So, you’ve graduated high school and you’re headed away from home for the first time. Whether your destination is college, the military, marriage – or anywhere else far from the familiar of family, church, and friends – you must read this. Your spiritual health will be tested many times, and how you handle those tests will determine the memories you will deal with thirty, forty years (and longer) from today.
I know what I am talking about. In the forty-three years I have been walking with Jesus, I have seen it happen over and over to young men and women who left home after high school. For a short while, it even happened to me.
I wish I had known then what I know now about the danger. And I wish someone had given me strategies that could have helped me avoid the moral failures I committed. So here are some time-tested suggestions to help you avoid the many hidden – and not-so-hidden – traps you will encounter.
1. Don’t succumb to pride which whispers in your ear, “It won’t happen to me.” You are subject to the same enticements of sin to which everyone else is subject – regardless how long you have been a Christian. Solomon warned, “Pride goes before disaster, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18). St. Paul picked up that same theme in his letter to the Corinthians, “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
2. Make up your mind ahead of time to avoid situations and places where you can be tempted to sin. Be doubly vigilant to avoid being alone in a house or dorm room with someone of the opposite sex – even if he or she is a Christian. Such a situation is a recipe for bad decisions. Remember what St. Paul said to Timothy: “So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). Memorize this maxim: Sin will take you farther than you want to go. It will keep you longer than you want to stay. And it will cost you more than you want to pay.
3. Avoid hanging with people who do not share your faith in Jesus. Again, King Solomon advised: “Make no friends with those given to anger, and do not associate with hotheads, or you may learn their ways and entangle yourself in a snare” (Proverbs 22:24-25). One can easily substitute “drunkard,” or “an immoral person,” or “liar,” or “cheat,” or any other ungodly characteristic into this text, and the principle remains constant. As St. Paul wrote: Bad company ruins good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33).
4. Pray each morning for God’s protection. Each evening, review your day and thank God for specific situations in which you made the right decisions. However, if you did fall into sin, be quick to confess, repent – and determine with God’s help to avoid doing the same thing again. The Holy Spirit’s promise through St. John has always proven a comfort for me when I sin: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).
5. Establish a habit of daily prayer and reading Scripture. Be consistent with this. It is no surprise the psalmist wrote: How can young people keep their way pure? By guarding it according to Your word . . . . I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you. (Psalm 119:9, 11). Do you remember Jesus’ experience in the wilderness during Satan’s three-fold temptation? At each test, Jesus responded with Scripture (Matthew 4:1-11). For decades I have practiced what I call the 2+2 = 1+3 Scripture Reading Method. If you read two chapters of the Old Testament every morning and two of the New Testament every evening (or vice versa), by the end of the year you will have read the Old Testament once and the New Testament three times (2+2=1+3). On average it takes less than 10 minutes to read two chapters of Scripture. In five years you will have read the Old Testament five times and the New Testament fifteen times. In ten years – well, you can do the math. With so much of God’s word sown year after year in your heart, think how the Holy Spirit will mature you more quickly into the image of Christ.
6. Establish a habit of weekly attendance at Mass and frequent reception of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation. Prayer, the Scriptures, and the Sacraments are supernatural gifts the Holy Spirit gives to empower believers on their faith journey. Fighting spiritual battles without those spiritual “weapons” is nothing less than a guarantee for failure.
As you prepare to leave home for the first time I hope you will apply these strategies to your life. You will not be sorry you did so – even forty-three years from now.