By Jamie, reposted from her blog Bloom Where You’re Planted.
I sat in my first job interview after leaving the convent. I remember clearly being asked, “What’s your five year plan?” by the financial lead of the organization. I mean this was a typical job interview question, but you may chuckle at the absurdity of the question if you asked a nun this question, which is what I was not too long prior. For a sister, your identity is in who you are, not what you do. As a religious, you are the bride of Christ. That is your identity.
In my monastery, you get assigned your new “job” every three years. You learn to have a peaceful acceptance of whatever it may be as the will of God, coming from the wisdom of the superiors. Even if you’re not too keen on the job, this is the daily obedience that you promise when you take vows. It comes with the lifestyle of a sister. For active sisters, these could mean moving to a whole new state for a teaching assignment every three years. For a cloistered sister, perhaps switching from your duties as the sacristan and helping with chapel ministries to the head cook for all the sisters. There is a detachment that is at first learned in religious life.
Detachment. Not a common word in our everyday lingo. What does it mean to you? It is very similar to St. Ignatius’ methods. A beautiful way of thinking of it is a desire to please God. A desire to focus on the things above not on the things below, no matter the consequences. It does not base questions on if you want or don’t want to do something. It is a detachment of self and the identity, job, salary, skills, etc. you held previously in the world to attach to the things above, to heavenly things. Pretty different from what we’re used to, huh?
For example, do you delight in your favorite ice cream? Of course. Do you jump for joy if given your least favorite ice cream? Why not? Sound like a crazy notion? The goal in this path of holiness as a religious is to be unattached from every human desire to only be attached to that of Christ and follow that which Christ lays before you. ‘Do I want this job?’ is not a question to be asked. ‘Does He want me to have this job?’ is a better question. If given prayerfully by your superiors, then yes, it is within His will and under the vow of obedience, you say yes. One sister once told me, “Stop thinking ‘Is this what I want?’ or ‘Is this what I think He wants?’ ” It is rather asking for a divine surrender to the Will of God. Trust. Jesus, I trust in Thee.
Saying ‘yes’ to Him and to this lifestyle is a daily dying to self. It is waking at 5 am everyday to join the sisters in chapel. It is rushing off to ring the bell 10 times per day to remind the sisters it is time for prayer, a meal, etc. because that is the task of the postulant. It is constantly watching your watch so you do not lead the sisters into the chapel late for their time of singing the Psalms in unison. Saying ‘yes’ is dusting the chapel three times a week since it is the task assigned to you. It is cleaning the bathrooms at the same time on Wednesdays with the novice mistress showing you spots you missed. It is watering the garden and pulling out weeds thinking that if your family saw you now they wouldn’t believe it!
Dying to self is receiving a package in the mail but asking for permission to keep it. You really desire to talk to a particular sister, but it is asking permission from your mistress to see if that is allowed. You want to speak during dinner prep but it is not the life or the call so you stay quiet. A sister needs a new glasses case and you would like to offer yours, but the exchange cannot go through you. The sister must speak to the novice mistress on your behalf to see if the exchange is allowed. Dying to self is getting up at 1:50 am three days a week to attend your middle of the night holy hour, losing sleep, but telling yourself it is worth it, to doze back to sleep until prayers a couple hours later.
You become like a child. Dying to self in little ways over and over. Making no decision for yourself. Every decision must be approved, run by your novice mistress. It is trust that He called you here and that He will give the grace of perseverance in each of these actions that keeps you going. You accept each little cross, rather, this different culture altogether, as a shedding of the old you and the growing pains of trying to live holiness in the radical way He has called you to. You see a transformation of yourself and see the secular version of yourself that once was being peeled away in this life you have chosen and that He humbly has given you if you wish to accept.
In the monastery I often wondered what it would look like to go back into the world for my first home visit, when I was usually immersed in the sanctity of perpetual adoration and song of praise, and how I would be able to handle the reverse culture shock. How would I go back to a world that was way too loud, sprinkled with evil, and try to live my life that had transformed so evidently? So here I was, applying for a secular job post monastery. So what did I answer the financial officer in my job interview for my five year plan? Thankfully, this was for a Catholic organization and someone else in the interview had left religious life long ago too. I remember collecting my thoughts and answering, “If you would have asked this question not too long ago I would have told you to be a religious sister, but now, my five year plan is to be a mom.”
It was not the secular answer most job interviews expect, in a world where job ranking, salary, and working up are emphasized. I said this with complete uncertainty of the road ahead. I had chosen to leave the monastery, I reminded myself. The pangs of ‘Did I fail?’ or ‘Did I leave what was my call because I could not handle the difficulties?’ rang strong in my ears. The uncertainty of the future and the possibility of the disappointment of who I was preparing to espouse echoed loudly. Trust. A level of trust I had never known before is what leaving the monastic way of life entailed to the core.
