This is part of a series of articles on pursuing virtue. There are many virtues that Orthodox Christians should be working to attain in our own lives, while also teaching our Sunday Church School students to pursue them, as well. We have chosen to focus on the seven capital virtues mentioned in “the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.” As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to help ourselves and our students to grow in theosis, we must learn to not only resist and repent from those sins, but we must also learn to desire and labor to attain the virtues. May the Lord have mercy on us and on our students as together we pursue these virtues!
The last virtue we will focus on in this series is diligence. Merriam-Webster defines diligence as “steady, earnest, and energetic effort.” St. Theophan the Recluse helps us to understand diligence in the context of our Orthodox faith: “Our entire lives, in all their parts and details, must be devoted to God. The general rule is that everything you do should be done according to the Divine will and for the sake of pleasing God …Although [our] acts are not brilliant or perfect, [we] permit nothing consciously in them that would offend God or would not be pleasing to Him.” He goes on to say that when we choose to live in this way, our hearts will be filled with peace and joy because we will be living close to God. It is this definition of diligence that we should communicate to our Sunday Church School students: the deliberate decision to make everything that we do honor God, and the determination to carry out that decision to the best of our ability. (We should emphasize that we will not be perfect as we do this, but that our efforts will be pleasing to God and helpful to those around us, anyway!)
To introduce this virtue to your students, begin by having the word “diligence” spelled out with honey sticks (plastic straws with honey sealed inside, available online or at some grocery stores). Place the word somewhere in the classroom where the students will see it when they arrive at class (for example, down the middle of the table if you meet around a large table). The students will be curious about the honey sticks, so the discussion can begin almost immediately. Have them figure out what the word says, then begin talking about what it means. Allow the students who want to, to eat a honey stick as you talk about bees and their diligence to make the honey being consumed. (Each stick contains about one teaspoon of honey. It took 12 bees their entire lifetime – 6 weeks – to make that one honey stick. Bees visited more than 31,000 flowers to make each one of these honey sticks.) Talk about how hard the bees worked, and how diligent they are. Define diligence for the students, or have them concoct a definition together.
After talking about the definition of diligence with your students, help them learn about this important virtue by sharing stories with them that emphasize or model diligence. Stories teach in a way that is engaging, but also practical, for they demonstrate the application of the virtue in a way that mere definition cannot. There are many kinds of stories that would work for teaching about diligence. Saints’ stories are an excellent resource: their diligence in following God is what helped them to become a saint! There are also many stories in the scriptures that would help. (The story of Joseph is an excellent example!)
Folk tales offer another opportunity for us to teach children about diligence. Many cultures highly value diligence and thus have folktales to help communicate this virtue. “Give Up, Gecko!” by Margaret Read MacDonald (2013) is an excellent example. This Ugandan folktale tells the tale of many thirsty animals trying to make a hole deep enough to reach water during a drought. All the big animals try and quit when they do not succeed. Finally little gecko has a turn to try. Gecko is tempted to quit, too, especially when everyone laughs at him, but he is determined to provide water, and perseveres… and he succeeds! Read the story aloud to your students, or assign them roles and have them act it out as you read, with everyone chanting along with the animals as they stomp while attempting to create the water hole. Regardless of how you share the story, after it is over, discuss diligence. Ask questions like: “Who in the story demonstrated diligence? How did they do so? What can we learn about diligence from this story? What can we apply to our own life? Why is diligence important to our Orthodox Christian life?”
After teaching your students about diligence and citing an example (or more), invite your students to respond artistically to their learning. Extend the learning by selecting an art form that requires them to practice diligence. For example, a mosaic! Provide each student with a sturdy piece of cardstock (or cardboard) for the base of their piece and small tiles (pieces of paper, adhesive foam, or even tiny glass or ceramic tiles). On the cardstock, your students can sketch their design of something that reminds them of diligence, or even the word itself with a pencil. Then they can fill in the color using the tiles, carefully adhering the pieces inside the sketched space to create the final image. This project will require the students to work diligently to complete it, and thus makes an excellent example of what diligence is (as well as an opportunity to figure out how tedious it can be for us) with the opportunity to experience a beautiful reward (the finished project) at the end. You may want to display all of the projects in a place where the whole parish can see and enjoy them, when they are finally finished!
Whether we follow the above suggestions or come up with a lesson plan of our own, let us be sure to teach our students about diligence. It is a virtue that is much easier to teach about than it is to truly learn and apply! But it is much needed, in order that all of the other virtues can be better attained. So, it is important that we (diligently!) work to help our Sunday Church School students learn about this virtue.
Here are other resources that can help you to plan a lesson on diligence:
Here is a preschool lesson (non-Orthodox, but still quite helpful) on diligence: https://preschooljoy.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/diligence-lesson-1/
Here’s a simple lesson plan on diligence that can be used with young children. It features a discussion of the story of the ants and the grasshopper, and even offers a fingerprint craft idea! It’s not Orthodox, and is written for parents to use with their children, but could easily used in a Sunday Church School context: http://meaningfulmama.com/teaching-diligence-with-the-ant-and-the-grasshopper.html
This secular character-education article about diligence offers some books that can be read at various ages, as well as suggestions from nature, biographies, etc. that can enhance a discussion of diligence: http://classroom.synonym.com/childrens-lessons-diligence-vs-laziness-12134203.html
Here is another (secular) list of books that can be used in a discussion of diligence: http://pacecommunity.org/diligence-a-list-for-young-readers-2/
And here is a list by a Christian blogger: http://meaningfulmama.com/books-diligence.html
Practice diligence with your students by giving them some problem-solving opportunities. This (Christian, but not Orthodox) blog post offers suggestions that can spark further ideas: http://meaningfulmama.com/day-125-diligence-in-problem-solving.html
This (Christian but not Orthodox) lesson on diligence features the story of Ruth from the Bible. http://howtohomeschoolmychild.com/we-choose-virtues-learning-to-be-diligent/
This blog post is aimed at helping your own children learn about diligence. Although it is not Orthodox, it contains many great ideas for teaching children about diligence. We especially liked the challenge ideas offered here; as they give children a fun way to practice their diligence! https://www.steadfastfamily.com/hero-training-kids-character-challenge-diligence-week-5/
Consider including this self-evaluating diligence survey in a lesson with teens: http://www.performwell.org/index.php/find-surveyassessments/outcomes/social-development/life-skills/diligence-scale-for-teenagers#popup. After completing the survey, discuss diligence and how the teens intend to improve their score over time. (It may be beneficial to have them take the survey again at a later date, for a check-up!)