I remember reading once that, if someone in the Middle Ages recovered from a severe illness after having been given the Last Rites, popular superstition considered that his earthly life was actually over: among other restrictions, he was not permitted to marry, to make a will, or to eat meat. *
Without wishing to seem morbid, when I left the convent, I began to understand a little of what those people would have felt as they muddled around after their recovery, trying to make sense of a world with which they were supposed to have finished. While getting ready to enter the religious life months earlier, I had realised why a former colleague – now a nun – said that in a way it felt like preparing for death: once my date of entry was set, I stepped into some strange area outside the regular flow of life, knowing that I was on a limited time-frame. I’d look in shop windows at racks of clothing, and realise that even if I bought anything, I wouldn’t have a chance to wear it. At the supermarket, I’d buy the smallest possible jars of honey or peanut butter (even though it was more expensive) because that way, I’d be able to get them finished in time. Also, of course, I was hauling bag after bag of clothes and books to the op-shop, leaving my closet looking stripped and abandoned… and most of all, my friends and family were holding small parties to farewell me, knowing it might be a long time before they saw me again.
And then I left. And then I was back.
Good grief, the noise! I’d lost the ability to tune out background music, the chatter and footsteps of passers-by, the rumbling and honking of cars, the clattering signals at pedestrian crossings… I couldn’t believe I’d ever been able to ignore so much noise. Advertisements on TV and billboards seemed surreal: having barely handled money for over half a year, I couldn’t believe that I was once again being marketed to. Visiting the places where I used to live or work was more like walking into a memory than living in the present, and everything I read/watched/listened to was something I had consciously, willingly, given up for good. None of it made any sense.
Of course, true death to the world only occurs during the rite of final profession, as the religious lies beneath a funeral pall while the Litany of the Saints is sung. So, what about the rest of us, who didn’t make it that far but still feel as if we’re no longer really part of the outside world?
For one thing, the experience gave me a taste of what being “in the world, but not of the world” feels like. It’s probably a good thing to feel slightly distant from the things you’re shopping for, to be able to step back from the advertising and think, “Seriously? They’re trying to make me want this thing? Do I want it?” It’s definitely a good thing to be able to sit back while sending a text or surfing the net and say, “You know, I lived for half a year without this and didn’t miss anything important.” And it’s wonderful to put your arms around your grandparents in the knowledge that, in other circumstances, you might not have seen them again. Basically, the world becomes unexpected: having lived outside it, you can’t now take it for granted, and whether that’s ultimately good or bad is defined by your response to it.
*See The Catholic Encyclopaedia chapter entitled ‘Subject’, paragraph 3. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05716a.htm.
Was it just me, or did returning from the convent leave you feeling like a turtle standing there without a shell?
|awk.ward (ak-werd)-Not graceful; ungainly.-Not dexterous; clumsy.-Clumsily or unskillfully performed: –Difficult to handle or manage:-Marked by or causing embarrassment or discomfort:
For me, the only thing more awkward than sitting in the airport on my way home wearing my knee-highs and clunky “nun-shoes,” with no one to talk to and nothing to make me look distracted or less lonely than my breviary and rosary, was facing EVERYONE…because even though people are understanding, nobody understands.
Why am I awkward? Let’s face it, I’ve probably always been a bit different. The fact that my idea of the perfect life was vowing and embracing the evangelical counsels; the exact opposite of that which the world tells us will make us happy, attests to this. Sex, money and power anyone? No thanks, I could really go for a life long commitment of chastity, poverty and obedience… What?
The thing is, the more I became graceful and comfortable living the religious life the more I became clumsy and uncomfortable in the secular world. In some ways I think it just had to do with the fact that I wasn’t used to being exposed to the world anymore. I was used to modesty, silence and prayer, study and recreation, a schedule and a community of women striving for holiness and love. All of a sudden I came crashing into the immodest, noisy, chaotic and selfish world that I had previously escaped. All of a sudden I felt scandalized and uncomfortable by everything around me.
