are people who love you enough to offer you their time and energy.  It reminds you that even when you have rough moments in the upcoming year (as I’m sure we all will) there are also incredible things in your life.  Remembering that, and expressing that freely, strengthens your relationships with the people you love.  It helps them know they are wanted and needed.

 

Actually looking someone in the eye and genuinely thanking them for all they have done for you reinforces your relationship and helps you both appreciate each other.  

 

As important as it is to express gratitude to the people in our lives, and show our appreciation for all that is done for us, it is just as important to be grateful in our spiritual lives.  

 

More often than I care to admit, I find myself forgetting to be thankful in my prayer life.  I pray for what I want, and for those who I want God to help, but I forget to also be thankful for all that the Lord has already given us.  

 

While I remember the blessings of my life, and acknowledge them as blessings, I don’t always remember where those blessings are coming from.  And how important it is to express thanks for them in my prayers.  

 

The good things in my life aren’t by accident.  The people who help me every day (for whom I’m incredibly grateful) are a blessing. The opportunities I’m offered (for which I’m incredibly grateful) are a blessing.  And it’s not enough to simply be appreciative, I have to actively express that appreciation.  

 

Expressing our gratitude floods our memories with these blessings and we start to remember more of the good and less of the bad.  Our past year begins to look brighter than it once did, and our outlook on the future improves.

 

And instead of just focusing on the glitter pen resolutions, I can also focus on what how much God has already given me, and how completely He loves me and us all.  

 

 

 

Charissa is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM.  Charissa grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah where she studied political science at the University of Utah.  She enjoys sunshine, the mountains and snowcones.  Charissa currently lives in New York City.   

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Why Orthodox Christians Should Do Their Genealogy

Growing up, I barely knew my extended family. My immediate family was pretty small: just my parents, my sister and me. It wasn’t until after my parents divorced and remarried that my understanding of family dramatically shifted and expanded. As my family grew with these new marriages, so did my desire to know more about where I came from, to know whose sacrifices made me possible and whose features I saw in the mirror.

 

What began as a small hobby has become a huge part of my life today. My family tree – filled with extended cousins and distant ancestors – now has over 4,000 individuals. And as I’ve worked on six other family trees for friends, I have the same excitement each time I learn more about a new member of a family. What was their story? What happened to them?

 

For me, it seems natural that Orthodox Christians would want to learn more about their families. After all, historically Orthodox cultures tend to put a beautiful emphasis on family and extended family relationships.

 

What’s more, Orthodox teaching itself also suggests that it would be wise to study our personal genealogy.

 

1. The God of our fathers

 

In the Great Doxology, we sing “Blessed are You, O Lord, the God of our fathers, and praised and glorified is Your name forever, amen!” Each time I sing this prayer (from the Prayer of Azariah in the Book of Daniel) I’m reminded that our worship as Orthodox Christians is connected to something larger than me. Our God is the God of our fathers, not only of our ancestors but of the Church Fathers and Mothers, those whose sacrifices were the witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

Our identity as Orthodox Christians rests in our being a part of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. We are rooted in the work and teachings of the Apostles (Apostolic) and when we are gathered in the local church we are united to the whole Body of Christ (Catholic). We surround ourselves by icons of the saints, reminding ourselves that those who came before us are intimately connected to us today through our union with Christ. And before writing or preaching to our world of today, we study the lives and writings of the saints to see what the Fathers had to say on the topic.

 

As Orthodox Christians, we move forward confidently only by knowing that we are firmly rooted on the tried and true foundation of our past. We know where we are going only because we know where we’ve been.

 

And since the Orthodox Church teaches the dignity of both soul and body, the story of who we are includes both our Orthodox story and our biological family’s story. If it is a natural aspect of our spiritual lives as Orthodox Christians to learn about our spiritual family, we ought to also learn about our biological family.

 

2. Attitude of gratitude

 

Father Alexander Schmemann taught that man was intended to be not just Homo sapiens, but ultimately Homo adorans: to offer worship and give praise to God. If individually we offer praise to God, then collectively we give that praise as the Church most clearly in the Liturgy – at the Eucharist. The most Orthodox thing we do is to give thanks (eucharistia) every Sunday. But how does this thanksgiving carry out into all aspects of our lives?

 

We thank God in the Liturgy for all that He has given us. We give thanks during Thanksgiving, and after Christmas, we make sure to thank those who have given us gifts. But have we forgotten our ancestors whose sacrifices and survival made our lives possible? Their gift to us was their survival, their gift to us is that they paved the way for the lives we live today. As the author of The Art of Manliness writes, gratitude has no expiration date. Just learning who these people were, discovering something about them, is our way of saying “thank you” for their gifts to us even if we never noticed them before.

