I knew when I left that, even in a community dedicated to proclaiming the dignity of life, I could tell anyone else they were a beautiful, unrepeatable gift of God, but I could not believe it for myself. I knew that God was going to help me know that I was beautiful and loved.
But it wasn’t in the form of a bouquet of roses, or a romantic poem, it was in suffering. I was met with shame, guilt, sadness, depression, and a whole host of other emotions and consequences I’m sure you all can relate to, after leaving. After a few months I found a part-time job near my friends, and found great treatment for my eating disorder. I thought I’d be done dealing with it in six months, have a full-time job or be getting my Masters’ in something. But a year later I was still working part-time, minimum wage, on Medicaid, and getting help from my parents so I could afford Therapy.
Now that I am finally just starting a real job, I can respond with a more authentic gratitude and joy at the gifts of God, which I realize now were so present amidst the sufferings and apparent loneliness. The Lord gave me time to heal and grow and the opportunity to see how He could take care of me. I realized I didn’t have to do it on my own or fix my broken life. I wasn’t alone, and every time I was turned down from a job or program or place to live I found Him presenting me with something even better. (This was usually after the temper tantrum I would have after seeing my failure, when I was throwing in the towel at life. Then I would sheepishly say thank you, and He would respond with graciousness and love.)
After I left I was still asking God to change me into something better and more pleasing to Him. But then I realized, in prayer and in my relationships- that I already was! Even in the midst of depression and despair, when I clung to my disorder rather than God, when I was convinced I would never be enough for Him, He still looked upon me tenderly. My leaving Religious Life had not been a failure but only His pursuing me so that I could discover how much He loves ME, all of me, independent of my state of life, my apparent success, or the number of minutes I pray: Where I saw failure, He saw a window into the core of my heart. I was finally weak enough to let Him enter and fill the dark spaces.
It continues to amaze me how much He really does love us, and how He makes our identity clear to us if we ask. Who are we? His Beloved Sons and Daughters- not collectively but individually- and each of you is His Beloved in a way that is particular and unlike any other person. We are precious. We are loved. You are precious. You are loved.
“Who am I in the Eyes of You Lord?” This is a question I keep asking the Lord. “What am I to You?” I sometimes get the courage to ask Him these questions and He always surprises me. I doubt my dignity and He overwhelms me with His Gaze and assurance of my preciousness to Him.
What do I want you to learn from my story?
- That leaving the Convent, Monastery, or Seminary is NOT a failure, it is part of your personal journey with the Lord, and He plans to care for you. You STILL have a vocation, you can’t fail it if you are in the Lord, and He will keep leading you towards whatever He has so beautifully designed for your heart.
- Reach out to the support that you have, whether it’s family, friends, counsellors, etc. Get involved in a parish if you can and build up your network of support. I certainly couldn’t have made it this far without my family and friends, other priests and religious, and other forms of support! Above all, run to the Sacraments even if it hurts because it’s not the same. The Lord will reveal an even greater depth of love! Because He is always faithful.
- Take your time! He sees the big picture- so don’t be overwhelmed by how fast or slow things move. Listen to the Holy Spirit when He is telling you that you’re not ready, even when you think you should be; or when you are afraid but God is saying it’s the right time.
- Pray with passages that help you to see what He sees. My personal favorites are the Baptism, the Annunciation, and many of the Healing Passages. Ask Him to reveal His Wounds to you as he did to Thomas, and dare to touch them. Ask Him what’s on your heart and don’t be afraid because He is more intimately with you now than ever before.
- He smiles upon you even when your hair is awkwardly short, you have no clothes, you genuflect in random places where there’s no tabernacle, you answer the phone with your old religious name, and yes, even when you have your old “nun” ID and people look at you funny. None of that changes your real ID, your preciousness to the Heart of Christ. So if it helps, make a new one out of scrap paper, holy cards, and that one Scripture verse that always reminds you that He is near. Pull it out when you feel a mess, alone, unworthy, or on the verge of a spiritual (or physical) temper tantrum.
Misericordia works for her home diocese, is a caffeine addict, and loves swimming.