However, now that I’ve been back in the world even longer than I was in the convent and now that I’m well exposed to the world and I don’t feel scandalized and embarrassed at every moment, I think that it’s still important to be awkward. We should be graceful and skillful women of Christ but awkward to sin and the secular world. Lets not get comfortable with that which the world offers but rather keep striving for chastity, poverty and obedience according to our state in life.
Be the woman who is modest in speech, dress and behavior. Be the woman who lives simply, tithes and gives to charity. Be the woman who lives the Gospel and is obedient and docile to her priest or spiritual director and to her employer. Be the woman who holds mankind in her heart and offers her life in love for the salvation of souls. Be the awkward light that catches the attention of sinners and makes them feel uncomfortable. Be the light that makes the roaches run and scatter. Be the light that awakens the sleeping. Be the light that expels darkness.
Lord, give us the grace to be awkward! Amen
by Cora Cantata
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.
One of the difficulties we face when we return to the world involves connectivity. You said goodbye to your phone, Facebook, email, etc. when you left. But upon your return, you are faced with clear choices about what you want to do. Some people want to jump back into it immediately, while others slowly return, if ever.
Though Facebook and email are free, phones are not. What’s a post-convent girl supposed to do? When I returned, I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to talk on the phone, let alone pay for one. Are there ways to ease into it?
After exploring many options, I would say the answer is yes. First of all, if you don’t feel ready to get a phone, don’t do it. What’s the point of forcing it? You’ll eventually get one, so enjoy the freedom while you can! One of the things I found enjoyable about the convent was not feeling the pressure of unanswered messages and calls. Also, once you have a phone, it creates an expectation. Therefore, if you don’t know if you are up for random calls from family/friends, getting a phone right now might not be the best idea. Borrowing other people’s phones will allow you to call out while also minimizing inbound calls.
Eventually you’ll be ready to take the plunge and the next question will be about money. Some people have a generous loved one who is willing to cough up the cash for a phone plan, but what if that’s not the case for you? When I started looking around for a phone plan, I was stunned. I was not in a position to sign a 2-year contract for $50-90 per month. My income was ZERO and I was depending on others to provide me with food, clothing and shelter.
I ended up getting a pay-by-the-minute plan through Page Plus and it served me very well. I had an old phone lying about and I got a new number via Page Plus. There are many no-contract phone companies, so look around. And, the benefit of using an old phone was that I paid nothing for my device. A lot of people have their last model phone in a drawer collecting dust and you can use this to help you get started. This can get you by for awhile until you get on your feet financially. I was hesitant to do this at first, because I assumed these companies would have poor service. But, I found out that many people are now switching to these no-contract carriers because they have the same service, cost less and don’t require a commitment. Be not afraid!
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous and you have internet access where you live, I would recommend trying Google Voice. The easiest way to explain it is that it is a “pointer.” You can get a phone number through them, and then “point” it wherever you want. For example, lets say you sign up for a Google number and choose 313-222-5555 (yes, you can select your phone number). You could have your account ring your parents’ house phone when anyone called your 313 number. If you stay with your friend for the weekend, you can have your friend’s cell phone ring when someone calls your 313 number. One of the many cool things about this is that if you have a minute phone, you can save your minutes by texting and calling through the web instead. Did I mention that it is totally free? It took me awhile to get the hang of using it but it was totally worth it.
In conclusion, the choices we have today for communication are changing all of the time. Pray about how available you want to be and make your choices based upon that prayer. Also, don’t allow anyone to pressure you to do things when you are not ready. For example, people can be hurt if you have a phone but never text them back. So if you’re not ready to text, don’t get a phone (or don’t tell people you have one!). If you are considering a phone but find the prospect of research overwhelming, you can ask friends or family members who are really into technology to explore some options for you. It can allow you to save money and give them a way to help you out. Finally, feel free to contact us if you have questions. God bless!
Most convents have a set schedule, or horarium, which the sisters follow. But when you come back to the world, it can be hard to know what to do and when.