 

Discovering our genealogy helps us to grateful for all of our gifts, for who we are today is because of the prayers, sacrifices, and talents of those who have come before us.

 

3. Relationships matter

 

As people, we all crave relationships. God is love, and created us in His image. In part, this means that we are created to offer love and to live in relationship with others. In the Church, we are given a community, a place where we can grow closer to God together. Even in a secular context, those who study addiction are finding that “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.” So there’s something powerful about the relationships we choose to have in our lives.

 

In the Orthodox Church, we have a lot of relationships that connect individuals and families in a web of connection. In the Orthodox wedding service, we pray, "Remember also, Lord our God, the parents who have brought them up, for the prayers of parents make firm the foundations of households." So even in what we tend to think of as a service about two people, we are reminded that a wedding is also about two families coming together.

 

The Church gives us Godparents, and connects us as koumbaroi to those who aren’t biologically related to us. Many in the Church actually see koumbaroi to be like biological family since there is a tradition that their children shouldn’t marry each other. In the past, the Church also offered the service of “brother-making” where a priest formally blessed the bond between two friends.

 

So if the Church sees relationships as being powerful, restorative aspects of our lives, what might we benefit by learning about the relationships that came before us? In learning about our ancestors, we will also learn about the relationships they held most dear. Just as we give importance to the web of relationships we have today, so did our ancestors.

 

We honor our relationship to our ancestors by learning about the relationships that they had, too.

 

4. Memory Eternal

 

In the Orthodox Church, we pray that the memories of our departed loved ones will be eternal. Having faith in the resurrection and hoping that God will keep our loved ones forever in His Kingdom, we pray for the dead knowing that they are alive in Christ.

 

Our prayer for those who have passed on is one way that we can work through our sadness and grief. Another way that we can work through this grief is to learn more about those who came before us. If we pray for our grandparents, do we pray for their grandparents too? As our tradition as Orthodox is to pray for persons by name, it would help to know our ancestors names to best pray for them. Genealogy helps us not only to discover their names, but to even learn what struggles they might have encountered in their lives.

 

Just as learning the lives of the saints helps us to identify with their lives, so too can learning the lives of our ancestors help us to better empathize with their struggles and to lift them up in prayer.

 

*****

 

The Orthodox Church teaches us to live lives of gratitude, firmly rooted in the faith of our fathers so that we can offer the world an authentic faith today. In the Church, we discover the importance of relationships and see that our relationships in this life cannot be destroyed by death. And just as we pray for our loved ones, genealogy offers Orthodox Christians the opportunity to encounter those who have departed from this life.

 

Do you know the names of your great-grandparents? How might learning the stories of your ancestors help you to better live in gratitude today?

 

Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter. As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

 

Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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Giving Thanks Even During the Holidays

As the weather is getting colder, we enter into that period known as “the holidays”: that mix of secular and religious feasts of Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and Theophany. And in the midst of the hectic fervor of Christmas preparations, we stop for a moment and give thanks. Thanksgiving that secular Pascha of Autumn is a chance for everyone to be together once again, gathered around a spread of delicious food.

 

But for many people, the holidays can be a challenge. They are a reminder of what has changed and those we have lost. We remember the good old days and how things have changed, we remember our losses, we remember our differences with family members, and we remember our resentments. And then comes the predictable question from our family of why we’re still single or when we’re getting married.

 

And just as we start thinking we’re so different from our family, during the holidays we realize we’re slowly…becoming…our parents.

 

So how do we give thanks during the holidays when we just want to escape them?

 

1. Walk in love

 

One of the hardest things for many of us during the holidays is to walk in love. We have so much on our minds, so many things to do, so many places to go to see this or that family member, that we can easily get frustrated and short-tempered.

 

But we have another model to follow. "Be imitators of God, as beloved children,” St. Paul writes, “and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:1-2). The way we live out the Holidays should be modeled by Christ’s own sacrificial love. So how do we walk in love during the Holidays?

 

Well for starters, St. Paul doesn’t say to walk in fear or to walk in resentments. We are to walk in love. So the first thing we need to do is leave behind our fears and our resentments, to leave behind our family feuds and our political differences. We need to walk in love, and love requires sacrifice.

 

What can each of us offer to our family and friends? We can offer them grace and patience, we can offer them our serenity and our listening ears. This can be our offering, our fragrant offering, this holiday season. And we might even find that it’s easier to be thankful when we walk in love.