I pray this helps those understand the way of life a bit better and gives accompaniment to my sisters who also discerned out. Christ’s peace.
By Belva Mulvahil
This is a public service announcement about medical records. This is especially for anyone entering the convent or returning to lay life but it’s just darn helpful in general.
GET YOUR MEDICAL RECORDS
KEEP YOUR MEDICAL RECORDS
Why do I say this?
Your medical records are important. Maybe you’re young and healthy. Great! You still need to know how healthy you are right now. Then in 10 years you can compare the old and new.
You may think, hey it’s the modern era! Everything is electronic. Doctors talk to each other. I am GOOD.
Well, you might be wrong.
Specialists sometimes don’t send things or share things. I have a dermatologist who still uses paper files (in 2019!) and as a result NEVER sends info to my Primary Care Physician (PCP) even though I’ve signed a release multiple times. It’s weird, but that’s the way it is.
If you move, your PCP doesn’t share things with your new provider unless you ask. Some offices will charge you a lot to get copies of your records. Maybe you won’t have the login information to the online portal. Or your doctor may have a retention and disposal policy where they destroy records after X (not very many) years.
Why does this matter?
Many people have to get a physical, etc as part of the application process to enter religious life. Let’s say you’re in the convent for 6 years, return to lay life and struggle to get on your feet. Then you find a job, move to a new town and go to the doctor again. Do you have a medical history to give the new doctor? If you entered the convent before electronic medical records were widespread, time is of the essence. Try to get those records before they are destroyed!
Also, you may have gone to the doctor while you were in religious life. Do you have those records? Probably not. You should contact that doctor / those doctors now to get your files up to date.
If you had a thyroid test done in 2008 and you called that doctor today, they might say “we’ve destroyed everything older than 2011.”
Last year in the United States there was a scare about measles. How do you know if you were vaccinated for measles? How do you know if you had the measles booster? You could only be sure if you had your medical files available to you.
I am super thankful that I just found a box in my basement with old medical records. I left it with my family when I went to the convent and it was given back to me sometime after I returned to lay life. Thank goodness!
What’s the takeaway message here?
If you’re discerning and/or preparing to leave for the religious life, find a trusted person with whom you can leave your files.
If you’ve come back to lay life, see what you have. You can’t change the past so if your records aren’t great, try to not get too sad or frustrated with yourself. If you are missing things or have gaps, try to contact those providers as soon as possible.
If you’re a superior in a religious community, please make a medical records release form part of the exit process. Please contact the community doctor and find out what he/she needs so that the sister who is leaving has her medical history.
Have you had any problems with this? Do you have any great insights or tips to share? Please leave a comment below!
By Hettie Howlett.
Being home and not knowing what to do during the day can be overwhelming and depressing. But it’s a great opportunity to do things that full-time workers often intend to do but never quite make the time. Here are some suggestions that I have found helpful:
Pray and go to Mass
You must take time for this! Don’t be ashamed if you don’t feel like praying. But do it anyway. This may be hard if you’re far from a church but you can pray at home. Even just 10 minutes is better than nothing. Read Park It (At All Costs) for some encouragement.
Try something new – bike, swim, dance, walk, run, cross country ski, etc.
Do it daily
Consider weights and other strength training, especially for your core
Join a recreation league
Look for community classes such as scuba, tennis, martial arts, etc.
Personal Growth and knowledge
Consider individual counseling or group therapy (like ones for grief, etc). Check with local hospitals, funeral homes, Catholic Charities, or your diocese. I did GriefShare and found it extremely helpful.
Self help materials – perhaps you can’t find a counselor or you just want to be a little healthier. Try Ten Days to Self Esteem, Resisting Happiness, The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. Or The Place We Find Ourselves podcast.
Career services – Does your local college offer advice? Is there a women’s center nearby? Research how to improve your resume/CV. Learn more about our career initiative here.
Career books like What Color is Your Parachute? and Do What You Are
Cook a new meal, learn a foreign language, explore a computer program that may help your job hunt or school efforts. Your library might offer free access to resources such as lynda.com
Join a club – see if your local library offers craft groups, book groups, etc.
Take a class- Find newsletters from the library, community college, community center, etc. to see what they offer
Pick up an old hobby – Were you in the band in school and haven’t touched your instrument in 10 years? Give it a try! Revisit drawing, poetry, painting, stargazing or other hobbies that used to give you joy.
Learn a new hobby – calligraphy, sewing, knitting, churning butter 🙂
Volunteer – it looks good on your resume/CV and will help you give to others.
Create a budget spreadsheet
Sign up for online banking
Track your credit card spending
Read about investing (example, Smart Women Love Money by Alice Finn)
Ask friends, family, your pastor, people at the parish for help or recommendations
Or if you’re a financial guru, please offer your help to others!
