After leaving the convent in July 2013, one of the most valuable things I did was get myself some new music. Almost every song on my MP3 player from before I entered had a different meaning after I left: this was the song I had been listening to seven months earlier as my train pulled out of the station, heading for the convent; this was the tune I had taught myself to strum on the community’s old guitar, sitting down the bottom of the garden on Sunday afternoons; this was what I hummed to cheer myself up when I realised that cracks were starting to appear in my vocation; I still enjoy those songs, but there’s a certain bittersweetness about them that wasn’t there before.
So, while I was visiting op-shops to re-stock my wardrobe with clothing, I started picking up CDs for a dollar each as well, by bands I knew nothing about, except that their cover art was nice. I discovered some wonderful music that way, but one song has stood out for me so strongly that I wanted to share it with others who are grieving the loss of the religious life as I was (and in some ways still am).
The song is “In Repair” by John Mayer. I admit, I find Mayer confusing: his hedonistic public persona is completely at odds with the soft, deeply expressive songs about loss and yearning on his albums. Well before I knew anything about the artist, though, I knew that this secular song expressed precisely what I felt, and didn’t yet have the language to describe:
Too many shadows in my room
Too many hours in this midnight
Too many corners in my mind
So much to do to set my heart right
Oh, it’s taking so long
I could be wrong, I could be ready
Oh, but if I take my heart’s advice
I should assume it’s still unsteady
I am in repair
I am in repair
Although I don’t regret actually leaving the convent (it was clearly what had to be done) what I do regret, sincerely, is having let things escalate to the point where leaving became the only option. What went wrong? With 20/20 hindsight, I’ve realised that over the course of a couple of months after I entered, I gradually stopped being a postulant and became instead an actress playing the part of a postulant. (I was good at it, too: I managed to fool even myself for months.) The trouble was that I then unconsciously began to see the Sisters not as my community, but as the audience I needed to impress if I wanted to stay.
Finally, half-way into my postulancy, the inevitable happened: while standing outside the back door of the convent receiving a correction in private for something I’d done wrong earlier in the day, I suddenly realised that, however hard I tried, I wasn’t going to be capable of staying. You will know for yourself what that moment feels like: it’s as if life quietly fades from full-colour to black and white. I stayed on for another month after that in the hope that the Lord would intervene and help me. And He did: when I finally admitted to the prioress that I couldn’t cope, she came in to bat for me magnificently. But in the end, I had to recognise that I’d simply run out of internal resources.
You may know, too, what I mean when I say that much of what’s happened since I left feels as if it’s happened in black and white after the vividness of life in the convent: whatever my vocation is, I’ve clearly not found it yet. I can only understand and trust that eventually, I will start to uncover the real calling that God has prepared for me, and the colour will come back.
And now I’m walking in the park
And all of the birds, they dance below me
Maybe when things turn green again
It will be good to say you know me
I’m in repair
I’m not together but I’m getting there.
I’m in repair
I’m not together but I’m getting there.
At the age of seventeen, Spiritu watched some elderly nuns laughing together after Mass and decided instantly that this was what she wanted to do with her life. After six years of intense study about the Catholic faith and the religious vocation, she entered a beautiful community in her own country, Australia. Seven months later, she returned to the world, saddened that her discernment hadn’t worked out as she’d hoped. She is now exploring other possible options for the future, and owes an enormous debt of gratitude to her family for their love and help.
As a fellow former-sister, a fellow guitarist and a fellow Aussie… whose playlist includes tracks from multiple John Mayer albums… just wanted to say that I LOVED this post – thanks so much for sharing this!
Your characterisation of the post-convent transition from full-colour to black&white is familiar to me. In my case (and this might not be entirely what you were getting at from your own experience) it represented a loss of clarity/definition in my sense of purpose. My ultimate purpose – intimate, loving union with God – hasn’t changed, of course… but the means by which I had thought I’d journey toward that union has proven to be other than what I had thought, and that part of the picture just isn’t yet clear to me.
Nevertheless – when the canvas is white with little more than a few black sketch-marks, I’m given the joyful adventure of allowing Him to add colour to it day by day as He leads me on.
Jer 29:11-13… HE knows the plans He has for me. I don’t need to see bright colours and sharp, clear lines just yet. He’s got this.
Thank you so much for sharing, the song and your experience. When I first started reading this blog I immediately though, “Ooo good idea, new sound track. That’s what I need.” Some songs from before or during to convent I listen to and think, “Yup. It’s amazing how that still applies” and I can continue on that day all hunky-dory. Others I skip the moment I hear the first note. I left the convent this past February and I’m not sure I can even differentiate between black and white. Just living moment to moment while my heart just continues breaking. I’m just glad that a friend connected me to this site. There is comfort in while standing on my own path, not standing alone.
Shell, you’re in my prayers. Your comment reminded me just how overwhelming the sense of loss in the early months after leaving was, and I’m sorry that it’s still so recent and fresh for you.
I want to tell you that it does get better: the grief slowly changes into something that you can reflect on and control, and there’s an odd sense of self-confidence that comes from that. (I hope others who have been out of the convent for a while have found the same thing.) Until then, though, I pray that God will bless you from moment to moment.
Most definitely not alone.
Know of my prayers for you!!
I returned home in January 2013, and like Spiritu, I’ve found that little bit by little bit you figure out which way is up again… and somehow surviving such a massive life change and still having your joy at the other end is a little bit exhilarating!
I read these words of comfort in Scripture yesterday: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; be not frightened, neither be dismayed; for The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Josh 1:9
He is with you!
Wow. What a great explanation of the imagery. Thanks for that! ?
Woah! I felt like I was reading my own story here…we have so many similarities in our experience. I left the convent in July of 2013 as well (so we should pray for each other in a special way). ? What you said about the songs having a bittersweetness to them now, I think that is very true with not only the music but with most things that you did in view of entering or while in the convent. I think there is such a need to create new ”devotions” or ”customs” after leaving so that we can let go of the old and let God lead us in a new direction. I’m glad that you were able to recognize that so soon! It seems it has taken almost a year for me to finally ”break” with the old. God certainly moves us at different speeds but I think it is so necessary to be OPEN to that repairing that He wants to do in us.
The black and white vs. color is an awesome description! I never could figure out how to relate that to people but now I do. I hope you don’t mind if I quote you sometimes. ? In addition to receiving our true vocation, I believe that gratitude is a big help in adding some color back to our lives. One beautiful thing is the self-knowledge that you’ve gained over this year and the ability to recognize when you are coping instead of truly living your vocation.
Thank you so much for sharing.
God bless you and Mary keep you!
Hi Rachel – totally agree on the point you made about gratitude! I’ve discovered that gratitude and bitterness simply cannot co-exist in the same person at the same moment. =)
Thanks be to God! May He drive all bitterness from our hearts!!!
Your blog really spoke to my heart and experience. Don’t think I had the depth of awareness you described so well when I left. I think it was about an unrealistic sense of perfection, striving and falling short— certainly the “black and white” of it all. God’s purpose and plan continue to be revealed each day– and I have become more aware of the “color” in my life (post convent). Love this John Mayer song as well. Thanks for sharing!