When my alarm went off and I sat up on my bed, my mind thought of God for a moment, then quickly asked the question, “What day is it?” It was Friday, and I still had to go to work. I laid back once again and scrolled on my phone. I checked emails, social media, and my bank account—nothing unusual for that day. Just a regular Friday.
It was not until the middle of my workday that it hit me. It was the sixth anniversary of my receiving the letter of acceptance into the postulancy. All it took was a memory to pop up on my social media, and just like that, my heart was hijacked by grief until I fell asleep in tears at 10:00 pm. Grief is a revolving door.
The post that made me realize the significance of the day in my personal history was that of a playlist I had listened to on repeat an entire evening when I found the anticipated letter in my mailbox. That playlist was filled with upbeat, uplifting music both in English and Spanish, including songs like “Happy” by Pharell Williams and “Try Everything” by Shakira.
For most of my life I had been dreaming of the moment my everything would change by entering religious life, and this letter was my passport to that life. Of course, I was happy, and of course, I blasted the music in my third-floor apartment and danced in my living room with the Mississippi River as my witness. I had not shared on Facebook the reason for my happy playlist, but it is impossible for me not to remember the motives behind my post. Only this time, looking back to a post from six years ago, instead of dancing, I was paralyzed by grief.
My heart asked for a witness right after I took a deep breath. I needed someone who could hold my grief with me for a moment, helping me come to terms with the wave of emotion. Six years before, my witness for joy had been the big river, but now only a few people would understand what I felt without much explanation. They too had lived and left religious life. For a moment, as I held my face over praying hands, I thought of how I was still alone with the sharing of my grief story. I considered not bothering these convent friends but instead going onto a social media group to post about my grief. However, I did not want to appear as if seeking sympathy.
Seconds later, I realized that there was at least one person who would be receptive and responsive to a message of this type. She had entered the same congregation with me and had left a couple of years after I left. Entering religious life had also been the dream of her life. So I trusted my instinct and texted her a screenshot of the memory, explaining the context for the playlist. She immediately responded like I had hoped. She also commented on the songs and her impressions of them. That was it. All I needed at that moment was a witness. However, my day continued.
My heart continued to be hooked up on the meaning of the day. At the end of my workday, I went grocery shopping, visited with family, and finally sat down to eat dinner alone in my new apartment. The quiet evening was certainly inviting me to dwell a little more on it all. I prayed to God about my pain, the dream He had placed in my heart, about how I had offered everything to him out of love, about how He also called me out of the convent, and about how I continued to be single and, seemingly, hopelessly alone. Tears dripped all over my shirt, my lap, and my sofa. As I allowed myself to have that moment, I worried that my neighbors would hear me sobbing. I couldn’t help it!
I went online and found a video about singlehood. The YouTuber shared her favorite psalm to pray with when she is yearning for connection. The psalm, she said, helps her offer her pain to God. I found myself falling asleep and somehow mustered the strength to brush my teeth, wash my face, put on my night creams, and make it to bed. My heart was certainly yearning for God and His love. Therefore, I pulled up my psalms and went straight to the one recommended by the YouTuber: Psalm 69. I prayed it like never before. It was painful. In seconds I was sobbing again and could not read anymore.
Then it came to me—I could only continue to trust God. He was always there, on my side, but I kept acting as if I doubted His love and glorious dreams for me. I laid back, turned off the light, and allowed my eyes to dry as I inhaled and exhaled, imagining myself on Jesus’ lap. He was the witness of my grief all along.
The revolving door of grief, though painful, had returned me once again to His presence. Grief was turned into gratitude.
Jennifer shares her magnificat of what God has done in her life since leaving the monastery. She battled depression and anxiety, but through all of this, she has grown so much. She’s not called to be a nun, and that’s okay. God has called her to marriage, and this is the vocation through which she will serve Him.
Jennifer wanted to be a nun since she was 14, and she put her all into it. Sometimes we feel so sure about something, but God has another plan. It’s hard to let go. Jennifer offers encouragement to all who are struggling with letting Him lead.
On February 1, 2014, I rode away from my community in my dad’s Honda Civic, which held all of my belongings. I chatted with my dad about what kind of job I could find in my hometown as we drove through the rolling hills of Southeastern Ohio. I hoped that I might still explore consecrated life, but for now I had to simply be a “regular” person.
