When I left the convent nine years ago, I was entirely unprepared for my biggest struggle: the temptation to give up on prayer. I hate to admit it, but I kinda let prayer hang by a string for a while. I wish I were unique in this, but I suspect others have the same temptation, and I’ll bet no one warned you. So I want to share my thoughts in hopes of helping you avoid my errors.
What caused this temptation? First, I’d really wanted to be a Sister, I loved my community, and I’d really thought God wanted me there, so discerning otherwise took the wind out of my sails. Second, when faced with learning how to balance prayer, work, and life as a laywoman, I found it too easy to slack off. Like a pendulum, I swung from the convent-extreme of lots of prayer to the extreme of practically none. I never skipped Mass, but many days found me doing very little else.
At bottom, however, the real perpetrator was that ignoring God was less painful than facing Him. I eschewed confronting Him in emptiness and sorrow to avoid being exposed and vulnerable and, because He was so awfully silent then, having no answers or consolation. If I curtailed serious interior prayer, then I could forget I was a gaping wound.
Problem is, this is a time when we need serious prayer. We can’t pray as much as we used to, but we also shouldn’t stop praying as well as we did. So why do we feel tempted to give up on prayer in this time of weakness? Honestly, I think a lot is due to the devil wanting to kick you while you’re down. You’re already vulnerable, so he tries to convince you to despair and to stop talking to precisely the One Person who can give you healing, peace, and hope.
The remedy is to keep communicating with the Lord at all costs. At ALL costs. He can work with any little bit you can give or throw at Him. Really.
When I started to crawl out of the nefarious hole that is acedia, I found my best recourse was what I call the “park it” (as in “park your tukhas right there, young lady”) prayer method, because sometimes all you can muster up the heart for is to sit there. Your very presence is something He can work with.
So park yourself in the nearest church or adoration chapel, or if that’s not available, park it wherever you can pray. Don’t bring a rosary or breviary or Bible for this visit. Just bring you. Commit yourself to some amount of time: a half hour, an hour, whatever, and just sit with the Lord. OK, so you don’t have the heart to talk with Him? Maybe you feel like yelling at Him instead? Go ahead! Holler, scream at Him. (I mean the interior versions of these, unless you’re absolutely certain there’s no one around who might hear you!) Scowl at Him and be silent. Complain to Him about how hard this is. Tell Him how disappointed you are and how much you feel like a failure and all the other ugly things you feel. Or sit there and just let yourself weep in His presence. God’s strong enough to take anything you dish at Him, so let Him have it. And I’ll bet you dollars to donuts He’d rather have this honest, raw, hurting you who’s hurling gripes at Him than not hear from you at all. Maybe you’re not a Sister anymore, but you’re still His beloved, and He wants to hear from you.
Don’t stop there, and don’t move that tukhas yet. Don’t budge until the time to which you’ve committed is up. Is the Lord still not talking? Beg Him to talk to you, plead with Him to speak to your heart and heal it. Is He still not talking? Keep sitting there, and keep asking. Maybe He won’t say anything today, and maybe He won’t seem to say anything for a lot of todays, but you know what? The more todays you park it, the more you keep open those lines of communication. You’ve told Him, by your daily parking it, that He’s still more important to you than your hurt and disappointment. You’re showing that you still know you need Him and aren’t willing to rely on yourself. You’re showing that He’s still your everything, despite your disappointment, anger, and whatever else you’re experiencing, and despite the difficulty in focusing on Him. And this is a very real, deep form of abandonment and surrender.
You know the awesome, amazing thing that this does? It will gradually bring you to an entirely new level of prayer because, before you know it, you’ll start to hear Him speaking in new ways that you never expected. You’ll find that He’s started teaching you a new way of listening to Him, and then all of a sudden, you’ll see that He really is speaking to you after all, in a voice much more sonorous, healing, and loving than you could have ever imagined. Slowly but surely, the darkness will start to fade, and you’ll see bright sky peeking through, and prayer will bring you joy again.
Trust me, ladies. I’ve been where you are. It really, truly does get better because the Lord will make it better for you if you give Him the chance and the time. It took me a year to climb out of the hole, but it worked, and it was worth it! If you cling to the Lord when it hurts, you will find that great peace and joy come in and eclipse the hurt. And after all, this Lord of ours who clings to us eternally is so very worth clinging to, is He not?
By Cafea Fruor
Cafea Fruor is a former active religious sister who is now discerning a vocation to the contemplative life. She thinks that coffee, bacon, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are God’s finest creations, but she’d give these up in a heartbeat to enter the monastery. Please pray for her continuing discernment.
