Preparing for your first semester of college comes with all the feels and emotions. Whether you are flying across the country or commuting a few miles away, there is a lot to consider and prepare for long before you make your dorm room your new home.
Once you step foot on campus, it can feel like you are starting a half-marathon, trying to keep pace with the crowd around you. Well, I’m here to tell you that you have to find your own pace long before you arrive at your dream school. And a significant part of the speed you need to set in college involves making your relationship with God primary.
Freshmen Spiritual Training Program
If you have ever run (or in my case, walked) a half-marathon, you know training is necessary. You don’t start the first day of training running 13.1 miles, that would kill you! No, you start by running three miles. Then, day-by-day and week-by-week, you add miles until you can run 10, and eventually 13.1 on race day.
The same is true for all freshmen creating a spiritual training program; start with the basics and build up from there. The key is consistency! If you are serious about being active in your Catholic Faith and wanting to grow in your relationship with God, let me help you with a training schedule that I think will allow you to do both.
What is Your Three Mile?
If three miles is the minimum in a half-marathon training program, what is the spiritual training program equivalent to make your Catholic Faith primary? For most of us, our three-mile is going to be attending Sunday Mass and daily prayer. So, start there and be consistent.
Put prayer time on your regular calendar, in your weekly calendar include the Sunday Mass you will attend. If you need a form of accountability, serve as a lector, usher, or Eucharistic Minister. If friends ask you to go away for the weekend, say you need to get back for the last chance Mass (typically at 9 or 10 p.m. on most campuses) and do not apologize. If your new friends do not support you attending Mass, maybe you’re running in the wrong-sized running shoe. Find the fit that makes training a bit easier.
During the week, you will break up your three-mile runs with 30-minute cross-training to keep your body active but at a lesser risk of injury. During college, you will find that your schedule will be more massive on certain days, but there are days when you have a lighter load.
This is when you can do, what I call, 30-minute cross training prayer times:
- Stop into the Church for 20 minutes
- Pray a Rosary in between classes
- Listen to a Catholic podcast
- Read the daily readings and journal what God is speaking to you
- Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet
- Go to Confession (most Newman Centers offer regular Confession before daily Mass)
- Attend Daily Mass (they are typically 30 minutes)
No one expects you to do this every day; your schedule will not always allow for it. However, the fastest way to grow during college is with small additions such as these.
Adding a Mile
When you train for a half-marathon, you typically will add one or two miles during the week to build up your stamina and strength. We need to do the same in our spiritual walk if we want our relationship with God to grow. What are some ways to add a mile during college?
- Weekly Bible Study or Small Group through your Campus Ministry
- Social justice ministry opportunities such as homeless ministry, tutoring, Habitat for Humanity, etc.
- Liturgical ministries such as being in a choir, hospitality, lector, extraordinary minister of Holy Communion
- One-on-one monthly Spiritual Direction (many Campus Ministries provide you the opportunity to do individual spiritual direction with priests, lay ministers, and religious sisters)
- Calendar in a weekly Holy Hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament
- Starting a weekly Blessed Conversation study or a monthly Blessed Brunch in your dorm
Typically, on Saturdays, your half-marathon training will increase to longer runs that will ask more time from your schedule.
If your campus ministry offers weekend retreats during the year, I encourage you to attend. Connecting with a community who desires to grow in their Faith and running from the stress of studies—all while learning something new about Catholic doctrine—is a great way to prepare for the race God has for your life.
This is a sacrifice of your time; however, the sacrifice is worth it in the end.
Ten-Mile the Week Before
The week before your half-marathon, you will run (or walk) ten miles. This is by far the most you will run before the 13.1 on the day of the race, and trust me, adrenaline kicks in for those miles you feel ill-equipped to run.
Most colleges offer incredible opportunities to challenge you in your Faith, such as:
- alternative spring break mission trips
- leadership positions that help coordinate everything from special masses to retreats
- leading Bible studies and small groups
- come-and-see weekends for discerning religious life or the priesthood
There is a reason you only run a 10-mile once before race day: you don’t want to injure your body and risk the chance of not completing the race. The same is true in your faith life. You don’t want to burn out or risk the possibility of not completing the race God has before you.
These “Ten-Mile” opportunities happen few and far between to help foster a more significant understanding of Church, so if you can make them happen even once during your collegiate years, go for it.
Rest and Stretch
Sundays are typically a day to rest during half-marathon training. I guess even the best health trainers know how to keep the Sabbath day holy. Take a day to be still, rest, and allow yourself to hear the Lord. It would help if you found some sense of balance in college, which is not always easy. Balancing classes, sleep, exercise, health, mental health, work, study, and time with friends makes it hard to stay true to who God has created you to be, His beloved daughter.
Part of stretching in college is finding the right community who sees you as God sees you. Rather than so-called friends who challenge you to stray from God entirely, you need friends who challenge you to grow in your Faith, hold you accountable, and call you out when you are not caring well for yourself.
Make sure you find a community of sisters who will ask you about your prayer life, offer to help you when things are too hard, who will bring you coffee during midterms, and who will be by your side during a break-up.
Your entire four or five years (or more if you are going for your masters or Ph.D.) is a marathon, not a sprint. However, the years will go fast. Take time to enjoy the race on the track that God has you running. Appreciate the people cheering you on from the sidelines like your parents, family, friends, priests, professors, and campus ministers. Count your blessings daily, because gratitude is one of the easiest ways to find college happiness.
Stay hydrated by recalling the waters of Baptism that made you a daughter of God. Frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The night before a race, most runners will carb up so what better way is there to carb up spiritually than by feasting on the Bread of Life as often as you can.
After the Race
Take it from someone who, the week after her first half marathon, stopped training altogether and stopped running my minimum three miles. My body was tired and I just wanted to relax and let it recover (that’s what I told myself). But once I stopped, I didn’t go back to the basic three miles for months. And once I stopped running, it was harder to get back on track physically.
Spiritually, if you stop your three miles, you will find yourself growing distant from God and entering into relationships and habits that lead to sin. Living a virtuous life is not the goal when you cannot make the time to pray daily or go to Mass.
So do yourself a favor, even when you are tired from classes, studying, working, and having a social life: make time for your spiritual three miles. Do not view this as a “have to” dictated by Catholic guilt or your parents. View your three miles as a “want to,” as in, I want to have a relationship with God, I want to grow in my understanding of the Church’s teachings, I want to live a virtuous life, I want to have a community that will hold me accountable and point me to Heaven.
College will provide endless opportunities to grow personally, professionally, socially, and spiritually. Remember, you don’t have to do everything all at once; pace yourself and create a plan of life that will allow you to serve, learn, and pray like you never have before. Remember who you are and ask God who He has created you to be.
Discern God’s will as much as your own, and maybe, just maybe, by creating a spiritual training program before stepping foot on campus, your will might merge with His and lead you to a heavenly finishing line come graduation day.