 

2. Make the most of the time

 

Time is one of those things we tend to wish away, and then wish we could get back. We take for granted the time we have with those we love. We think we’ll be able to make those amends later, we’ll be able to listen to them later. But if we are to walk in love, we need to “look carefully then how [we] walk,” says St. Paul, "not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time" (Ephesians 5:15-16).

 

When we make the best use of the time, we will be aware of all that we have to be thankful for. When we are wishing the time away, we might try to escape our present situation by going to our phones to text, tweet, snap, or scroll through Instagram. Our instinct to escape our uncomfortable situation keeps us from connecting, it disconnects us from those around us, and it is certainly not making the most of our limited time with our loved ones. We need to be present with our family and friends during the holidays, not trying to will the time away.

 

Something we can all do is to take a break from our phones when we are together with family. We can practice being more fully present by joining in conversation with family members, by engaging with those people we haven’t spoken with in a while, or to get to know our family better than with surface level conversation.

 

Do you have old-timers left in your family? Ask them family stories, ask about your family history. Usually, people don’t think anyone would be interested in these stories, so they don’t share them. But these are the stories we will never know if we don’t ask. And plus, storytelling is a way to grow closer to and to connect with family.

 

3. Discern what is pleasing to the Lord

 

Have you ever noticed that it’s easier to be patient with strangers, or with your boss, than it is to be patient and loving to your family members? We are able to discern what is the right action with those we know we have to be nice to, but we struggle with our family, especially during the holidays when tension seems to run high. What we need in these moments is to “discern what is pleasing to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10).

 

Discernment involves being able to sort through all of the noise we encounter, and find some sense of order or music in it all. Discernment is being able to find the good when we want to focus on the bad. St. Paul tells us that “at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light, for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true” (Ephesians 5: 8-9). So instead of being a source of darkness (being argumentative, or worse, non-communicative) we could try to be a source of light, to try to be pleasing to the Lord in all of our interactions with family during the holidays.

 

In discussing giving thanks, St. Paul frames it in contradistinction to a lack of sobriety. Instead of giving into the temptations of impurity, covetousness, foolish talk, crude joking, and drunkenness, we are to give “thanks always and for everything” (Ephesians 5: 4, 20). Being thankful and discerning what is pleasing to God are the sober actions that we choose to take during the holidays. And being with family during the holidays is the soil where we grow in our faith, perhaps the place our faith is tested the most.

 

*****

 

The holidays are as full of feasts as they are of opportunities to test and grow in our faith. When we are so wrapped up in the stresses that these occasions bring us, we can look past the little blessings, we can miss the beauty of life as we focus on its imperfections.

 

But as we prepare for our family get-togethers, we can prepare by remembering to walk in love. We can be aware of each moment so that we can make the most of our time. And we can approach our time with family in sobriety and thankfulness, with a discerning mind and by doing what is pleasing to God.

 

How are you going to walk in love during the holidays? Do you struggle with being present with family; do you find yourself escaping into your phone? How can you show your thanks to your family and make the most of this time?

 
 

Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter. As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

 

Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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The Benefits of Time Travel

When I first heard about the app “Timehop,” I had really mixed feelings.

 

If you haven’t heard of it, it does what it sounds like: hops through time. It pools together a conglomerate of your social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.), and each year it will tell you what you’ve posted on these platforms on this day in years past. And if you haven’t heard of Timehop, I’m sure you’ve come into contact with the Facebook feature that does the same thing.

 

At first, I hated the idea of Timehop simply because I didn’t want to have everything that I’ve put up to be accessible in one place.

 

On one hand, I mean, it’s just embarrassing! Sometimes, it feels like I’m looking back on someone else’s life. Someone way different from me.

 

The message is clear: you can’t escape past you. But I’ve chosen to change my perspective on Timehop.

 

Because on the other hand, as embarrassing as it can be to see that I 0nc3 wr0t3 lyk dys, it can also be heartwarming and eye-opening. Like when it reminds me of a great friendship, a family trip, something that made me laugh.

 

It also can remind me of how far I’ve come. Often, when we’re in happy times, we forget the bad times that led us there. But Timehop takes us right back, whether we want to go there or not.

 

For example, take my current job. I will often refer to this job as my “dream job” and I’m not kidding (and I’m not just writing this because my boss is reading it). But it didn’t just appear out of thin air. And I never want to forget how blessed I am to be here.

 

Because Timehop has been reminding me lately that this time last year I was all over the place. I was posting pictures of the beautiful campus on which I worked, trying to make myself love where I was. Secret: I did not love where I was. I was praying a lot that things would get better and actively searching for new opportunities, but I felt kind of abandoned by God. I mean, I had just graduated, spent a few months unemployed, and when I finally found part-time employment, I hated it. It felt like a horrible joke. I felt like my life was at a standstill, and I had no idea where I was headed.

