There are a lot of difficulties when returning from religious life back into secular life. One that I hadn’t really expected, but that has become quite a challenge, is direction. When I was in the convent I thought I had my life figured out. I thought I had found my vocation. I thought I was living where I would spend the rest of my life with the people I would spend that time with. My direction was very clear and I knew I was in the Lord’s will.
And then I left. And I felt like my life was a mess and I had no direction. I fell into the trap of despair. I was sure there was no hope. But day after day the Lord has been faithful. He has been bringing me out of that trap.
By leaving I felt like I was leaving the Father’s will for my life, not at first, but I fell into that trap after being home a little while. I was consumed with trying to figure out a plan. I needed to figure out what my next career move was as well as my vocation. I wanted to figure every little detail out before I made any sort of move in any direction.
The reality, though, is that by leaving I was actually staying in the Father’s will. He called me out of the convent. I was listening to His voice when I decided to leave. And while that left me “directionless” in the eyes of the world, it really didn’t. It took as much courage and discernment to enter religious life as it did to leave. And both decision were made with the Lord.
I was reflecting/praying with the Gospel today and I realized I’ve been going about my return all wrong. Today’s Gospel is a passage we’ve all heard a million times, but the Lord used it today to bring me some new insight. Jesus addresses Thomas after he questions how they will know what direction they are to go after Jesus ascends into Heaven by saying,
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
You see, I keep complaining about feeling directionless and like my life is a total mess. I want to know the future so I can make a move in some direction. But the Lord revealed to me today that I do know the direction to walk because Jesus is the way.
If I walk in Jesus then everything will fall into place because the goal isn’t to figure out what career I’m supposed to be in or what my vocation is. Don’t get me wrong, those questions are important, but they aren’t the be all and end all of this life. The ultimate goal of this life is to be in communion with the Father in Heaven. And Jesus tells me, and the disciples, in this passage that the way to the Father is Jesus Himself, not a specific career, living situation, or vocation. Our careers and vocations can help us get to Heaven, that is the whole point, but finding them and living them cannot be the ultimate goal. Then we lose sight of our purpose here on Earth which is to get to Heaven.
“Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and all these things will be given you besides.” -Matthew 6:33
So while it is easy for me to fall into the trap of feeling “directionless”, the reality is that I know the direction I need to walk. I know the way because Jesus is the way.
Re-published with kind permission from Erin’s blog Arise My Daughter and Come.
Here’s one thing that works to my advantage: I’ll never need to pay a psychoanalyst to decipher the hidden meaning of my dreams. Last night, for example, I was kneeling in my parish church when the Sisters from my former community unexpectedly walked in. They didn’t see me, but I watched them as they genuflected and took their seats near the front, and I wondered whether or not to go over and join them, since I wasn’t wearing my postulant uniform. Then I woke up.
Nearly two years out of the convent, my subconscious clearly still hasn’t quite let go of what might have been. Thankfully, it’s better than it was: at around the time I would have received the habit, for example, I started waking up in the middle of my Clothing ceremony several nights a week. (At least my community had the understated custom of giving the novice’s religious name at the start of the ceremony rather than the end, so I always got that far!) After about a year back in the world, I’d dream myself standing outside the convent in twilight, just as I had stood in real life while wheeling out the bins each week during postulancy, looking up through a window into the brightly-lit community room where the Sisters were gathering for evening recreation. Now, I wonder what that dream means?
For a long time after returning to the world, I slept a lot, but badly: going to bed at 8.30pm, waking up as late as possible the next day, and getting dizzy with tiredness sometime in the late afternoon. A number of times, I was appointed designated driver home from outings when, despite being stone-cold sober, by 10pm by I was definitely no safer to drive than anyone else in the car. (If I make it to heaven one day, I confidently expect that Saint Christopher will be waiting just inside the pearly gates to deliver a lecture on the subject that I’ll never forget.)
Not being a doctor, I can’t offer medical advice, but if you’re in this situation I can tell you a few things that have worked for me:
1) For a short-term rescue if you’re getting faint during the day, forget the sugar and eat a salami stick. I started carrying some around with me (the individually-wrapped ones), and found that the salt, fat and juices gave a much better energy boost than chocolate.
2) The biggest one: no screens for an hour before bed-time. No phone, computer or even TV, as the bright lights apparently interfere with the brain’s sleep cues. (Well, minimal screens, anyway. I cheat. I’m cheating as I write this now, in fact.) This one actually fixed most of my sleep problems in one go, and drastically reduced the dizzy spells next day.
3) Chamomile tea. If you’re like me, the challenge, waking or sleeping, is to find a channel in your mind that’s not playing repeats of Life in the Convent. Slowly drinking a cup of chamomile tea just before turning out the light can help gently disconnect those loops of thought and take you downward into sleep.
