The school year is finally coming to a close and as we start to climb the giant mountain that is exam season, we are finally catching a glimpse of the promised land we have been waiting for since the first few days of school – summertime! The time for hanging out with friends, vegging out on the couch, taking cool trips, and of course bingeing on all the shows and movies that homework/studying prevented you from watching.
But when it comes to our spiritual lives, summertime can be a time of spiritual dryness – a time when we fall off our spiritual path – especially when some youth groups don’t meet as often, if at all during the two months of summer break.
During the school year, youth groups serve as places where we can reenergize and rest from the many spiritual battles of the week – a place where we can talk spiritual strategy, encourage one another, and learn from our mistakes so that we can jump back into the battle, armed and ready for whatever weekly challenges lie ahead. But when this isn’t available to us during the summer, what can we do? How can we grow spiritually when it feels like we are left to fend for ourselves?
Pondering these questions, I challenged myself to investigate the best ways to prevent a summer vacation from turning into a temporary vacation from God and compiled them into this short survival guide so that you can be prepared for the months ahead.
1. Shoot for the Moon
Forgive me if I sound like a DIY self-improvement book, but one of the keys to accomplishing anything – in this case staying spiritually fit during the summer – is setting goals for yourself. And just like heading to the gym, learning a new language, or mastering the art of Kung fu, you have to set objectives or resolutions for your spiritual life in order to make/continue any progress.
Set reasonable goals for yourself, like making a commitment to pray a decade of the rosary every day or reading a small part of the Bible every morning, and be creative. I once had a friend who made entering the bathroom a reminder for her to pray. Although this might sound strange, designating a space (i.e. bathroom, the car, a classroom) you use daily to remind yourself of your goals (i.e. praying) is not only creative, but extremely effective.
I think one of the most important parts of youth group is the support that the members provide one another throughout the spiritual highs and lows we encounter. This network of support acts like a harness that keeps us from flying away during the twists and turns we so often face on a daily basis – and this support doesn’t have to end when youth group isn’t in session.
A great way to continue and deepen in our faith journey during the summer is to form a community of friends with whom we can build trust and establish relationships. In this way we can create a group of people (or even just one person) that can hold one another accountable, support one another, pray together, have fun and enjoy each other’s company. As Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)
3. Answer the Call to Serve
By living out our faith it can grow tremendously. As stated in James 2:14-26, faith without works is dead, and thus service is the very embodiment of our faith put into action. Jesus calls on us to be His hands and feet to our neighbors and local communities by completing the Spiritual and Physical Works of mercy.
With no school, summer is a great time to meet Christ face to face out in the community through various volunteering opportunities like helping out at your church’s Vacation Bible School and/or CCD, or volunteering at a soup kitchen that serves the less fortunate in your area.
In any case find a cause or service you are passionate about and pursue it, not for the service hours, but for the greater glory of God. As St. Teresa of Avila said, “Christ has no body on earth now but yours” so this summer, be Christ’s body, live out your faith, and answer His call to serve.
4. Read Books for the Soul
Reading the Word of God is an essential part in any Christian’s spiritual journey, and thankfully it is the most widely available book in the world. But for many of us, we treat the Bible more as a paperweight than as the inspired Word of God, and it sits on a counter or bookshelf, untouched, unread, and unused.
Make this the summer that changes that.
Reading the Bible can seem like an insurmountable task. Its sheer length and complexity are enough to scare of any determined soul – and many times it is this seeming difficulty that prevents us from peeking into the book’s contents.
That’s why you need to find an approach that works best for you, whether that’s finding an app/website (see below) that gives you the Bible verse of the day, or setting a time or place where you commit yourself to reading a chapter of one of the gospels – anything, even the slightest steps, that gets you into the Word every day.
But you don’t have to stop there. Because Christianity has been around for 2,000 years, there have been countless books written by amazing Christians who have gone before us. These authors, many of them saints, have walked the walk and have talked the talk and can help us do the same. These are some of the works I recommend, but there is no end to the list of spiritual reading: St. Thérèse of Lisieux (Story of a Soul), C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Space Trilogy, A Case for the Christian Faith), G.K. Chesterton (Orthodoxy, The Father Brown Detective Series), St. Teresa of Avila (Interior Castle), The writings Mother Teresa (Come Be My Light), the Liturgy of the Hours, (a book that contains daily prayers, devotions, and scripture readings that every priest, nun, brother and deacon carries with them) and much, much more.
5. Stay Connected
We, undeniably, live in a highly connected world in which we are bombarded 24/7 with status updates, posts, and news feeds on social media – but this doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. There are also countless websites, apps, and Facebook pages that can shine the light of the Good News while you surf or scroll in the heat of the summer.
Below I’ve listed some of the best stuff I’ve found around the web to make Christ a part of your internet/social media experience:
Thinking about this problem, I was reminded of what a teacher of mine used to say to us in religion class – It’s not only about what you do in church/youth group/mass that counts – it’s what you do outside the walls of the church that matters.
So even during times when youth group is in session, it’s up to us to put our faith into action and to live out what we’ve learned in Mass and youth group everyday outside church.
Our faith doesn’t stop with the Mass and youth group; that is only where it begins.