Thomas Griffin 7/18/22 (For Crisis Magazine)
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Summer can be a wasteland for spiritual growth.
There are countless positives about summertime. Most people take the majority of their vacation time in the summer months because of the weather and because their children are not in school. That leaves more opportunity for fathers and mothers to be with their kids—something that our kids desperately need and desire. This is healthy and should be part of the routine for our families more often.
Summer means more time outside in the fresh air and in nature. Families are relaxing in the backyard more often and tend to be more active exercising as well as heading to the beach or simply being outside because they can. We have a much closer connection to God’s creation in the summer, and that is a beautiful thing.
More social interactions are commonplace for most people because we speak to our neighbors more and host friends and family at the house frequently. Our net of community seems to widen when the weather is nicer and the days are longer. We need to be connected to each other more than ever, and summer supplies that opportunity for so many.
The positives of summer are plentiful. Many people point out, however, that the summer months are lacking in prayer and God. Personal prayer for many in the summer can be borderline non-existent. We travel the span of a few months and the only thing we have to show for it are some pictures on our phone and a sense that “the summer went too fast, now it is all over.”
Great spiritual writers note that there are seasons in our lives of prayer and there are times when spiritual growth appears to be void. Difficulty in a focus on God in the summer is not the case of a dark night of the soul, however. For many of us, it is not that we prayed often and experienced no consolation in the process. The issue is that we simply did not sit down, stop everything, and turn to God.
For most Americans, the issue is found in how we describe our relationship with God. The spiritual life can become one aspect of the day on one day of the week because we are (accurately so) busy and tired from work and the stresses of life. The summer has a different challenge. We are not consumed by work but by the things that we want to do. It is not our career and our kids’ sports that consume us but the desire to finally have some time to do whatever we want and not have to worry about it.
Spending time with family that is increased in quality and quantity is a good and holy thing. So is spending time in nature and getting together with friends. Exercising more, taking care of our bodies, and being more active is something required of us as well. However, none of these activities is strictly prayer. They may lift the mind to God, and they may show us a side of Him that we do not even realize we are seeing, but they are not prayer.
If our vocation is married life, then we have a responsibility to care for our spouse and make them our priority. Serving them is serving the Lord. But going on vacation and to the beach with them is not prayer.
We can encounter God in nature. The psalms and many of the saints note this reality. But hiking is not prayer. Sitting outside because that is what we want to do is not prayer. It might be fun, and it might be good for us in some ways, but it is not our prayer life.
Now all of these accusatory remarks are not made out of anger or condemnation. They are simply what we know from the Christian tradition and from the words of Jesus himself: “But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Matthew 6:6).
The remedy is simply carving out time that can be spent with Him and Him alone. What habits can we begin in the summer that will help us throughout the year? Practical wisdom and the writings of many saints note that beginning our day with prayer is the best recipe for ensuring that we rely on God by making Him the focal point of our day through turning to Him first.
Practically speaking, if we do not wake up before the kids and pray first thing in the morning, we will very likely not have time once our other commitments begin. Turning to God in prayer through silence in the morning makes us prepared to take on the day because we were fed by Him. This might mean that we have to wake up earlier in the summer. It also means that we have to do our best to remain steadfast in keeping that alarm set and getting up when it goes off.
Starting our day with prayer, praying before meals slowly and intentionally, stopping by a local church to pray with the family, and doing some extra time of prayer on Sundays outside of Mass are all ways that we can sanctify our summer and begin the journey toward making Christ the center of all that we do, no matter what time of year it is.
Habits lead to holiness. Committing intentionally to being with God and spending more time in devotion will lead to a deeper conversion of life. Doing so will bring us into contact with the Savior and help us to remain in His presence no matter what we are doing. Then we can “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and fulfill the command of the Lord, which will lead us to the one thing that He wants most: to simply spend one-on-one time with you.
Thomas Griffin is the chairperson of the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island where he lives with his wife and son. He has a masters degree in theology and is currently a masters candidate in philosophy. He writes for several media outlets.
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