Especially during the first several months after I returned home from the convent, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out just what went wrong. Initially, I nearly exclusively blamed myself. I felt like it was my fault that I didn’t stay: I was too proud; I was too lazy; I wasn’t fast enough; I didn’t prepare myself well enough before I entered; I didn’t have enough experience dealing with people and life in general; I didn’t pray enough; I wasn’t detached enough; etc., etc., etc. I could go through a whole litany of other self-accusations that I made, but I think this small sampling gives you an idea of my state of mind.
But after a while, I came to a simple observation – one that now seems very obvious: The Sisters aren’t perfect! Perhaps it goes without saying that even the best, holiest community isn’t going to be perfect, since each community is made up of human, imperfect members. So maybe the system of formation should have been organized better, or communication could have been improved. This Sister could have been more patient; that Sister could have been more understanding. Of course, this isn’t an appropriate place for me to publicize the community’s shortcomings in detail. Nevertheless, I think it was important for me to realize that the blame (if the situation could even be considered to be one of “blame”) was not entirely mine.
During my time in the convent, one of the things I remember Mother and the Sisters emphasizing frequently was the importance of forgiveness. They especially taught us the importance of forgiving our parents for the mistakes they made in raising us. They pointed out that Mary and Joseph were the only perfect parents, and since they were not the ones who raised us, our own parents had most certainly made mistakes. However, we also have a lot to be grateful to them for. They worked hard and sacrificed much to provide for us, giving us the best they had. It took humility to accept this message, but it also brought a lot of peace.
As time has gone by since my return home, I have come to realize that I owe this same forgiveness to my former community. When I look back over the time I spent with them, I am filled with such gratitude for all they gave me, both materially and spiritually. They accepted me, they taught me, they were patient with my mistakes, they counselled me, they prayed for me, they took care of my physical needs. In innumerable ways they showed me love, affection, and support. Moreover, when I think of all the sacrifices the Sisters have made, I cannot help but be in awe of these beautiful, generous women I was blessed to live with for nine months. Yes, they had their shortcomings at times, but I really think they have more to forgive in me than I have to forgive in them. But truly, they gave me the very best they had, and for that, I am forever grateful.
So did I make mistakes during my time in the convent? Could I have done things better? Definitely.
Did the Sisters make mistakes? Were there things that they could have done better? Quite likely, yes.
Do I need to forgive both them and myself? Yes!
A few months ago, on the one-year anniversary of my entrance, I was having a hard time inside. I was blaming myself for all that had happened, feeling that if only I had tried harder, then everything would have worked out and I would still be in the convent like I was “supposed” to be. I was recording my feelings in my journal, then I paused. I offered up to Jesus everything that was in my heart, and I felt as though I and all my past was enveloped in Jesus’ Divine Mercy. At that moment I felt more peace than I had experienced in months; I knew that God had forgiven me and that everything was going to work out in His time and in His way. I just need to trust Him.
I confess that I don’t yet practice this trust perfectly. I still sometimes battle with feelings of guilt or with old hurts that arise once more in my mind. But deep down I know that God is going to use every part of this situation for good, and that everything I’ve been through is in some mysterious way part of His plan. I only need to put my hand in His pierced one, with all the confidence and love of a little child.
This childlike trust is so important. St. Peter Julian Eymard encourages us to “[a]bide in the home of the divine and fatherly goodness of God like his child who knows nothing, does nothing, makes a mess of everything, but nevertheless lives in his goodness.” I remember coming across this quote as an aspirant, and being very encouraged by it, since I so easily got discouraged by my mistakes and failings. It is not that we should deny responsibility for our sins, but rather, we must have total confidence that we are God’s little children. His tender, fatherly love and patience are so much greater than our human failings!
Jesus, I trust in You!!!
Brava! It took a Sister counseling me from another order after I returned home to say “You know this isn’t your fault. This isn’t just about your shortfalls and mistakes” for me to truly begin healing. Forgiveness is the source of the healing we need after returning from the convent- for the Sisters AND for ourselves. +SM
This is absolutely true. Absolutely on the mark. Thank you for making it even more crystal clear for me. Forgiveness especially for myself is very difficult for me. Thank you very much for sharing. I just love this site where we can share.
“…I only need to put my hand in His pierced one, with all the confidence and love of a little child…”
This is excellent! I really believe that Our Lord wants this spiritual childhood to hit home for all us who He has called back from the convent…It is a reoccuring and common theme that never fails to hit home. The moment I decided to leave, I had been ”fighting” for my vocation for weeks (believing that I still had one, but my superiors were telling me otherwise), and I was exhausted and confused…In that moment, I remember looking at the crucifix and praying “Lord, I don’t understand…but in this confusion, I place my hand in Yours. I wish to close my eyes and beg you to lead me as a little child.”
I constantly have to go back to that moment through all the doubts and desolations following this decision. God is leading us to a beautiful place! He wants us to be little children, REALLY! so that we are helpless to do anything without Him, don’t know what is next, maybe even throwing temper-tantrums (like I do) because of what we thought we wanted. Yes! this should be our mantra as His little children: Jesus, I trust in You!
Rachel, your beautiful reflection on spiritual childhood resonates so much with me. Thank you for writing this. I felt your pain. I am on the threshold of perhaps making another decision to become a consecrated religious again. I am seeking guidance and need direction. Your reflection coming so soon after the other reflection is affecting me very much. I love the thought of abandoning myself into the hands of God like a little child. I have always loved all the childlike ways St. Therese referred to God. You made your own prayer. Please pray for me that I may learn to make mine and have some peace in my heart at last. I will pray for you, too, and all those who share so intimately here in this site. Thank you to all who share here. I have never experienced so sisterly intimacy right where I am right now. My prayers are being answered through you. Pray for me, please, and I will pray for you. I too, pray, Jesus, I trust in you. Especially in your Divine Mercy as I, too, try to discern your will for me.
Maria Jose, I pray that you are filled with the peace of knowing who you are in the eyes of Our Merciful Lord! I too am so grateful for this ”community” that we have here to support and pray for each other. Just continue to be that child as you are led by Our Lord on this next step. Isn’t He so gentle to charm our hearts and console us with this precious identity in Him throughout the difficult decisions?! May God bless you and may Mary keep you continue to show you how best to please her Son!
Thank you for your response. It is very encouraging and I don’t feel alone here. I feel I have companions on the same journey I am in. I hope that as we walk together we will see Him and recognize Him immediately and all that He asks. God bless you.