aka the Should Syndrome.
noun: The anxious/nagging/unsettled/perturbed feeling that arises when one experiences tension between current reality and where they think they ought to be
synonym: “Should Syndrome”, examples may include:
I should be ready for a job. I should be ready to date. I should be ready to go out with friends on a Friday night. I should be able to pray like I used to. I should be able to stop crying. I should be ok with shopping in stores or being out in large crowds.
Taming the Transition Time(line)lion and, consequently, Should Syndrome is no small feat. Often it rears its roaring head or utters its almost inaudible growls at the most inopportune times. This concept is in no way specific to the unique experience of transitioning from religious life to the lay state. Those who are going through the process of grieving a loved one’s death experience this, stay at home moms as the size of their family increases, those who struggle with infertility, professionals changing jobs or careers; all experience this phenomenon at some point in their life. The focus of this little reflection, however, will be directed toward the specifics of what you and I have been uniquely called to – continuing our relationship with God after discerning a different path to Heaven outside of religious life.
Three years later, with some time to process and a bit of distance, I offer these thoughts. In the early days after leaving the community I discerned with, almost every moment was a reminder that I wasn’t there. Not a day went by that I didn’t think of the sisters, that I didn’t have dreams that I was supposed to be in habit and wasn’t and that while there was great freedom without an horarium, being devoid of any schedule was ultimately offsetting. The only prayer I could utter for months was simply the name of Jesus. The mere sight of a Breviary broke my heart in two and the Transition TimeLion growled, “It’s been 6 months already, I should feel more stable than I do. I need to re-enter the workforce, but I feel incapable of entering the previous career I had. Surely, I should be ready by now.”
The interesting thing I found with the Transition TimeLion is that the expectations I felt pressured by or the things I felt I ought to be doing were not coming from anyone other than myself. I was the one disregarding the need of my heart that simply called for time and space to transition. The roaring and growling were insecurities that arose because I felt uncomfortable in this place of utter vulnerability that I had never encountered before. I wanted out! I wanted the fog to lift and the heartache and the unknowing to be over. However, this was an invitation to something deeper, to a new stage of my relationship with the Lord – to suffer being patient with myself. To trust, truly trust, that He has my greatest good at heart. I often am not able to see it in the moment, but those grueling, agonizing moments are the “stuff” of redemption. So are the moments of great joy and peace that follow.
Many times in the last three years, the TimeLion has appeared and reappeared in my life. So, what does one do in these moments and how does one tame this creature? I offer only the aids I have come to know through personal experience. You perhaps also have insightful wisdom which I welcome you to share for the Timelion can be tamed in a multitude of ways.
- Laugh. Yes, even if it is a forced laugh. I envision Beast from Beauty and the Beast when he is getting gussied up for his dinner with Belle and dons ridiculous curls with bows as one of the possible hair do’s. Puts the whole roaring lion of the interior life into perspective.
- Enter into beauty. Beauty allows us to encounter new aspects of our Creator that surprise us and almost immediately lift the soul, in delight, out of itself. Beauty will look different for each of us (and our Creator knows that). For some it will be a majestic sunset over the mountains, for others the smell of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies out of the oven, the giggle of a niece or nephew or a blossoming wild flower we unexpectedly encounter on our path. Whatever it is, He created it for you.
- Recreate. I apologize if even the sight of this term we encountered in religious life makes you cringe, but stick with me. Engage in activities you loved doing before you entered religious life and do them just for the sake of doing them (and because you can). Paint, play your musical instrument, go for a run, canoe, drink a cup of coffee while you’re getting ready in the morning. Utilize some of those new gifts/skills you learned in religious life for fun now. I learned to sew and now thoroughly enjoy making all of my niece’s gifts by hand.
- Trust. God has never been, is not now and will never be in crisis about your vocation. All of what He allows us to experience in this transition is part of Plan A. There isn’t a Plan B. It is not the case that we discerned incorrectly or failed. In fact, this discernment was actually successful despite the possible feeling that the Lord duped us (and perhaps, like me, you let yourself be duped). He loves us infinitely and has given us a particular grace specific to only those who transition from religious life to lay life. There will be a time and a place when He reveals the details of our vocation to us, but for now, He is simply calling each of us more closely to Himself.
So, when the Transition TimeLion begins to roar, know that you are already infinitely loved by the Triune God who loved you into existence and desires to be in relationship with you regardless of how quickly you get back on your feet, what you do or don’t do, achieve or don’t achieve. Let us rest a bit, be gentle with our hearts and take our time discovering who we are in the eyes of the Father.