Leaving the convent and returning to the world was quite the experience, to say the least. Did you feel the same way? I was in the convent, going about my day and then two days later I was in a car driving to my parents’ house. My routine was suddenly turned upside down.
I certainly did not know where I was going or what my future would hold. It was difficult to fight off the anxiety and fear. Now what? Where will I work? Can I find a job? What kind of job? Do I have clothes? Where can I live? Once the immediate needs passed, other questions set in. Do I have a vocation at all? Is there a plan? Do I have a path? Is my holiness in jeopardy now that I am back? Does God still love me?
Though I have been back for a few years, the latter questions still periodically crop up in my mind. As I am in the heat of the moment, feeling rather hopeless and confused about my future, nothing seems possible. I am a weak sinner and ending up in Heaven seems basically impossible. Oh, if only I were St. Teresa of Avila or St. Francis de Sales (for example), then I would be fine!
But recently I realized that they probably felt the same way at times. When they were alive and struggling through life just like me, they had to feel confused, lost, unsure, etc. because they did not know what would happen in the future. They did not know if they would end up in Heaven and they certainly did not know that they would be canonized by the Church!
But I know the end of their stories. Therefore, it is easy to view the difficulties they experienced as being “no big deal.”
Yeah, St. Therese died from TB, but so what? She ended up in Heaven, so it’s fine.
St. John of the Cross was thrown in prison but he was holy so I am sure that was easy for him.
Bl. Margaret of Castello was abandoned by her parents, but she totally got over it.
Really? Do I really believe this? That these saints were not human at all and did not struggle? It is ridiculous, and yet I think I slip into this very easily. And more than that, I somehow think that what I am experiencing is so much worse! It’s rather funny, actually.
So what can I learn from this? Today is passing and tomorrow will come and surprise us all. What I am experiencing right now will not necessarily determine my future. Many studies show that envisioning what you want and how you will attain it increases the chances of it becoming a reality. This is not the case only for material wealth and worldly success. I need to picture myself in Heaven with God and imagine myself acting in ways that will get me there! When St. Thomas Aquinas was asked, “What does it take to become a saint?” He answered, “Will it.” Is that not the same thing? We have to be like little children and trust that the Father wants us to be eternally with Him in Heaven infinitely more than we want it for ourselves!
Finally, we need to have confidence that what Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel is TRUE:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.
If there were not,
would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.
Where I am going you know the way.”
By Rosa Mystica
Leaving the atmosphere of religious life can feel like a big let-down. It’s easy to fall in love with that atmosphere, away from the seemingly pointless hustle and banality of our modern culture. It’s easy to think that you’ll never find the peace and tranquility you found “on the inside” again, and this fact alone drives many people who leave a community to near-madness. I know, it happened to me. But it doesn’t have to be like this.
One of the biggest problems I faced when leaving was despair. I worried about how I’d find work and where I would wind up and how I’d pay the bills. I worried that I’d failed God, or worse, that He and in particular His ministers in the Church had failed me. I wondered if He really cared about me or had a plan for me. I also felt that the world was completely against me, that worldly people would believe me to be a religious freak, and that without life in a religious organization I would be incapable of survival, in both the spiritual and material sense. Never in my life was I more wrong. What I desperately needed was a view of good things that can happen on the outside, and thankfully I got that.
I’m not advocating a foolhardy Pollyanna attitude, but I do know from first-hand experience that the world really isn’t quite so bad as that, and being a faithful and joyful Christian is possible out here. Here’s some things I discovered, in no particular order:
The world is a place filled with beauty. Beg, borrow, or steal a ride and go camping. Visit some place you’ve never been. Meet some new people. Or if you really can’t get very far, go for a long walk. Stare at the sky. Watch a squirrel closely. Listen to beautiful music. Then remember this: God made all this for you. God made you, and everything around you, because He loves you. This experience is His gift to you. This experience has been so necessary for me from time to time, because otherwise, if I’m trapped indoors or at work for a long time, I can easily assume that God isn’t close. When you’re in the convent or in a seminary it can be easy to forget to perceive beauty and God’s loving care for the world in places outside the Adoration chapel, the choir bench, or a beautiful traditional Mass. You’ll feel starved for love and beauty if you ignore the great beauty of the world around you.
Waste time with other people. It can be tempting to spend a lot of time working or praying, or working and praying, if you’re really into ora et labora. But humans are meant to be in relationship with others, and most often you’ll find that you can’t do that if you won’t just waste time with them. In a community it’s easy to take this for granted. You’re always together, doing the mundane things of life. When you’re outside, you won’t have this. So ask somebody to sit and eat with you in the break room at work. Talk about frivolous things and laugh. Even the most introverted of people can feel starved for this after leaving a community.