The following day, February 2, I was the Godmother at my nephew’s baptism. It was also the World Day of Consecrated Life, which the lector did not fail to mention during the petitions at Mass. I won’t say that it was exactly sad for me in that moment, but it was certainly strange.
In the months that followed I would wrestle with the question of vocation and calling. No longer being “consecrated,” what was I? I took some comfort in knowing I was a daughter of the King and consecrated to Jesus through Mary, even if my calling didn’t have a specific name. But it was still hard. Something of my identity was missing. I wasn’t in a consecrated way of life or a missionary any more. I just was.
On that World Day of Consecrated life my baby nephew received the indelible mark of the Sacrament of Baptism. Which of those celebrations was more important? Baptism, by far! But sometimes I would forget that. Desiring a vocation that had a name, I would forget that I was called by name by my God, baptized into His family. If I was to be called to religious life, my vows would be a deepening of the vocation I received at Baptism. But even without religious vows, I still had a vocation at Baptism.
A religious profession, as beautiful and significant as it is, is still not one of the seven sacraments. It’s not my intention to devalue the vows and that beautiful vocation– but remind all of us that the vows that we made at Baptism (or that were most likely made for us) are sacramental.
It can be devastating to discover that we have not been called to commit ourselves for life to a vocation as a sister, nun, or consecrated woman, but nothing can remove the indelible mark of Baptism from our souls. Not leaving, not being asked to leave, not wondering and wandering, not growing older without clear purpose. Nothing.
It’s hard to have a vocation that doesn’t have a name or a form. It’s hard to be a “regular” person after aspiring to the “higher calling” of religious life. It can even feel like…a demotion in the Church.
But nothing could be further from the truth. My dear sister in Christ, as we wrap up this Lenten season and prepare to renew our vows – our Baptismal vows – at Easter, let us reflect on the meaning of that call. It does not need to be “fulfilled” by religious life—if that is not where we’ve been called to stay. In Baptism you have been called. You are known to Him by name. Your name. You are His.
I return “home” after the Christmas holidays with my family–a beautiful time that I am still learning to appreciate at it’s proper value. I savor the memory of this experience, yet the feelings are still so new–almost hard to embrace fully. It’s only the second Christmas for me since returning to lay life, after a full nine years of life in the convent. Unlike last year, I don’t wonder this year if I could ever go back to my convent, or any convent, back to the liturgical grandeur of the celebration of the birth of the Lord. However, though my family’s love warms my heart, and I soak it up gratefully, I do not yet feel totally at home again taking part in the family traditions.
The “home” that I’ve now returned to is the house I’m renting with two grad students, near the college I attended so many years ago. I love the smallness of this town, its familiarity, and the possibilities that being close to a college exude. These are possibilities of a future that on the one hand I want, and on the other make me hesitate–for I am not yet ready to embrace them.
On January 2nd, the birthday of St. Therese, I made it to 1 year and 6 months since leaving religious life. 1 year and 6 months. That is really not that long. I breathe a long, slow, and deep sigh of relief. Tears rise in my eyes, and simply hang there. I’ve been through so much. The questions within me no longer seem to be darkened by I thought I would be farther by now. They seem…well…normal. They are: What am I doing? What should I do next? Where am I going? Not only that, but who are my friends? Who should I call? With whom do I belong? These are big, and hard questions. And it’s such a grace and gift actually, for me, to be able to write about it.
Right now I have a part time job working at a local specialty grocery store. It has been good for me to just get my feet wet. I tried a full time job for a startup company earlier last year, and well, it didn’t go so well. I ended up quitting. I think I’m going to have to build up to a job just like I’m building up to a life. Slow but steady. Plunging might work for some people, but it’s just not for me.
What this piece is about however, and what I’d like to share with you, my sisters, is the astonishing realization that my reflections at this time have led to, and I simply wonder if you may share as well.
There is one thing I don’t understand: how am I staying sane in all this? I would expect that someone who is asking the questions I am, who is so deeply ungrounded as I am, would be deeply shaken! Well, I will not deny I have dealt with a lot of both anxiety and depression, but now I see this as absolutely part of the journey. I am not ashamed to seek the help of a therapist.
But what has helped me a great deal–and I recognize it now more starkly and with awe and gratitude–has actually been my experience in entering religious life. Whatever God did to my soul in giving it to Him, He has blessed, and made strong… so that I know that He is my God, always. I am grounded in Him.