And then there’s the 2am demon: what if I’d…/perhaps if I’d…/if only I’d… (Or its evil twin, what if they’d…/perhaps if they’d…/if only they’d…) The only thing that helps here, unfortunately, is time and a conscious effort to understand and process the grief. It’s as though every memory of life in the convent, good or bad, is a sharp edge that needs to be gone over with sandpaper a certain number of times before it gets dull enough that you can handle it. However, it’s 2am and you’d really like to go back to sleep, so what can be done for some relief in the meantime?
Here, I’ll pass on three suggestions from the wise and patient priest who suddenly found a wildly unhappy recent ex-postulant in his confessional back in 2013.
1) If you’re playing certain scenes over and over, perhaps making magnificent speeches where you actually once stood mute, bring your sense of the absurd into play. Imagine the scene with Bert and Ernie in the background reacting to what’s going on, or Mr. T providing a running commentary. If it sounds extremely stupid, that’s because it is… but I actually laughed out loud the first time I tested it on one of my painful convent memories.
2) Or, if that’s just too silly for words, how about this? Imagine you’re sitting at a table so long that the far end disappears into the distance, and slowly, gently slide the people you’re angry with down the table away from you, further and further until they’re so small you can’t see them anymore. Keep them there and turn your mind to something else.
3) If all else fails or – worse – the person you’re angry with is yourself, then turn the light on and write down, very specifically, what is bothering you. Then (my own later addition), decide on something concrete that you will do in the morning to move on from that situation. I will say a decade of the Rosary for someone’s intentions. I will put $5 in the Saint Vincent de Paul box. I will make coffee for my parents/housemates. I will say the Office of the Dead for the souls in Purgatory. Anything, as long as it’s clear, charitable and constructive. Then turn the light off and, for heaven’s sake, go back to sleep.
And me? Self-evidently, I’m not “over” the most vivid months of my life just yet. But two years out is a hell of an improvement over two months out, no longer bittersweetly receiving the habit night after night being but one example. The Sisters still walk through my dreams sometimes (do I ever, I wonder, walk through theirs?), but slowly, a couple of years behind schedule, my heart and mind are catching up to my life in the outside world. Thanks be to God.
It’s easy to become sentimental about the beauty of the holy habit, so here instead is a little tribute to the ones that are… kind of oddball. I’m not talking about things that are unusual-but-cool, like
but more like
(Congregation of Notre Dame de Montreal)
(School Sisters of Notre Dame)
(Sisters of Misericorde)
(Holy Cross Sisters – well, they had to be in here somewhere!)
and my personal favourite…
(Sisters of Providence of St Vincent de Paul. They were still wearing this habit in 1954.)
Have a good day, Leonie’s Ladies!
Most of these images were found on Pinterest, pinned by Dawn Southall and zakony-na-swiecie.blogspot.com.
I remember reading once that, if someone in the Middle Ages recovered from a severe illness after having been given the Last Rites, popular superstition considered that his earthly life was actually over: among other restrictions, he was not permitted to marry, to make a will, or to eat meat. *
Without wishing to seem morbid, when I left the convent, I began to understand a little of what those people would have felt as they muddled around after their recovery, trying to make sense of a world with which they were supposed to have finished. While getting ready to enter the religious life months earlier, I had realised why a former colleague – now a nun – said that in a way it felt like preparing for death: once my date of entry was set, I stepped into some strange area outside the regular flow of life, knowing that I was on a limited time-frame. I’d look in shop windows at racks of clothing, and realise that even if I bought anything, I wouldn’t have a chance to wear it. At the supermarket, I’d buy the smallest possible jars of honey or peanut butter (even though it was more expensive) because that way, I’d be able to get them finished in time. Also, of course, I was hauling bag after bag of clothes and books to the op-shop, leaving my closet looking stripped and abandoned… and most of all, my friends and family were holding small parties to farewell me, knowing it might be a long time before they saw me again.
And then I left. And then I was back.
Good grief, the noise! I’d lost the ability to tune out background music, the chatter and footsteps of passers-by, the rumbling and honking of cars, the clattering signals at pedestrian crossings… I couldn’t believe I’d ever been able to ignore so much noise. Advertisements on TV and billboards seemed surreal: having barely handled money for over half a year, I couldn’t believe that I was once again being marketed to. Visiting the places where I used to live or work was more like walking into a memory than living in the present, and everything I read/watched/listened to was something I had consciously, willingly, given up for good. None of it made any sense.
Of course, true death to the world only occurs during the rite of final profession, as the religious lies beneath a funeral pall while the Litany of the Saints is sung. So, what about the rest of us, who didn’t make it that far but still feel as if we’re no longer really part of the outside world?
For one thing, the experience gave me a taste of what being “in the world, but not of the world” feels like. It’s probably a good thing to feel slightly distant from the things you’re shopping for, to be able to step back from the advertising and think, “Seriously? They’re trying to make me want this thing? Do I want it?” It’s definitely a good thing to be able to sit back while sending a text or surfing the net and say, “You know, I lived for half a year without this and didn’t miss anything important.” And it’s wonderful to put your arms around your grandparents in the knowledge that, in other circumstances, you might not have seen them again. Basically, the world becomes unexpected: having lived outside it, you can’t now take it for granted, and whether that’s ultimately good or bad is defined by your response to it.