Remember that the world in a very real way needs you, and you will need the world. Remember that God has given you gifts, gifts that are meant to serve other people. Be prepared to be surprised at the ways your gifts get used by others. The skills that you thought would make you so perfect as a priest or a nun could very well make you an extremely effective counsellor or businessperson. Don’t be afraid to use these skills on the job and outside of it too. It will draw people to God in ways they do not expect, and He will reward you more than a human employer could do. There is little in this life that is more rewarding than that.
Finally, consider seeking new ways to pray. Without the community life of prayer you may find it very difficult to pray in the old ways. I found that after leaving seminary I could no longer pray the Office with anything other than a sense of reluctant recitation. I needed something else. So I learned lectio divina, and started taking a sketch pad with me to the parish Adoration chapel to draw what I meditated upon. God is a person who loves you and wants to spend time with you, so do not become discouraged if your old prayers seem lifeless and impossible. He will understand if things change.
Anthony is a thoroughly lovable former seminarian, artist, and Catholic blogger. He is not only the author of this week’s post, but also the creator of its featured image. If you’ve never seen his artwork, check out his blog at http://weaselsgonarf.blogspot.com/.
That I Can Do In The World (To Make My Life Better)
Be disciplined about time:
When the bell rang, we stopped what we were doing and moved onto the next thing. It didn’t matter if you were in the middle of a great story, having an awesome prayer time, etc. It was time to go. In my life this would add a lot of sanity if I have the discipline to do it. If I tell myself I will read for 15 minutes, do email for 5 minutes, then clean for 20 minutes, etc. I would get so many different things done. Instead I get sucked into tasks and neglect the others. Or I stay up too late so I am tired and grouchy the next day.
Communicate with family:
It was stressed that we needed to write to our family regularly. Because of that, I wrote my grandparents (and parents) often. And it was such a blessing. I didn’t make it a priority in the world because there were so many other tasks vying for my attention. But in the convent we knew that Sunday afternoon was time to write. What a gift! There is something very beautiful about a letter arriving in your mailbox because it is so intentional.
Sometimes I just need to move on:
When there would be a misunderstanding in the convent, it was hard to find time to talk things out because we observed silence for most of the day. I had such a desire to explain myself to others or find out why they did what they did, etc. But we really couldn’t do that, and it was often a blessing. I don’t need to explain myself all of the time or tell others why what they just did hurt me or annoyed me, etc. Quite often I would forget about whatever was such a big deal when I finally had an opportunity to talk about it.
Choose your words:
Having so much silent time made the opportunities for talking to my sisters precious. I was very intentional about my conversation and I started to see how much useless talking goes on in our lives. Now that I am back in the world, there are many times where random things pop into my head. I could share these thoughts in conversation, but I just choose not to say them.
Make reading a priority:
We had 30 minutes of designated spiritual reading time every day. Because of that, I blazed through a ton of great books. If I even dedicated half that amount of time to reading spiritual books now that would be awesome.
Don’t hit snooze:
When the bell rang at 5am we had to get out of bed. It was just part of life. The day was so productive because we got up and got moving.
The importance of recreation/free time:
It was part of our schedule because it is important. I felt good after exercising and spending time with my sisters!
We had a schedule but sometimes things came up: random mission trip, etc. It’s easy to get bent out of shape when you have your day planned and then a monkey wrench comes in. But in the convent it was easy to view it as “God’s will.” I can do that in the world too!
Portion control and lack of sweets:
You couldn’t over eat or overindulge because certain foods weren’t available at all or in large quantities. What a gift!
How to take a fast shower:
It is possible!
A tidy room is pleasant:
My cell was calm because there wasn’t a bunch of junk lying around.
Sit up straight and smile:
The importance of good posture and a joyful countenance was very obvious in the convent!
by: Maria Goretti
When I came home from the convent, my hair was super short. It was a severe blow to my self-esteem because I had long hair for many years.
In short (no pun intended), my drastic appearance change (among other things) caused my self-confidence to crumble. I have the slightest feeling that, in hindsight, I will see God’s hand in all of this. He brought me closer to Himself by showing me that His Love never fails. For example, I felt that everyone was judging me by my hair and I just wanted them to know that I didn’t choose to look like this (because the sisters wear the habit, my head was covered by a veil, so my long hair was unnecessary). Of course, it was unfathomable that I would want to tell the world that I just came home from the convent, so there was only one place I knew I could be truly loved and understood. That place was in front of the Tabernacle.
There was only one problem…God did not miraculously add extensions to my head, so I still had to try to make it look decent. At first, I only used mousse because there wasn’t much else I could do.