It is precisely because of going into religious life that I am able to face this now. I’m certainly not afraid. I am at peace, deep within, and I know that nothing can take that away–because God is God. I think that this is the gift that God has given to me, through what I’ve offered Him. And the peace itself that He gives me is the reassurance that I have done the right thing all along. He, God, is the life of my life. I feel that truly–even though a lot of things have changed in my spiritual life, and dramatically so, throughout my journey. I think it’s only when you’ve left everything for the Lord that perhaps you know …not in an abstract sense but in a lived sense, what the Lord can be for you.
What St. Paul says in Philippians 4:12 resonates with me, especially through this rocky time of transition: “In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.”
Jesus’ own words also strengthen me, and I can make them my own, even though not in the sense that He says them as the Son of God. He says, “The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone.” – John 8:29.
So I too feel like the Father is always with me, within me, and He will never leave me alone–through the times of sweetness but also in the darkest night. I trust Him. This is the ground I can stand on.
Though it is not easy, I find comfort in this prayer, shared with me by my spiritual director, and I pray it now for all of you, my sisters around the world. And I pray that you too will experience, if not today, then down the road, the gift that your gift to God can be back to you:
Trust in the Slow Work of God by Teilhard de Chardin
Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. Yet it is the law of all progress, that it is made by passing through some stages of instability, and that may take a very long time. And so I think it is with you. Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow. Let them shape themselves without undue haste. Do not try to force them on as though you could be today what time–that is to say, grace–and circumstances acting on your own good will will make you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new Spirit gradually forming in you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete. Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser.
You know the way for me, You know the time,
Into Your hands, I trustingly place mine.
Your plan is perfect, born of perfect Love, You know the way, Your way is love
Eight years ago, I was a young novice, Sister Mary Inez. Today I am happily married and a mom of two. I had an amazing convent experience, but God never meant for me to stay there. Here is my story.
In August 2012, I joined a community of Dominican teaching sisters. The Lord began calling me to religious life during a retreat that spring. When I felt certain Jesus wanted me to go, I quit my job, sold my car, and became a postulant.
Being a new sister was hard. The other postulants and I had to adjust to a new routine of prayer, work, and study. The hardest thing for me was all the silence. Regular silence and profound silence. Silence in the chapel and silence in our airy, white-curtained cells.
All that silence made it impossible for me to hide from myself. It was like Yoda’s cave in Star Wars:
“What’s in there?” Luke asked about the mysterious cave.
“Only what you take with you,” Yoda wisely replied.
Inside the Cave
I didn’t know it at the time, but I brought a lot of baggage with me into the convent cave. Every time I made a mistake, I was assailed by negative thoughts: You don’t belong here. You could never be a religious sister. No one could ever love you. Jesus loves everybody in the world except you.
These hurtful words stung like physical blows. Adding to this interior misery was the back pain I’d experienced since I was a teenager. In January 2013, I finally told my novice mistress about my struggles.
“I want to stay in the convent, Sister,” I said. My aching body stood hunched over in her doorway. “But I need help.”
Even more, I needed healing.
My novice mistress first gave me permission to see a back doctor. I went to physical therapy and had some X-rays done, but the X-rays didn’t show much. My back pain was invisible on the charts, but still very real.
“Ask the Lord to reveal if there’s a psychological reason for your back pain,” my novice mistress suggested. So I prayed, and soon received an answer.
On Easter Monday, I was working in the convent kitchen. I put a few spoons in the wrong drawer, and the sister next to me – my closest friend there – shot me a look of exasperated fury. That minor event stirred up a far more serious incident from the past:
In the winter of 2000, someone whom I loved got very angry with me and hit me. In front of everybody, at a party. They apologized later, but they never explained why.
I was 14 then. I wasn’t sure what to think. What had I done to deserve this? To make sense of it, I decided someone must be to blame: me.
“There’s something wrong with me,” I decided that day. “Something, very, very wrong.”
I didn’t mean my sins. I knew that sins could be forgiven, washed away in the confessional. I also knew God loved to be merciful. No, I believed there was something wrong with me that was unchangeable. Something unredeemable.
And so I began believing an unconscious lie:
There’s something wrong with me. If I did not exist, I would fix what is wrong with the world.
This thought didn’t make sense logically, but emotionally it felt real and true.
