It has been said that at the end of your life the only things that really matter are the people you loved, the people who loved you, and what you did for God. The importance of our other accomplishments, however great, does not have the same significance. They even tend to fade into oblivion and be forgotten. How then do we discern what is truly important in our lives? How do we make our major decisions (what career to pursue, whom to marry, etc.)? Obviously, the way to a meaningful life is to follow God’s will for our lives. But to know God’s will for ourselves implies that we are attuned to Him, that we have a spirituality that allows us to listen to Him. Here are several principles to help young adults develop and maintain such spirituality.
(1) Pray the prayer “Thy will be done.”
God’s will is always for our benefit and always out of love for us, even though we may not understand it at first and it may be difficult to accept. We see that things turned out best only later. God sees what we do not see in our own hearts and in the hearts of others. As we grow, we will see that He is watching us very closely and is always in control. We thereby learn to trust Him and always be at peace.
St. Chrysostom said, “I always pray, ‘Lord, not what I will, nor what any other creature wills, but may Thy will be done.’” Christ Himself prayed the same prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, in His most difficult hour. We also should always finish our personal requests to God with the same prayer, “not my will, but Thy will be done.” This prayer will give us clarity of vision, free us from disappointment, protect us from trying to bring the wrong people into our lives, and deliver us from man-pleasing and flattery. It does not mean that we won’t make mistakes, but even in our mistakes God will not abandon us, and we ourselves will seek to re-align ourselves with Him.
(2) Develop a world of interiority
Everyday we should strive to do something for God which is known only to Him and not to any other human being. In this way, no one on earth can take it away from us. This is what Christ meant when He said, “Let not your right hand know what your left hand is doing” (Mt 6:3). This was a source of strength to Christians of the past in times of persecution. It will also protect us when the conditions of our life change and we do not find ourselves near a church that is providing for our needs, or near a church at all.
(3) Stay inspired, or you’ll expire
The daily, patient reading of the Holy Scripture is the best means to keep our heart warm to God. At first it may seem difficult, but as we read more we realize how deeply it speaks to our lives. St. Chrysostom even speculated, “Without the daily sweetening of the soul with the words of Holy Scripture, it is impossible to be saved.”
Also important is to choose inspiring friends, and to associate ourselves with inspiring people. Our habits, speech, interests, etc., are influenced by those with whom we spend time. Choose your friends carefully. Spend time with those who lift you up, help you achieve your goals, and make you want to be a better person.
Finally, absorb and pursue the truly beautiful things in life. St. Paul said, “Whatsoever things are noble, whatsoever things are holy, whatsoever things are lovely, think on these things” (Phil 4:8). The modern media seeks to choke us with materialism and the baser things in life. Rebel against this by seeking a higher culture. Listen to Mozart, to Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, etc. You will not be disappointed.
(4) Be persistent and consistent
The spiritual life is not always easy. We will still make mistakes in life. But when we fall, we must get up. We must always move forward and never quit. Christ said, “He who endures to the end shall be saved” (Mt 10:22). If we have down days or times of loneliness, we must fill them with stronger prayer to God. A Christian is not a person who never fails – a Christian is a person who has the courage to return to God, to get back up and strive to improve.
(5) Give your heart to God
“My son, give me thine heart” (Prov 23:26). This is what God requires of us, He wants our love freely given. He will not settle for second place. If there is a person or thing or ambition in our life that we may value above our relationship with God, it must be abandoned. This is what Christ meant when He said that whoever would come after Him must abandon all and follow Him. Yet He also added that whoever did this would receive a hundredfold in return. When we receive this hundredfold back, however, it no longer means as much to us. Christ is the main focus of our lives. Any other main focus can become a form of idolatry.
(6) Avoid negativity
“It’ll never work.” “Oh, what’s the use?” “Everyone else is doing it.” This sort of negativity can drag us down, and even become addictive. It will ruin our desire to be creative, courageous and energetic. It will encourage us to live by lower ideals and lower standards. Stamp out negativity from the start, don’t give it a chance, and don’t feed it.
(7) Keep a journal
It is a good practice and one followed by many Saints to keep a notebook in which we write down things that inspire us, things people say, things that happen in our lives that reveal God’s providence and care for us. In the future we can then look back and be edified again.
(8) Do not neglect the Sacraments
Last, but certainly not least, do not be absent from the Divine Liturgy, make every effort to attend Vespers on Saturday nights and feast days, and receive the Sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion as often as you can. These Sacraments are a “forgotten medicine” today. They have a power not only to unshackle us, but to fill us with joy and strength. Holy Communion especially, when taken with due preparation, can center and strengthen our whole life in Christ. It is where we are united with Christ, who said, “Without Me ye can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).
Life is a great potential, a vast horizon of endless possibilities. Each one of us has a path, a calling, a purpose in God’s plan, and this purpose will bring us fulfillment and joy. But to follow this path takes struggle, work, and even sacrifice. It is a “narrow way” in the words of Christ. Follow Christ, and follow your path, the path God sets for you. Do not follow the path that the world sets for you, nor others who may not have your best interest in mind. As contemporary saying states, “Life is short, pray hard.” To be truly happy, to meet our goals, to spend our time on earth with those who would bring us the most joy and love, means that we are seeking to follow Christ with our whole heart and being. It is only God who gives every gift, and He does so without measure to those who love and follow Him.