 

But by the grace of God, a few people mentioned this job listing, and I figured “there’s probably something to this. Let me apply.” Here I am, a little less than a year later, having made it out of that rut.

 

The things that I see on Timehop, as unwanted as they can sometimes be, stand to remind me that life can change through faith, trust, and prayer. This doesn’t always ensure that things will get better, that things will change immensely, but even the little things count sometimes.

 

It’s hard to see these types of things from day to day, but I bet that if you looked back on where you’ve been and compared that to where you are now, you would see major changes.

 

Challenge yourself to find something to be grateful for. Even a change from who you were, how you thought, or where your faith laid a few years ago is important. And if you don’t believe you have a lot to be grateful for, download Timehop.

 

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Want more from Y2AM?  Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday!  And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter.  As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

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Maria is the Administrative Coordinator of Y2AM. She is a New York native who isn't completely sold on the city's charm, yet has never left. A proud graduate of Fordham University and occasional runner, she is happiest whenever chocolate, a sale, or a good Gilmore Girls reference is involved.

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The Past Is the Journey to the Present

When I was in sixth grade, I got glasses. Please picture this: I wore glasses, had braces (with bright green rubber bands because that was my favorite color), and I was also going through a phase where I wore sweatpants every day that I could get away with it. If I had to go back and erase any part of my life, it would probably be that one. Thankfully there isn’t much photographic evidence of this phase; kudos to my mom for knowing that it would probably embarrass me later on!

 

There are parts of everyone’s life that they wish they could erase. I mean, I wouldn’t come out with the above story on a first date when I was trying to put my best foot forward. Yet it remains that the best way to know someone is to hear about their past. That means even the things that they wish hadn’t happened.

 

Sometimes, we want to hide these parts of our past from others. Or even from ourselves. But this means hiding a part of ourselves; perhaps we are even naive enough to think that our past doesn’t affect us anymore, or that it doesn’t affect those around us.

 

I’ve been thinking about my past lately, like what exactly has led me to the point in life that I’m at now. Some of it is so bad and horrible and embarrassing (refer to sixth grade), and I don’t want to think about it. But it has shaped me nonetheless. And where I came from shapes my thoughts, my actions, and my interactions endlessly.

 

Even in those moments when I was not close to God, He was there. I just didn’t notice it. It is the most embarrassing thing to think about: that God has seen all of my transgressions, that He has experienced all of my favorite memories with me, yet I never thanked Him nor acknowledged Him. I don’t really understand how, looking back, but I just seriously did not know that He was there.

 

Don’t I wish that I could take that back now? Absolutely! I wish that I could have known Christ my whole life. I also wish I wouldn’t have put neon green rubber bands on my braces and made bad fashion choices…

 

I think that if I had known Christ then, I would have known that things would get better during the worst of times, because He was present. And that I should have been thankful to Him when things were great, because He was alongside me, sharing in my every happiness.

 

Even though it may seem like on the surface that I should be ashamed of the time in my life when I didn’t know Christ, I now know to be thankful to Him for everything, even my shortfalls. I know that my experiences of doubt and distance from God in the past help me relate to other people who are going through the same thing. I know where I’ve been, and although I never want to go back there, I can be compassionate and patient as others wrestle with their doubts and seek for meaning and truth in their lives.

 

In fact, I’d say my doubt in Christ undoubtedly made me into the person I am today. And if it hadn’t been for others sharing their own struggles, people who went through periods of doubt and just plain old ignorance, I may not have gotten through any of those things and found Christ through them.

 

I thank God that there are people out there who understand me, who are like me. We all might have similar thoughts about wanting to erase our pasts, I’m so glad that we can’t. We can’t be ashamed of where we came from, we can only grow from where we are now. It reminds me of a Darius Rucker song, “This.” Every single thing that has happened to us, as he explains, has made us what we are today.

 

Without my past imperfections (or my braces, sweatpants, and glasses phase) and the grace of God, I wouldn’t be who I am today.

 

If it was only through a period of ignorance that I could come to know Christ, then I am immensely grateful for my ignorance.

 

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Want more from Y2AM?  Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday!  And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter.  As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

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Maria is the Administrative Coordinator of Y2AM. She is a New York native who isn't completely sold on the city's charm, yet has never left. A proud graduate of Fordham University and occasional runner, she is happiest whenever chocolate, a sale, or a good Gilmore Girls reference is involved.

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