Remember that time a friend of yours moved to a new school or city? You were sad that you wouldn't get to see each other as often, but promised you would keep in touch, whether by phone or email (or letters, as it was when I was younger), and get together every once in a while. But some time passes and the phone calls and emails and texts get less frequent and you never do find time to get together and catch up. Suddenly someone who was your good friend turns out to be a stranger, someone you remember having a relationship with but who isn't in your life anymore.
The same thing can happen with Jesus. Just like any friend, if we want Jesus in our lives (this amazing guy who loves us so much!) we have to constantly keep up with Him, by spending time speaking with and listening to Him. Think of what your relationship is like with your best friend. You want to be with them all the time because you have fun together and you care about each other; you know your best friend has your back and you've got theirs. This is what we can have with Jesus too, but, just like with our best friend, have to make time for that relationship so it will grow. This can be difficult in the summer because we've got so much going on that isn't part of our regular routine. Our families go on vacation, we skip church, and get caught up in our fun summer times, that apparently have nothing to do with our faith.
The thing is, that doesn't have to happen! We can actually have an amazingly fun summer and still keep in touch with Jesus. How? It's way easier than you think. Here are some suggestions to keep your relationship with Jesus growing through the summer:
Yes, I'm starting with prayer. The thing with prayer is we can get caught up in thinking that we have to be super quiet and holy, kneeling down and bowing our heads in order to really communicate with God. Though this is a valid form of prayer, we can just as easily pray by taking a moment to look around and be grateful for what God has blessed us with (because everything good comes from God). Having an amazing time at Disneyland? Say a silent, "Thanks, Jesus, for all the fun I'm having here," or "Thank you, God, for making me not throw up on Space Mountain!" Spending the weekend with your grandparents? Try, "Thank you, Jesus, for my loving grandparents." Having a not so fun day? Tell Jesus: "Hey, Jesus, I'm not having such a great day today. Bring me comfort and help me see the good things today."
The great thing about prayer is it's a way for us to chat one-on-one with God. So, like with our best friends, we should tell Him about all the good things that happen and thank Him for those things, and also confide in Him when things aren't so great. The more we do this throughout our days in little ways, even in the summer, the more we get to know and become friends with Jesus.
I already wrote about this a few days ago, but it's worth repeating. You get to know a person by spending time with them and with Jesus this means reading about Him just as much as it means spending time with Him in conversation. This is especially true with the Bible because the Bible is the Word of God. And who is the Word of God? Jesus! So, when we spend time reading the Bible, we spend time getting to know Jesus, the Word of God. Just like with prayer, you can do this in chunks, at the start of your day, after dinner, or right before bed. It's even better if you do it as a family! There are all sorts of different Bibles out there, as well as other books that help us get to know Jesus. Check out my previous blog post on summer reading for some suggestions.
What do we want to do when it's a rainy summer day? Maybe we'll read, but we also might want to Netflix and chill! This is a great opportunity to keep in touch with our faith because there are so many movies to choose from! Netflix has some in their Kids section (including some classics from my childhood like The Prince of Egypt and Joseph, King of Dreams), as well as some faith-based TV shows, like the new VeggieTales series (though I will admit I prefer the old theme song). For older teens and young adults, there are some big-name blockbuster hits (like The Ten Commandments – the classic with Charlton Heston –and Heaven is For Real – based on the book of the same name), neat documentaries (Liberating a Continent: John Paul II and the Fall of Communism), and acclaimed miniseries based on the Bible (The Bible and A.D. Kingdom and Empire). You can also check out the Edmonton Eparchy library for more movie options. Make the movie-watching experience extra fun with an epic living room fort (Pinterest has some amazing examples)! You don't have to wait for a rainy day to watch a movie either. Why not create your own drive-in movie theatre in your backyard? Summer activities plus movies about faith = win!
We hear it in the Gospels all the time: serve the poor. Of course, with our crazy, fast-paced lives, we usually say that we don't have time to dedicate to volunteering at a soup kitchen or drop-in centre. Well, guess what? Summer vacation = loads of free time! Sure, you may be going on vacation with your family or spending some time at camp, but I'll bet that you have some days where you're at home doing nothing. In that case, why not dedicate a day or two of your vacation to help someone else? Like with reading the Bible, this is a great way we can get to know Jesus, since He spent so much of his time with the poorest, most neglected people of His time. Have you ever heard of the phrase, "Try to see Jesus in other people"? Working with the poor really tunes us into giving them the dignity they deserve as human beings because Jesus lives just as much in them as He lives in us. And, like Jesus Himself says in Matthew 25:40, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."
I'm sure you've been waiting for me to say this one: go to church! Like prayer, this is something we should be doing consistently, but for some reason during the summer we like to neglect our Divine Liturgy... because we're on vacation! Duh. Yes, we are on vacation, but, again, if we want to have a strong relationship with Jesus, we have to always build on that relationship. Nowhere else do we have a more immediate experience of Jesus than in the Eucharist, where we physically consume His Body and Blood. That's pretty powerful stuff. But of course, since we aren't always at home during summer vacation, we aren't able to go to church at our home parish. But we can explore a new church at our vacation destination! Check out my previous blog post on church-hopping while traveling. Make sure to snap a picture of the churches you visit and post it on Instagram using the hashtag, #ByzyTravellers! Tag us too, @stnicksyouth.
Of all the things we do this summer that will keep us in touch with Jesus, the most important is to love others. Love comes in so many different forms (check out the Five Love Languages for some examples) so it's easy to find some way of loving others that works for us and them. Give your mom a hug, draw a picture for your grandpa, make your bed without asking, smile at a stranger while you're on a walk, let someone ahead of you in line at the movie theatre; these are all little ways we can love those around us and be an example of Jesus. The more we love like Jesus, the more we get to know and fall in love with Jesus Himself, which opens us right up to that amazing gift Jesus gave us when he died on the Cross and rose from the dead on the third day: eternal life with Him in Heaven.
In order for that goal to become a reality, we have to start here on earth, by inviting Jesus into our lives and becoming one of His friends. If you haven't begun this journey yet, start this summer, with baby steps, with a short prayer of thanks, a movie or a book, a fellow to a person on the street, a visit to a church, or a hug with a friend.
May God bless your journey to become friends with Jesus this summer. It's going to be one heck of a ride!