Sep 3, 2015 |
aka the Should Syndrome.
noun: The anxious/nagging/unsettled/perturbed feeling that arises when one experiences tension between current reality and where they think they ought to be
synonym: “Should Syndrome”, examples may include:
I should be ready for a job. I should be ready to date. I should be ready to go out with friends on a Friday night. I should be able to pray like I used to. I should be able to stop crying. I should be ok with shopping in stores or being out in large crowds.
Taming the Transition Time(line)lion and, consequently, Should Syndrome is no small feat. Often it rears its roaring head or utters its almost inaudible growls at the most inopportune times. This concept is in no way specific to the unique experience of transitioning from religious life to the lay state. Those who are going through the process of grieving a loved one’s death experience this, stay at home moms as the size of their family increases, those who struggle with infertility, professionals changing jobs or careers; all experience this phenomenon at some point in their life. The focus of this little reflection, however, will be directed toward the specifics of what you and I have been uniquely called to – continuing our relationship with God after discerning a different path to Heaven outside of religious life.
Three years later, with some time to process and a bit of distance, I offer these thoughts. In the early days after leaving the community I discerned with, almost every moment was a reminder that I wasn’t there. Not a day went by that I didn’t think of the sisters, that I didn’t have dreams that I was supposed to be in habit and wasn’t and that while there was great freedom without an horarium, being devoid of any schedule was ultimately offsetting. The only prayer I could utter for months was simply the name of Jesus. The mere sight of a Breviary broke my heart in two and the Transition TimeLion growled, “It’s been 6 months already, I should feel more stable than I do. I need to re-enter the workforce, but I feel incapable of entering the previous career I had. Surely, I should be ready by now.”
The interesting thing I found with the Transition TimeLion is that the expectations I felt pressured by or the things I felt I ought to be doing were not coming from anyone other than myself. I was the one disregarding the need of my heart that simply called for time and space to transition. The roaring and growling were insecurities that arose because I felt uncomfortable in this place of utter vulnerability that I had never encountered before. I wanted out! I wanted the fog to lift and the heartache and the unknowing to be over. However, this was an invitation to something deeper, to a new stage of my relationship with the Lord – to suffer being patient with myself. To trust, truly trust, that He has my greatest good at heart. I often am not able to see it in the moment, but those grueling, agonizing moments are the “stuff” of redemption. So are the moments of great joy and peace that follow.
Many times in the last three years, the TimeLion has appeared and reappeared in my life. So, what does one do in these moments and how does one tame this creature? I offer only the aids I have come to know through personal experience. You perhaps also have insightful wisdom which I welcome you to share for the Timelion can be tamed in a multitude of ways.
- Laugh. Yes, even if it is a forced laugh. I envision Beast from Beauty and the Beast when he is getting gussied up for his dinner with Belle and dons ridiculous curls with bows as one of the possible hair do’s. Puts the whole roaring lion of the interior life into perspective.
- Enter into beauty. Beauty allows us to encounter new aspects of our Creator that surprise us and almost immediately lift the soul, in delight, out of itself. Beauty will look different for each of us (and our Creator knows that). For some it will be a majestic sunset over the mountains, for others the smell of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies out of the oven, the giggle of a niece or nephew or a blossoming wild flower we unexpectedly encounter on our path. Whatever it is, He created it for you.
- Recreate. I apologize if even the sight of this term we encountered in religious life makes you cringe, but stick with me. Engage in activities you loved doing before you entered religious life and do them just for the sake of doing them (and because you can). Paint, play your musical instrument, go for a run, canoe, drink a cup of coffee while you’re getting ready in the morning. Utilize some of those new gifts/skills you learned in religious life for fun now. I learned to sew and now thoroughly enjoy making all of my niece’s gifts by hand.
- Trust. God has never been, is not now and will never be in crisis about your vocation. All of what He allows us to experience in this transition is part of Plan A. There isn’t a Plan B. It is not the case that we discerned incorrectly or failed. In fact, this discernment was actually successful despite the possible feeling that the Lord duped us (and perhaps, like me, you let yourself be duped). He loves us infinitely and has given us a particular grace specific to only those who transition from religious life to lay life. There will be a time and a place when He reveals the details of our vocation to us, but for now, He is simply calling each of us more closely to Himself.
