Family and Friends/Holy Friendship/My Relationships Keeping up With Youth Group Friends Over Summer by Josh Kay People love their routines. They love knowing that they can do the same thing at the same time on the same day. For me, my routine was hanging out with my friends at Life Teen in the parish hall basement from 5-7 p.m. on Sunday nights. There was a sense of comfort knowing that regardless of what happened the week before, my weekly visit to a Life Night or Bible study would keep me focused and centered on God. I looked forward to these nights because I was challenged by the topic or affirmed by my friends, but also because my friends relied on me to hold them accountable with their struggles and celebrate their joys. But then summer would come and the routine would change, leaving me anxious and wondering about the state of my friendships. Friendships Take Effort I was so used to my routine of having my friends there for me when “I” needed them that I was overlooking the most important aspect of authentic friendship: willing the good of the other by putting their needs first. Saint John Paul II said it best: “Friendship, as has been said, consists in a full commitment of the will to another person with a view to that person’s good.” If you have ever watched how a sword is made (think of the sword of Narsil in the Lord of the Rings — fist bump for LOTR reference), you know that in order to strengthen the iron on the blade, it is heated up and then struck with another hammer, usually iron as well. Using this hammer strengthens the blade, making it strong and sturdy. That’s what friendship takes, “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). I started to realize I shouldn’t wait for the phone to ring but instead, needed to pick it up and check in with my friends. Once I made this a habit, my phone would ring when I needed my friends the most. If you’re already deep into summer mode, here are some tips on how to make the effort and maintain your friendships: Set Aside Time Be intentional about making time to hang out with your friends. Maybe you don’t have a Life Night every Sunday over the summer, but you can still set up something each week with a group of friends who bring out the best in you. Research local concerts or sporting events. Go see the newest movie or find the coolest coffee shop. Invite them to daily Mass with you or include them in a holy hour at a local adoration chapel. The more effort you put into that invitation, the more fruitful the time spent together will be. Hold Each Other Accountable You may have experienced a summer trip, retreat, or Life Night where you shared something incredibly personal with a small group — maybe an admission of struggle or a fear for the future. If that’s the case, ask the people you’ve shared with to hold you accountable. And on the flipside, if someone has shared something personal with you, continue to check in periodically. Let them know you are invested in them and their journey toward heaven Doing so may help them realize their struggles aren’t so tough because they’re not in it alone. Not only does accountability lead to individual growth, it can also lead to stronger, deeper friendships. Pope Francis said, “a friend isn’t just an acquaintance, someone you enjoy passing the time with. It is something much deeper. The ones where you can be the most vulnerable free of judgement.” Good friends are those you can confide in and open your heart to, those with whom you can share your joys and sorrows. Prayer Rocks! Pray for your friends. Call them out by name and state what they need, seriously! God rejoices in your requests. He is not sitting up in heaven deciding whose needs are greater than others. Rather he already knows what they need and calls upon you to answer. And if you don’t know what specific intentions to pray for, offer a simple Guardian Angel prayer for your friends. Individual prayer is great, but what about praying with your friends? If your parish has an adoration chapel, set up a time to meet for a holy hour. Talk to your youth minister to find out if there are any resources you can use to create your own Bible study or discipleship group. If your friends have moved away, use video chat to pray a decade of the rosary or your favorite novena together. Don’t Be Afraid to Let Go There are some cases where you invite or reach out to a friend and they don’t respond. They may put other priorities ahead of your friendship, move to another state, or not be supportive in your times of struggle. In fact, sometimes maintaining that friendship may even be negatively impacting you. Friendship involves an encounter that draws you closer to the other person. If you are feeling excluded or left out, or like the friendship isn’t healthy, it is OK to let it go. You may not be letting go forever, but at least for a period of time so you can surround yourself with people that push you closer to Jesus, people that encourage you, and make you and your needs their own personal priority. Saint Josemaria Escriva said of friendship, “True friendship also means making a heartfelt effort to understand the convictions of our friends.” This summer, make it a point to reach of to your friends and invite them to share with you all that God has in store. And who knows, when the inflatables and messy games come back every Sunday night in the fall, you may have new friends to experience them with!