Groggy, I rolled over in bed, realizing I had overslept for Mass that Sunday morning. I knew I could catch a later Mass that day, but I found myself tempted to skip that, too. As I rolled onto my back to look at the ceiling, I realized it was happening again: I was losing my faith. Just like when I arrived on campus as a freshman, my commitment to living out my faith was dwindling.
Only six months before, I had made a life-altering commitment to live my life for Jesus Christ; now summertime had arrived. I had gone back to the same summer job and was surrounded by the same shady characters. They encouraged me to slide back into the habits of the previous summer.
As I lay there in bed, I prayed: “God, if you don’t help me to turn things around by Wednesday, I’ll quit my job and do something that won’t cost my soul.”
The next morning, I reported for my manual labor job to learn that I had been assigned with Rick, a guy whom I was convinced was a sarcastic jerk. I began making plans for a new summer job as we climbed into the truck for a drive across the state. Within minutes of hitting the highway, Rick engaged me in a thrilling conversation about life, prayer, church, marriage and being a man. I realized some things very quickly: I was the jerk. God answers our prayers, and we all have a vital need for comrades in faith.
“Stay away from your enemies, and be on guard with your friends. Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whoever finds one finds a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price, no amount can balance their worth. Faithful friends are life-saving medicine; those who fear God will find them” (Sirach 6: 13-16).
As the school year ends and you head into summer, don’t forget the vital importance of Christ-centered friendships. For your sake and the sake of your faith, you need faithful friends to support you, whom you can support in return. Here are four tips for finding those friendships this summer:
1. Identify your Christ-centered friends in advance.
2. If you already know a committed disciple of Jesus who will be near you this summer, begin making plans to connect with them as quickly as you can. Let them know you are looking for someone to help you continue to grow close to the Lord. Pray that God will strengthen them and that together you can make an impact in the world around you.
3. If you don’t know anyone, start praying! This is a prayer God wants you to make, and I am confident he will answer! “Those who fear God will find them” (Sirach 6:16).
4. Don’t pre-judge. Rick and I had had only one or two brief encounters before the fateful trip that changed my summer. I would never have guessed he would become a sturdy shelter. God already knows where your refuge will come from. Let God reveal these faithful friends to you.
Also, be a friend first: “Man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” (“Gaudium et Spes” para. 24). If we don’t extend ourselves first in friendship and become a gift for others ourselves, we will not find what we need to remain close to God in the future.
As I heard a sage old football coach tell his team once, “Friends are like buttons on an elevator: They can take you up or take you down, but you get to choose.” Friendship is a critical part of the Christian life. Take advantage of the summer to build new friendships and to deepen old ones. Learn to “encourage one another daily, while it is still ‘today’” (Hebrews 3:13). It can make all the difference in how you grow in holiness this summer!