So, when the Transition TimeLion begins to roar, know that you are already infinitely loved by the Triune God who loved you into existence and desires to be in relationship with you regardless of how quickly you get back on your feet, what you do or don’t do, achieve or don’t achieve. Let us rest a bit, be gentle with our hearts and take our time discovering who we are in the eyes of the Father.
May 27, 2015 |
When I was in the convent as a postulant we were in charge of cooking. The kitchen sister would tell us the menu for the day and then we had to execute it. As a result, I learned many new recipes that I hadn’t ever encountered before. Some sounded strange initially but ended up being surprisingly delicious. We also had many special desserts for feast days and holidays that were truly amazing. And then of course kitchen accidents or sisters trying to make due with limited resources resulted in some interesting creations. I though it might be fun to share recipes that we experienced in the convent. Here are a few of mine to get us started:
Sr. Katie’s Saltine Dessert
We needed dessert and the baking cupboards were bare. An industrious classmate of mine pulled this together using what was available and everyone enjoyed it! Lay out saltines on a cookie tray, (over wax paper makes it easier to get dessert out and to clean.) Pour homemade caramel, (1 cup butter and 1 cup brown sugar, boiled until thick and bubbly,) on top of saltines. Sprinkle with chocolate chips and melt in the oven. Spread the chocolate evenly over the top and then harden in the freezer. Break into little squares.
Please share your favorite recipes and cooking stories below!
May 20, 2015 |
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.
Dec 17, 2014 |
While at University I spent a summer on an archaeological dig. We lived in platform tents in the woods and drove about thirty minutes to get to our dig site and “town,” which was very small. A few people had cell phones but it did not matter because there wasn’t a signal there anyway. We had no TV, radio, internet, phone or anything like that at camp. We worked hard physically all day and sat around the fire talking and being silly at night. Then we went to bed and did it all again the next day.
On a holiday weekend a number of us drove to a bigger town which actually had a movie theater and we chose to see Moulin Rouge! If you have not seen this movie I would describe it as an explosion: intense visual images, singing and dancing, fast-paced editing, and over-the-top in every way. Many people who saw it found it rather overwhelming. My mother told me that a friend of hers went to see it and walked out of the theater because she hated it so much. For our group, which had been on a media fast for all intents and purposes, it was basically a massive sensory overload. We sat there with our mouths hanging open, not even sure what was happening to us.
Afterwards, we laughed about it and told our teammates who didn’t come to the theater with us all about our experience. It was fantastic to have a group of people who could understand. We made jokes about it, sang the songs at night and processed the experience together.
When I returned to the world from the convent, it felt much the same way. The world was loud, intense and overwhelming to my senses. But instead of being a two hour movie, it was constant and never-ending. And I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it, to help me feel normal again.
At first I felt terrible. I thought, “There is something wrong with me!” But gradually I realized that I just needed to give myself time and permission to be human. Instead of forcing myself to hang out with my friends a few times a week, I cut it down to two times, and more if I felt up for it. I also limited my phone conversations. Slowly I adjusted and I could do more than that.
What about you? Did the world feel loud and wild when you returned? If so, how did you handle it? Did your family and friends help you adjust?
Dec 12, 2014 |
By Maria Jacinta.
“Humility, humility and humility.” This was St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s response to the question of what the three most important virtues are. During Advent I only pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. I love meditating on Our Lady’s humility when she immediately gave her yes to God at the Annunciation and when she humbly responded with her Magnificat during the Visitation. It is beautiful, but it really baffles me as to how someone without sin could be so humble. My point in this post is not to preach about the importance of humility, but to address its vice: vanity.
In the initial days of being home from the convent, vanity was a real struggle for me, among other things. I believe it was triggered from my reaction to being back in the world. In the convent, I had one outfit to wear every day, and I did not need to spend time fixing my hair. Vanity was not too much of an issue. Now being back in the world, I cannot wear the same thing every day. I have to fix my hair. I have to look nice. All this became an obsession for me. Ah!!! What to do?!
Thanks be to God, I came up with two solutions. If any of you have any other ideas, please do not hesitate to post them.
1) In my last post “Guard Your Heart”, I talked about my struggles with dealing with young men. I noticed that when I would go to Mass I would be focused on if any young men were there and if they would see me and how nice I looked. Yeah, I know, pathetic, right? Well, to help deviate my attention from that I got back into the habit of wearing a veil at Mass. This actually helped to lessen my focus on my hair and my looks so that I could be more focused at Mass. It is amazing! It is a very humbling experience to cover your head.