Eventually, my new friends convinced me to buy hair accessories, so I spruced it up with little flowers, bows, clips, etc.
And when my hair finally grew long enough to get a stylist, I was directed to use a certain taffy to give the top of my head a little volume, which is great! I was never big into hair products, but I’m allowing myself to splurge a little due to the circumstances.
Anyway, life went on, and when I came home from college for summer break, I decided to do some investigating about the hairstyle atop my head. A few of my discoveries included:
-This style has a name – The Pixie Cut! I found a post called, The Pixie Cut Series which changed my life, in a subtle way. The author has great advice, such as: “Avoid The Mullet”…
-And scarves! I found a great video by a woman who shared her wisdom about pixie cuts and scarves. After watching this, I went on a hunt into the thrift stores in town for the cutest head wraps/scarves I could find. By the way, “thrifting” has become one of my most favorite hobbies…who doesn’t love saving money?!
My favorite scarves!
-And finally, curlers perhaps? I do like the curly-bang look. But because my hair is thick and straight, I’m not sure if the foam curlers I purchased will do me any good. Time will tell.
There was a lot of helpful information on the web, and I’m thankful that I had the determination to find it. In the end, God placed me in a situation and I decided to embrace it. I suppose I could have given up and wallowed in my misery, allowing my hair to fall where it may…but instead I made a choice and it feels beautiful to change my perspective and use what God has given me .
If anyone is struggling with their appearance as I am, know that there is a way to break free from the struggle and still feel beautiful. Instead of trying to “fix it,” work with what you’ve got!
Lord, help me to accept whatever cross you may place upon my shoulders, and help me to carry the burden…for I cannot do it alone.
by Liz Miller
Liz is a college student who embraces all of life’s awkward moments. She loves Ven. Fulton Sheen and puns.
I’m back talking about beans again. I hope you have been able to enjoy the magical world of beans. If you still haven’t taken the plunge (it took me 10 years!), maybe a little more encouragement will help. I am by no means an expert on bean cookery, but here are some tips from my kitchen.
Cooking with canned beans
Canned beans are great for quick bean additions. I usually start by opening the can, dumping the beans into a colander, and rinsing them. Sometimes when I don’t feel like cleaning the colander I just use the can to do a quick rinse. I keep the lid partially attached to use as a guard to keep the beans in the can as I dump out the bean “juices”. Then I fill the can with water, dump out the water, and repeat this a couple times. I’m not sure that is easier than just cleaning the colander, but hey, it’s what I do.
I have added canned beans to dishes like spaghetti, goulash, soups, and scalloped potatoes and ham (I actually prefer this dish with red beans in it now). I may or may not add a whole can to any one of these. Having some already rinsed beans in the fridge may encourage you to spring for a quick bean addition to a dish that may leave you wondering How did I ever enjoy this dish legume-less?
Here’s another quick canned bean recipe: Hummus
2 to 3 cloves garlic
1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained with liquid reserved
2 tbs smooth peanut butter
A handful of fresh parsley leaves
1 tsp lemon juice
Pinch of black pepper and salt
1/3 cup olive oil
Chop garlic in food processor. Add the beans and half of reserved liquid. Add peanut butter, parsley, lemon juice, pepper, and salt. Process until it forms a paste. Drizzle in olive oil and process until it is the consistency of mayonnaise. Enjoy on a sandwich, or as a dip for veggies, pretzels, or pita bread.
Cooking with dried beans
Since dried beans are cheaper than canned beans, I am pretty much just a dried variety girl these days. I usually soak and cook a double or triple batch at a time so I can freeze extras to create a quick bean solution. Before soaking, it is important to do a quick look through your beans to make sure there are no small pebbles or other such debris mixed in. It doesn’t happen to me very often, but I do find something occasionally. You can also take out any beans that look shriveled or funny-shaped compared with the rest of the group.
Soaking (6-8 hours) and cooking (1 ½-2 hours) the beans is a time commitment, but they require little attention during this process so you can easily accomplish something else while the beans do their thing. I usually soak the beans overnight and cook the next day. It’s helpful to cook tomorrow’s beans while I make tonight’s dinner. By the time I am done eating and cleaning up the kitchen, I have cooked beans all set for the rest of the week (or more if I freeze extras). This does take some planning ahead, but that is where the pre-planned menu is a big help.
My family has found some of our favorite beans recipes on the Kitchen Stewardship blog at www.kitchenstewardship.com. Here you can even purchase The Everything Bean Book with lots more ideas to inspire you on your journey toward your personal bean goal.
by Manna-T from Heaven.