After I returned to the world, it seemed like all I did was sleep for the first few weeks. I did not sleep well while I was in the convent, so I suppose I needed to catch up. But after that I had to start facing the reality that I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. It was overwhelming.
Fortunately, I had great people in my life to help me define some important activities.
First, I was encouraged to make sure I got some exercise every day. This is HUGE. Don’t underestimate exercise! If you don’t believe me, check out this link: http://catholiclane.com/natural-spark-to-treat-add-and-other-conditions/. Your regimen doesn’t need to be intense, just regular. My preferred activity was a 20-minute or longer walk. But sometimes I just needed to run, so I did (I am NOT a runner, by the way). Pick something that you like and get going!
Next, you should consider your daily prayer life now that you are back. The truth is that you will not be able to imitate the prayer life you experienced in the convent, even if you want to. The other temptation is to abandon it completely. Talk to God about what He wants you to do. If you’re having a hard time hearing God, this is a great topic for a spiritual director, priest, or close friend/family member who knows you well. If nothing else, say the rosary every day. I know Mary wants to help.
Finally, try to go to Mass, adoration and confession, especially if you don’t want to go. If you don’t have transportation or there aren’t opportunities for the sacraments near you, do something else instead. For example, you can make a spiritual communion at the same time every day. If you don’t want to do these things, make sure you go and tell God all about why you don’t want to be there. Then let Him answer.
The main point I would like to make is BE INTENTIONAL!
Don’t just float through your day. If you commit to prayer, exercise or whatever else, you will still do it on the “bad days” when you don’t feel like doing it. I love walking. I treasure my daily walk. And yet, most days it took a lot of effort to get up and go. Talk to God and make a plan!
By Rosa Mystica.
When you return to the world and start getting out more, you are bound to run into folks who had heard you went away to the convent and are shocked to see you in the frozen food aisle (for instance). Even more awkward are the encounters with the Church Ladies after Mass who want to pry into the depths of your heart. If you have not yet experienced this, I am quite confident that you will eventually (unless you move to Siberia and no one knows you).
So how do you respond? It’s easy to think that you owe people an explanation. After all, many of us had to do fundraising to enter the convent in the first place. Our church communities, acquaintances, employers, etc. did various things to help support us as we prepared to leave. When you know people have done so much to help you get to the convent, you can feel that you are obligated to explain. And, to be frank, sometimes people think you ARE supposed to tell them all the details.
The truth is you don’t have to tell anyone anything. Period.
But, but, but, that sounds so mean!
It can be an opportunity for evangelization!
It’s a chance to teach people about religious life!
It can make people talk about discernment!
Yes, it could be those things at the right time, with the right person, for the right reasons.
Usually, though, it’s just inappropriate.
And so is your guilt for not saying more.
Please take a deep breath and give yourself permission to set some boundaries. The good news is that most people really will accept a simple explanation. It’s shocking how saying something simple such as, “I gave it a try and it wasn’t the place for me,” will satisfy most people. Typically, I would receive a big smile and a few encouraging words in response.
But a few will want to know more. Think about what you truly feel comfortable sharing with people, especially those who are barely more than strangers. Perhaps you can have a Tier 2 answer prepared for these folks. An example is: After spending time in religious life, God showed me it wasn’t His will that I remain. No matter why you left the convent and who made that choice, this answer is true. God is truly the One who made the decision and somehow it was His will that you leave.
WHAT IF THEY PERSIST?
Then you politely smile and say, I’m sorry, I don’t feel comfortable answering that question.
It’s unfortunate if they don’t like that. You are not being rude. Prying into other people’s lives is rude. End of story.
Isn’t it freeing to know that? When this was explained to me, I felt a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders. I wish I could have heard it sooner.
In conclusion, if you are having difficulty accepting this, I would recommend you check out a book called Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud (http://www.amazon.com/Boundaries-When-Take-Control-Your/dp/0310247454). Part of the beauty of coming back to the world is that you have a perfect excuse to start anew. If you’ve struggled with setting boundaries in the past, God has provided you with a great opportunity to grow in this area. Good luck!
By Rosa Mystica.