*See The Catholic Encyclopaedia chapter entitled ‘Subject’, paragraph 3. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05716a.htm.
Was it just me, or did returning from the convent leave you feeling like a turtle standing there without a shell?
|awk.ward (ak-werd)-Not graceful; ungainly.-Not dexterous; clumsy.-Clumsily or unskillfully performed: –Difficult to handle or manage:-Marked by or causing embarrassment or discomfort:
For me, the only thing more awkward than sitting in the airport on my way home wearing my knee-highs and clunky “nun-shoes,” with no one to talk to and nothing to make me look distracted or less lonely than my breviary and rosary, was facing EVERYONE…because even though people are understanding, nobody understands.
Why am I awkward? Let’s face it, I’ve probably always been a bit different. The fact that my idea of the perfect life was vowing and embracing the evangelical counsels; the exact opposite of that which the world tells us will make us happy, attests to this. Sex, money and power anyone? No thanks, I could really go for a life long commitment of chastity, poverty and obedience… What?
The thing is, the more I became graceful and comfortable living the religious life the more I became clumsy and uncomfortable in the secular world. In some ways I think it just had to do with the fact that I wasn’t used to being exposed to the world anymore. I was used to modesty, silence and prayer, study and recreation, a schedule and a community of women striving for holiness and love. All of a sudden I came crashing into the immodest, noisy, chaotic and selfish world that I had previously escaped. All of a sudden I felt scandalized and uncomfortable by everything around me.
However, now that I’ve been back in the world even longer than I was in the convent and now that I’m well exposed to the world and I don’t feel scandalized and embarrassed at every moment, I think that it’s still important to be awkward. We should be graceful and skillful women of Christ but awkward to sin and the secular world. Lets not get comfortable with that which the world offers but rather keep striving for chastity, poverty and obedience according to our state in life.
Be the woman who is modest in speech, dress and behavior. Be the woman who lives simply, tithes and gives to charity. Be the woman who lives the Gospel and is obedient and docile to her priest or spiritual director and to her employer. Be the woman who holds mankind in her heart and offers her life in love for the salvation of souls. Be the awkward light that catches the attention of sinners and makes them feel uncomfortable. Be the light that makes the roaches run and scatter. Be the light that awakens the sleeping. Be the light that expels darkness.
Lord, give us the grace to be awkward! Amen
by Cora Cantata
When I came home from the convent, my hair was super short. It was a severe blow to my self-esteem because I had long hair for many years.
In short (no pun intended), my drastic appearance change (among other things) caused my self-confidence to crumble. I have the slightest feeling that, in hindsight, I will see God’s hand in all of this. He brought me closer to Himself by showing me that His Love never fails. For example, I felt that everyone was judging me by my hair and I just wanted them to know that I didn’t choose to look like this (because the sisters wear the habit, my head was covered by a veil, so my long hair was unnecessary). Of course, it was unfathomable that I would want to tell the world that I just came home from the convent, so there was only one place I knew I could be truly loved and understood. That place was in front of the Tabernacle.
There was only one problem…God did not miraculously add extensions to my head, so I still had to try to make it look decent. At first, I only used mousse because there wasn’t much else I could do.
Eventually, my new friends convinced me to buy hair accessories, so I spruced it up with little flowers, bows, clips, etc.
And when my hair finally grew long enough to get a stylist, I was directed to use a certain taffy to give the top of my head a little volume, which is great! I was never big into hair products, but I’m allowing myself to splurge a little due to the circumstances.
Anyway, life went on, and when I came home from college for summer break, I decided to do some investigating about the hairstyle atop my head. A few of my discoveries included:
-This style has a name – The Pixie Cut! I found a post called, The Pixie Cut Series which changed my life, in a subtle way. The author has great advice, such as: “Avoid The Mullet”…
-And scarves! I found a great video by a woman who shared her wisdom about pixie cuts and scarves. After watching this, I went on a hunt into the thrift stores in town for the cutest head wraps/scarves I could find. By the way, “thrifting” has become one of my most favorite hobbies…who doesn’t love saving money?!
My favorite scarves!
-And finally, curlers perhaps? I do like the curly-bang look. But because my hair is thick and straight, I’m not sure if the foam curlers I purchased will do me any good. Time will tell.
There was a lot of helpful information on the web, and I’m thankful that I had the determination to find it. In the end, God placed me in a situation and I decided to embrace it. I suppose I could have given up and wallowed in my misery, allowing my hair to fall where it may…but instead I made a choice and it feels beautiful to change my perspective and use what God has given me .
If anyone is struggling with their appearance as I am, know that there is a way to break free from the struggle and still feel beautiful. Instead of trying to “fix it,” work with what you’ve got!
Lord, help me to accept whatever cross you may place upon my shoulders, and help me to carry the burden…for I cannot do it alone.
by Liz Miller
Liz is a college student who embraces all of life’s awkward moments. She loves Ven. Fulton Sheen and puns.