When I was in college, I found that those long-awaited, blissful days of summer, however enjoyable, always caused a certain amount of spiritual angst for me. Thrown out of my rhythm established at school, my spiritual life would take a beating during the 3 months I was home and leave me back at square one just in time for my return to school in August. I would then spend 9 months re-instilling those hard fought-for habits and be at my spiritual happy place in time for summer.
I’m sure you can guess what happened next.
The pattern continued.
The most frustrating part of all of this was that I tried. I went to daily Mass, said rosaries, you name it, but for some reason being away from the infrastructure I had made for myself at school always hurt my spiritual fitness.
With that in mind, here are some thoughts for those college and high-school students struggling without the structure of academia to keep us all honest!
1. Play Offense, Not Defense
When I would go home, knowing that my routine was changing and worried about the harm it would cause my spiritual habits, I would switch into defense mode, which probably made the situation worse.
Let me give an example.
Instead of praying at Mass like I usually do – offering up prayers of thanksgiving, intentions, meditations and the like – I would go to Mass with the sole purpose of “remaining spiritually fit.” All this accomplished was the exact opposite of what I wanted. I would be so distracted in Mass wondering the whole time about whether or not I was praying well that I wasn’t praying at all. In fact, I was getting distracted and setting myself up to feel alienated from Our Lord.
The same is true for my times of contemplation, rosaries, etc. I would worry too much about maintaining my spiritual health.
However, what do the greatest saints say? If you are not moving forward, you’re moving backward. I shouldn’t have been focused on maintaining my spiritual life at all. I should have been focused on growing in intimacy with Christ. That’s what we should all do, regardless of the situation or change in routine. That’s what my focus was at school, and should have continued to be at home. My loss of focus on that disrupted my routine even more!
2. Spiritual Fitness is Like Physical Fitness
By that I mean that when people work out, often they find that they reach a plateau. They continue to lift, run, tone, and eat well, but they find that they don’t move forward or get stronger in their training. This usually means that they need to mix it up. Doing the same exercises over and over again only results in your muscles becoming incredibly good at that one exercise, and not growing in strength all the way around. If you mix it up and change exercises, often you’ll find that your strength increases dramatically.
The same can be said for our spiritual lives. I would spend 9 months getting to my spiritual fitness peak and then our Lord would give me an opportunity that I squandered every single time: to change my routine and grow even more. Think of summer as that change in exercise regimen that will not only prevent you from falling backward, but launch you forward into unprecedented intimacy with God! Think of prayers, books, or spiritual habits you’ve been interested in or wanting to form and take those 3 months to do it!
3. Create an Infrastructure
As I said above, the main reason I struggled so during the summer months was that I didn’t have the normal people around to keep me honest and I didn’t have a routine of spiritual events to go to or keep myself on track with. In short, I lost my infrastructure.
My last summer home, it finally clicked. If structure and accountability buddies are what I need, then make it and find them! Find a friend you can go to Mass with a couple of times a week. Get some of your college buddies to form a Facebook group where you can all post about your spiritual habits, things you’ve tried, new prayers you’ve learned. Make Skype dates with your Catholic besties in college and pray the rosary with them! Set something in stone and you’ll find you’re less likely to fall.
4. Trust God
Finally, relax! Focus your thoughts on God. Periodically throughout the day, just say “Hi, Jesus” or “I love you” to Our Lord. If something happens during your day that makes you smile, laugh, feel good, or makes you happy, say a quick Hail Mary of thanksgiving for that moment. Likewise for those things that may be negative.
In everything, offer Him your concerns and trust that you are His beloved child! He will not abandon, nor forsake you. Make this summer a living loaves and fishes: take to Him what you have and He will bless it abundantly. Let Him know you love Him and you’re trying your best and He will take care of the rest!