What do running and prayer have in common? Neither happens in the summer. Summer is a time when many college students no longer have missionaries or other students calling them, inviting them to pray or to come to Bible study, and for student athletes, there are no coaches hosting mandatory practices. Yeah, summer is a time to kick back, relax, and enjoy the sun. Right?
Wrong. While summer is considered by most, me included, as the off-season, it should be recognized as a time when there is the most potential for growth. This is most evident to me with running, an aspect of my life that I frequently relate to prayer. Summer running is a time when consistent training can build without the interruptions of competition. Muscles are strengthened, and fortitude is built. Spiritual growth can occur in a similar manner in the summer. Consistency in prayer will till and seed the soils of the soul. The soul will flourish.
So how can we grow during the summer spiritually? It takes time. It takes effort. Most importantly, it can’t be done by just checking daily prayer off the to-do list. Maybe your practice of prayer starts that way. Mine did, and sometimes it still feels like that. But time with God must transition from a “have to” to a “want to”. That sounds somewhat daunting, but God offers the grace to form our hearts. The following are the best five pieces of advice that I have been given in my own journey to grow in love.
1. Start every day right.
This doesn’t mean having a bowl of some Wheaties for breakfast. It means get out of bed and start the day with the Lord in prayer. I want to emphasize the “GET OUT OF BED” part of that for two reasons. One, lying in bed in the mornings is a time for the imagination to run wild. The imagination is a gift from God, but we sometimes misuse it. Perhaps we try to reenter a dream or think about what might have been. Neither of these choices pursue reality.
Get up and praise God for the reality that is life. Be alive in it and rejoice. Secondly, starting a day in sloth condenses the time available for tasks throughout the day. Suddenly work and running errands bump prayer down the priority list. When the day ends, prayer hasn’t happened. I have tried praying too late at night too many times because I did not prioritize waking up in the mornings. Wake up so that you don’t feel too busy for prayer. Praying in the mornings is a way to offer God the first fruits of the day and recognize each day as a gift.
2. Prioritize prayer.
Constant prayer is what starts that transition from feeling pressured to pray to wanting to pray. Your relationship with God is like any other relationship. The more time you spend with Him, the more you will come to know and love him. I didn’t come to know any of my friends by just talking to them once a week and only complaining to them. Spend time with God to know Him. Unfortunately for most of us, a switch isn’t flipped so that it is made easy to love God and to take time to pray. It is a process. Especially in the summer, it can be difficult to remove yourself from the sun or from the business of nothing to go pray, but it is necessary.
Set a time every day for prayer and stick to it. Turn off the radio in the car and pray a decade of the rosary on your drives. Pray with sacred scripture: the daily readings, WRAP prayer, any random page. Don’t be scared away from prayer because of a time commitment. The length of time spent in prayer isn’t set. It doesn’t have to be a holy hour. Set 15 minutes aside whenever works in your day. The more you pray, the more you will enjoy praying. By the end of the summer, a holy hour might not be too much. Just look at your screen time report and tell me that you can’t sacrifice some of that time. Make time to pray.
3. Form your intellect.
The formation of the intellect is crucial to growing in love of God. Frank Sheed writes in Theology and Sanity that “We can never attain a maximum love of God with only a minimum knowledge of God.” The more we know about God, the more we can love him. Summer is a fantastic time to grow in both love of God and knowledge of God. As much as I would like to keep any sort of reading reserved for the school year, there is an importance in forming your mind.
Take some time to read a theological work. It doesn’t have to be dense writing geared towards doctoral students. Pick a book with a title that ends with “For Beginners”. As you grow intellectually, you will find truths that cement your love for the Faith.
4. Get to the sacraments.
Confession and Daily Mass are catered to students on college campuses. Back home in the summers, the sacraments might not be offered at such convenient times. Do some research and find when the sacraments are. Masstimes.org is a great resource for this. Find the times that work, and make an effort to get there, even if it means losing a half hour of sleep or postponing dinner twenty minutes. Sometimes going to Mass might look like rolling out of bed and sprinting to the church, a scenario that I have lived. It is still worth it! Jesus is present! Go see Him. Go receive Him. He wants to be with you!
5. Find a group.
The single most difficult part of the summer is feeling isolated. It seems like your support group vanishes as soon as you leave campus. Bible studies have ended, and the crowds of Catholic college students have dispersed. Thankfully, there is an invention called a cell phone. Call a friend! Check in weekly to talk about the Faith! Weekly check-ins with brothers and sisters to grow in faith is a way I stay on track morally. I want to shine with the love of God that they do. Find a group, and you will build each other up.
So, what do running and prayer have in common? Growth through them is a process that involves showing up, even when you don’t want to. The more you do them, the easier they become. Both are easier with people around you to keep you accountable. And believe it or not, both can actually happen in the summer!