Before that winter, I had an optimistic look at my freshman year of high school. Afterwards, I remained cheerful on the outside, but I was deeply depressed on the inside. My back pain started a few months later, and never stopped.
Seeing Sister Mary
I told my novice mistress about my discovery, and how I thought it was linked to my back pain. When she saw my distress, she sent me to see Sister Mary*.
“You need someone to talk to. Sister Mary can help.”
I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to share my ugly wounds with a complete stranger. But I knew Jesus would want me to go, so I went.
I talked to Sister Mary, and she listened. I told her how I was hurt at 14, and all the nasty things I heard in my head. Over several months, Sister helped me. She offered simple words of wisdom, and a clearer vision. She taught me to put those lies from the Devil at the foot of the Cross.
“The Devil is always accusing us, reminding us of our faults,” she said. “But Jesus offers love, forgiveness, healing.”
The more I talked to Sister Mary, the more the pain got out of my head and into the open. My heart, made numb from past hurts, began to feel again. It was a painful experience, but liberating.
Acknowledging the Truth
Through prayer and meetings with Sister Mary, I saw that what had happened to me at 14 was only one piece in a much larger puzzle. I grew up in a household with sometimes unrealistic expectations of perfection. As a consequence, we sometimes ignored the imperfect situations within our own family. This left me hungry for justice, rightness, the truth.
At 14, I couldn’t see that truth. But at age 26, I could acknowledge that my family was loving and supportive, but not perfect. I could also find comfort in Jesus, who came to heal the brokenhearted.
“Sometimes Jesus allows us to suffer physically, as part of His plan for us,” my novice mistress explained. “But He always wants to heal us spiritually.”
Jesus helped me along the difficult road to healing. I surrendered my wounds to Him, wrote to Him in my journal, and begged for healing and perseverance. Finally, I wrote a letter to the person who’d hurt me, saying that I forgave them and that Jesus had healed me.
Sister, What Do You Desire?
Afterwards, however, convent life continued to be difficult. I felt like I was slogging through quicksand. Still, I kept going, determined to stay where God wanted me, as long as He wanted me, here in the convent.
I visited Sister Mary one last time. “I’m healed, Sister. My back pain is gone, and I can feel again.” I sighed. “So why do I feel so unhappy?”
Sister Mary gave me a long look.
“Sister, what do you desire?” she asked.
I stared behind her, into the grey. “I want…a tangible kind of love. I try to give it to my sisters here, but no one wants it.” At night, I’d peer into the bathroom mirror, just to confirm I was still there. I felt invisible. “I want…to be seen, known, loved.”
“What does that sound like?” she prompted.
The answer came to me all at once. “Oh. Marriage. It sounds like marriage!”
In that moment, I knew right away that I wasn’t called to be a sister. I was supposed to get married! No one could have been more surprised than me. I felt so much joy!
I smiled and leapt to my feet. “I have to go home, Sister. My husband is waiting for me!”
A Future With Hope
One week later, I left the convent. Six weeks after that, I met my future husband for the first time. We’ve been married for six years now, and have two beautiful children.
God healed me in the convent, but He didn’t heal me just so my back would stop hurting, or to free me from depression. He healed me so I could see the truth that had been there all along: I was called to marriage, not religious life. And later, to a vocation of writing, not teaching. Healing allowed me to discover my true vocation and calling.
Saying “Yes!” to Jesus led me to a wellspring of grace and healing. The Lord truly took my broken soul and gave me a future “filled with hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
* Name changed.
About the Author:
Mary Rose Kreger lives in the metro Detroit area with her family, where she writes fantasy for teens, and blogs about her spiritual journey: before, during, and after the convent on www.monasteryinmyheart.com.
Eight years ago, I was a young novice, Sr. Mary Inez. I spent 19 months in the convent before realizing I was called to a married vocation. Today I am a happy wife and mom, but re-entering the world was a great struggle for me. Here is a poem about my experience:
Once outside the convent
You still long to be inside it
The white curtained walls
The ancient creaking floors
The silence and the song.
He drew me in and I followed,
Hungry for the final Word in treasures—
His secret gaze pierced me, pleaded silently:
I left everything to find Him,
My home, my job, my family—
Stepping out of the boat into the deep waters.
In return, He gave me the Cross,
That bitter cure-all for a thousand ills,
But also a taste of Heaven.
19 months in His garden, and then He says,
“Go home and tell your family all that I have done for you.”