When you return to the world and start getting out more, you are bound to run into folks who had heard you went away to the convent and are shocked to see you in the frozen food aisle (for instance). Even more awkward are the encounters with the Church Ladies after Mass who want to pry into the depths of your heart. If you have not yet experienced this, I am quite confident that you will eventually (unless you move to Siberia and no one knows you).
So how do you respond? It’s easy to think that you owe people an explanation. After all, many of us had to do fundraising to enter the convent in the first place. Our church communities, acquaintances, employers, etc. did various things to help support us as we prepared to leave. When you know people have done so much to help you get to the convent, you can feel that you are obligated to explain. And, to be frank, sometimes people think you ARE supposed to tell them all the details.
The truth is you don’t have to tell anyone anything. Period.
But, but, but, that sounds so mean!
It can be an opportunity for evangelization!
It’s a chance to teach people about religious life!
It can make people talk about discernment!
Yes, it could be those things at the right time, with the right person, for the right reasons.
Usually, though, it’s just inappropriate.
And so is your guilt for not saying more.
Please take a deep breath and give yourself permission to set some boundaries. The good news is that most people really will accept a simple explanation. It’s shocking how saying something simple such as, “I gave it a try and it wasn’t the place for me,” will satisfy most people. Typically, I would receive a big smile and a few encouraging words in response.
But a few will want to know more. Think about what you truly feel comfortable sharing with people, especially those who are barely more than strangers. Perhaps you can have a Tier 2 answer prepared for these folks. An example is: After spending time in religious life, God showed me it wasn’t His will that I remain. No matter why you left the convent and who made that choice, this answer is true. God is truly the One who made the decision and somehow it was His will that you leave.
WHAT IF THEY PERSIST?
Then you politely smile and say, I’m sorry, I don’t feel comfortable answering that question.
It’s unfortunate if they don’t like that. You are not being rude. Prying into other people’s lives is rude. End of story.
Isn’t it freeing to know that? When this was explained to me, I felt a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders. I wish I could have heard it sooner.
In conclusion, if you are having difficulty accepting this, I would recommend you check out a book called Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud (https://www.amazon.com/Boundaries-When-Take-Control-Your/dp/0310247454). Part of the beauty of coming back to the world is that you have a perfect excuse to start anew. If you’ve struggled with setting boundaries in the past, God has provided you with a great opportunity to grow in this area. Good luck!
By Rosa Mystica.
First, I just want to say that Leonie’s Longing has a lot of potential, so I’m pretty excited ?
Anyway, I think my “coming home” transition goes through different stages…when I first came home, there were the people that thought I was still a Sister. Now, I’m finding that I make the mistake of telling classmates that I graduated high school in 2011 and “took a year off.” Of course this leads to, “what did you take a year off for?” So my current answer is, “Well, I went to the convent and discerned that I need to go to college first.”
So I guess it all depends on a mix of things: where we were and where we are now; why we left; how we felt when we left; and ultimately how confident we are in the Lord.
That is a beautiful reflection Liz! Thank you so much for sharing.
I have two types of answers I use, too! One, the least revealing version, is that “It was discerned that my gifts are best suited for the world!” – that’s positive! People who know me usually agree with me on that and then they congratulate me for giving religious life a try!
It’s helpful to think about it that way too! Like “I’m meant to be back out here in this crazy world!”
Meris, I love the positive spin! That is a fantastic way to look at it.
I had the same problem when I left the convent– people thought I was on home visit and just wasn’t wearing my habit! (which never happened… My former community always wears the habit.)
I explain to people that it was a long, hard decision (I was in the convent for 5 years) but after learning about God, myself, the Church and world, I found I was much better suited as a layperson. Most of the time people are very curious about my story because I was in the convent for so long. I am getting pretty good at upholding my boundaries when explaining to people my journey. I am able to gently protect what is personal, but still in charity communicate to people about it.
Side note– thank you so much for making this website. It’s great to be able to share experiences and support one another!
@jenny – Thanks for sharing your experience. It really is funny when people think you’re just home wearing regular clothes for some reason 🙂
I wish I had thought more about this before I was faced with my first set of questions. I got caught by what I perceived to be “the look of disappointment” that I had left. Soon, I will start teaching. I imagine there will be a number of people who will want to know why I moved away so many years ago, what I was doing over the past few years when I wasn’t teaching, etc. I now have something to think about and prepare for before I get caught off guard. I am grateful to have time to think about what I want people to know and not know.
Lena, I am so glad you found this helpful!
Thank you for sharing your experience, Rosa Mystica: I’ve only recently found this site, and to discover that others have developed the same method for answering these kinds of questions as I have is really heartening!
Another fun thing is being asked if I’m a nun by strangers who DON’T know I was in the convent, because my mannerisms have been so deeply re-shaped during seven months of community life: the way I stand, walk, kneel, bow, fold my hands and so on still – almost a year later – bear traces of the training that the Sisters gave me. (After stammering, “Well, I’m not a nun… but I was in a community… well, I was training to be…” a couple of times, I worked out an answer for that situation, too.)
On the other hand, if I ever meet another young woman who belonged to the same community before or after my time, we’ll probably be able to recognise each other from the identical gestures!
Thanks for this! As I was leaving, a sister in my group cautioned me about the explanations and told me “you don’t owe anyone anything.” I was so grateful for her words. Very soon, I was getting the first “WHAT HAPPENED?!” questions.
I think the worst ones I got were “so did you discern out?” – to which I wanted to reply with a sassy “no, I just decided to ditch my habit, wear a pretty dress and earrings, and eat in a college cafeteria!” Or, as I tried to uphold my boundary another time, I was told that I had left because I had joined the “wrong order” in the first place – because I didn’t join the order that this man’s sister in law had joined.
I found it helpful to remember my former sister’s words – that I DON’T owe anyone anything of an explanation. My discernment to enter was not based on the approval of those totally outside the situation, and my discernment to leave certainly didn’t need their approval.
The one response I haven’t quite figured out yet is to the comments I get from my students (I currently teach in a Catholic school). “Have you ever thought about being a sister?” “You look like you should be a sister and would be a great saint like St. Michael.” um, thanks kid. Can we move on now?