Reconnect with old friends
Learn how to make small talk. Check out this blog or The Fine Art of Small Talk by Debra Fine
Write a note to someone. Wasn’t snail mail in the convent special?
Find ways to meet new people (local Catholic group, meet-ups, book clubs)
Visit a shut-in or take communion to the sick / elderly
Babysit and/or visit a stay at home mom who might feel isolated
I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions. Please comment below!
By Cara Ruegg.
I breathe the wind
Into swollen lungs
Red eyes blink
And all is gone.
At least for a moment
Standing at the crossroads
Nervous and trembling
Do I even want anything?
There is no silent conviction
There is no conviction at all
There is nothing
My heart is torn
It is broken
It cannot decide
To be loved
In a special way
By a person I can see
And hear and touch
It seems much more real
Even if it’s not
Even if it’s in fact false
A fickle thing
This love of humans
Changes like the wind
God is eternal
His love infinite
And He gives me Himself
He gives me everything
Where is my gratitude?
The ground beneath my feet
The grass cannot be seen
Under this dirt
What do I want?
The world’s vanities
Make me shrink
But so does the cross
Of my Jesus
Covered in blood
And I want to be brave
I want to give Him everything
All of me
Not counting the cost
But I’m a coward
And I stand here
At the crossroads
He seems far away
I once felt His peace
Such a wonderful calm
There is nothing now
I am numb
The little children huddle around me
But do they really care?
In the end, they go home
And I’m not ever there.
My Sisters laugh and joke
But still a barrier I hold
My heart can’t get attached
Not to a human soul
I want a shoulder to cry on
A friend to wipe my tears
I want to be loved by someone
But I am here
Before a silent God
Who I know is before me
But who I cannot see
And cannot hear
And cannot feel
The romance of the cross
Should be enough
It should be all
But the crucifix
On the wall
He beckoned me
And I responded
I said, “Yes,
I’d follow His call”
Now here He is
I’ve crossed the ocean
I’ve left behind my home
I let myself be forgotten
Erased from memories of loved ones
Affections have gone cold
They have changed, gone old
But I am here, frozen
I still care…too much
And they don’t know.
I cannot tell them.
And will I be happy
In the world?
I cannot see over this picket fence
And do not know
If there is any grass there at all.
And can I give up the treasure
Of a baby I can call my own
Tiny hands and soft feet
Eyes that look like my own?
For God. For God. For God.
How dry and tasteless
Shattered in a silent way
I’m just not happy
Waves aren’t crashing
All about me
I cannot even cry.
I want Your will
There are a lot of difficulties when returning from religious life back into secular life. One that I hadn’t really expected, but that has become quite a challenge, is direction. When I was in the convent I thought I had my life figured out. I thought I had found my vocation. I thought I was living where I would spend the rest of my life with the people I would spend that time with. My direction was very clear and I knew I was in the Lord’s will.
And then I left. And I felt like my life was a mess and I had no direction. I fell into the trap of despair. I was sure there was no hope. But day after day the Lord has been faithful. He has been bringing me out of that trap.
By leaving I felt like I was leaving the Father’s will for my life, not at first, but I fell into that trap after being home a little while. I was consumed with trying to figure out a plan. I needed to figure out what my next career move was as well as my vocation. I wanted to figure every little detail out before I made any sort of move in any direction.
The reality, though, is that by leaving I was actually staying in the Father’s will. He called me out of the convent. I was listening to His voice when I decided to leave. And while that left me “directionless” in the eyes of the world, it really didn’t. It took as much courage and discernment to enter religious life as it did to leave. And both decision were made with the Lord.
I was reflecting/praying with the Gospel today and I realized I’ve been going about my return all wrong. Today’s Gospel is a passage we’ve all heard a million times, but the Lord used it today to bring me some new insight. Jesus addresses Thomas after he questions how they will know what direction they are to go after Jesus ascends into Heaven by saying,
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
You see, I keep complaining about feeling directionless and like my life is a total mess. I want to know the future so I can make a move in some direction. But the Lord revealed to me today that I do know the direction to walk because Jesus is the way.
If I walk in Jesus then everything will fall into place because the goal isn’t to figure out what career I’m supposed to be in or what my vocation is. Don’t get me wrong, those questions are important, but they aren’t the be all and end all of this life. The ultimate goal of this life is to be in communion with the Father in Heaven. And Jesus tells me, and the disciples, in this passage that the way to the Father is Jesus Himself, not a specific career, living situation, or vocation. Our careers and vocations can help us get to Heaven, that is the whole point, but finding them and living them cannot be the ultimate goal. Then we lose sight of our purpose here on Earth which is to get to Heaven.
“Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven and all these things will be given you besides.” -Matthew 6:33
So while it is easy for me to fall into the trap of feeling “directionless”, the reality is that I know the direction I need to walk. I know the way because Jesus is the way.
Re-published with kind permission from Erin’s blog Arise My Daughter and Come.
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.