2) This may sound contradictory, but I also find that dressing nice does help. To learn to overcome vanity, it is easy to play the false humility card and dress like you just rolled out of bed. It dawned on me that we were created with dignity as women of God. We should not be ashamed of our beauty. When I began to wear skirts more often and make myself decently presentable, I noticed my self esteem go up. Obviously, I need to be careful, as I do not want to get too inflated. I try to keep the focus that I am dressing for God and God alone. If you are having trouble finding nice modest clothes, I find that Ross and Good Will (or thrift stores) are good. The prices are not too bad either!
May Our Lady clothe us with her humility. Blessings to you all this Advent!
Aug 19, 2014 |
By Nancy McCall, MS, LPC
In religious life, one is freed from having to make the mundane decisions about what to eat, what to wear, when and what to do for work, and when to pray. In this way of religious community, which involves self-effacement and obedience to others, one can focus on purifying the heart, growing in grace and on prayer for, and service to, others. It may take the religious person many years to progress far in purifying the heart. Meanwhile, she is growing in grace and does, at least formally, pray for others. When one exits religious life, one can come to believe that because she was free from those mundane decisions like what to wear and what to eat and when to talk, that she is somehow now rendered incapable of decision-making. No, not true at all. All the time while in religious life, the religious sister or brother was still making the most important decisions for himself or herself throughout every day.
You see, the important decisions involve the heart and eternal things. “Will I love today or only be placid?” “Shall I give fully or half-heartedly?” “Shall I bear difficulties patiently or become internally resentful?” “Shall I follow the way of Jesus or just go through the motions?” It is the same outside of religious life, only you must attend to the mundane things too.
Think for a moment and ask yourself, “Did I learn anything in religious life that will help me simplify my life now and be more attentive to God’s Holy Spirit?”
In religious life, there is a purpose for releasing you from the mundane decision-making you were likely used to prior to entering the convent. One purpose is that it is essential when living in community. If everyone decided what they wanted to eat, how would you have meals together? The other major purpose for this release from mundane decision-making is to free each person to focus on those things mentioned above: purifying the heart, growing in grace and on giving energy to prayer and service to the world. Now that you are not living in the same kind of community, naturally many mundane things of life will present themselves to you again and you must deal with them.
What is the best way to manage this new encounter with the diurnal? First, realize that while everything seems to have changed in your experience, nothing has actually changed in the larger picture. Your purpose in life is the same: to purify the heart, grow in grace and to pray for and serve others. Second, there is an art to living and one of your jobs right now is to study that art. For example, the best trick for deciding what to wear in the morning is to decide the night before. An easy way to decide what to do tomorrow is to decide this evening. And just as adhering to routine preserved simplicity for you in the convent, creating and adhering to routine will simplify and bless your life now.
What about that sense of community and common cause that you feel you are suddenly missing? How in the world can such a thing be replaced? You feel lonely, possibly rejected, and you are essentially on your own. Sometimes, the reason little daily decisions seem so difficult is because much bigger decisions are not yet made: in particular, the decision of overall vocation. What’s worse is that I thought I had that huge decision made. What a relief! Now it appears to be unmade. “Oh no!” So I think to myself, “what I was so certain of has unraveled before my eyes, how can I move on not even knowing which way to move?”
The best way to move on is to begin. It’s always easier for God to direct someone who is moving. Begin by choosing to look at your own situation in a fresh and beautiful way. Something beautiful has happened to you. It may look and feel ugly and awful, but it isn’t actually. And Jesus, who adores you, will show you its beauty in time – ask Him.
Second, remember, your decision-making abilities have not been surgically removed. Your emotions may have been badly wounded and your thought processes turned upside down because your circumstances were caught in a toad-strangling, unpredictable storm. You are going to recover, because God has not abandoned you, even if others have.
Third, routinizing all the important things and daily necessities can go far to normalize your life right now. Make a routine based on wisdom, your desires and practical needs. This may require prayer and could be aided by someone you trust who is especially good with routine.
Last, be attentive to self-care. Without good self-care, you will fail at everything. Here are some basics of good self-care:
Remember, you are still in a discernment process. This is an important time in your life. Seek God. Ask for wisdom (James 1:5) and open yourself to all the beauty that is about to be revealed to you.