The Experience of Returning to the World (Video Chat)

On August 13, 2013 we hosted a live chat to discuss the experience of leaving the religious life or seminary. We had a lively conversation with many beautiful insights. We touched on topics like asking for help, not feeling alone and how to be a friend, among others. Please write any comments below! We hope you enjoy watching it!



I Wish For A Fish

Lately, my nephew has been working on potty training and he has had a few incentives proposed to get him going to the bathroom in the toilet. When he goes #2, he gets some ice cream. And his parents told him that if he did it multiple days in a row in the toilet, they would get him a fish.

For the last few days he has done this with a great deal of success.
So he got a bucket of water out of the kiddie pool in the backyard and proudly dragged it up to Mom and Dad and told them he had the water ready because he knew he was getting a fish. Mom and Dad were surprised because, though he had been doing well, they didn’t think it was quite long enough for the fish reward. However, the amazing cuteness of the situation won them over. They made plans to go to the store and purchase a fish.

Situations like this make me think of God the Father. Does He have gifts He wants to give us? Yes. Can we encourage Him to do that a little sooner by being super cute (a.k.a. child-like)? I would think so.

Going back to the fish, what loving parent could deny such a request? My brother and sister-in-law intended to eventually get a fish for my nephew, but he helped move the process along with his humble and expectant request. I’ll bet God is similar.

I, on the other hand, at times seem to demand things from God and throw temper-tantrums. Do I give in to my niece or nephew when they throw a fit? Nope. Family rule: “You never get what you want when you throw a fit.” And yet I do that to God.

To continue the story, the fish was purchased and brought home that night with great fanfare. The kids went to bed excited. Sadly, the fish died about one hour later. When Mom and Dad, tired from a long day, discovered the dead fish, what was their reaction? “We have to go to the store tonight and get a new fish.”

If two human beings are so anxious to please their child who is trying so hard to be potty trained, wouldn’t a God who loves us infinitely desire to give us so much more? And yet I have trouble believing it.
I’ve learned so much about God and the spiritual life through children. How about you?

By Petra

Daring Greatly

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

(Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic” delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910)

I don’t know about you, but this quotation inspires me and gives me a lot of hope!

When I returned from the religious life, I felt judged by many people, including myself.

“How could I have been so stupid?”
“Why did you give all of your things away?”
“Of course you weren’t good enough.”

Yet, I tried. And so did you.

If we wouldn’t have tried, would we have wondered the rest of our lives, “What if?”

I have my good days and my bad days. But even on my bad days I can’t kick myself for not trying.

And that’s pretty awesome.

by Pinkie.

Who Cares?

I spent 10 years as a convert in Judaism and 5 years as an immigrant in Israel. Then I left it all. But 10 years of my life, the most formative years of my life, were still all bound up in Judaism and the Jewish homeland. When I “made yeridah” (“went down” from Israel, returning to the US), I returned to West Virginia. In West Virginia, nobody cared where I’d been or what I’d done or what I’d been through.

It was lonely. I needed to process it all: all my experiences, all my changing beliefs, all my transforming self. But when you go away for a long time and return, all people want to do is update you on what you “missed.” It was true: America had changed a lot in the time I was overseas. But I honestly could not have cared less about that at the time. I needed someone to listen. For a long time. And I just could not find anyone who was interested in hearing about Israel and my conversions and all my confusion about God and turbulent feelings about Jews for hours and hours and hours. You know how when someone comes back from a trip to Europe and all they talk about is Europe? And everyone starts to complain, annoyed, “All she ever wants to talk about is Europe!” That was me. So in order not to be annoying, or to be perceived as the snob who wanted to rub in everyone’s faces how much time she’d spent overseas, I just kept it all to myself. Real lonely-like.

On top of needing to talk about what I had been through, there was what I was going through at the time: what cultural scholars call “re-enculturation,” the process of readjusting to one’s native culture after being away from it for a long time. No one but another West Virginian who had converted to Judaism and immigrated to Israel and returned to West Virginia at exactly the same times as me could understand what I was experiencing. And how many of those are there?

One. So far as I’m aware.

Double the loneliness.

Then there was the fact of all the stereotypes and misconceptions people have about life in Israel. A typical conversation went like this:

“Oh my gosh! Erin! I haven’t seen you in, like, ages! Where have you been?! What have you done?”

“Well, I converted to Judaism and immigrated to Israel. I just got back.”

“Whoa, that’s intense. [Enter stereotype:] Was it really scary there?”

“No.” (It was really hard for me to keep my patience at this point.)

“I mean, what about all the bombings and the missiles and the war and stuff? Wasn’t that, like, really intense?” (Yes, I know what you meant!)

“No. People go on with life. It’s not like it appears on CNN.”

“Oh. Well, hey, we’re going over to so-and-so’s house tonight for a bonfire.”

And that was it. That was the end of their interest. Despite the constant tidal wave of emotions and thoughts churning inside me, I felt reduced, on the outside, to a 10-second myth-debunker. That’s all people wanted to know. From my side, it felt like they weren’t interested in me. Because I had so much I needed to say. So much I needed someone to listen to.

I imagine that leaving the convent is a lot like this. Especially if you were there for a long time. Especially considering all the misconceptions people have about being a sister. Especially if you’re in a place that’s not heavily Catholic.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I got through that period of my life. I know that not having anyone to listen to me forced me to turn to God. We worked it out, “processed everything” together, on our own. And I guess that’s the way it should have been. After all, my travels were spiritual travels (much like yours, I presume), and though being around a bunch of people who don’t understand or aren’t interested can make me feel like I traveled “that road and this one” very much alone, the truth is that I was never alone. I had a Fellow Traveler. And He was always interested. He always understood. He was always willing to listen. Even for hours and hours and hours.

It can become really easy to get bitter at other people’s lack of interest in where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing and what you’ve been going through all these years. It took me over a year to finally find some compassion for them. Because I was so wrapped up in myself, trying to process what had happened to me, what was happening to me, it took me that long to see things from their perspective: Just like my life had gone on in Israel, so had theirs in my absence. I couldn’t just show up again and dump 10 years of spiritual and cultural turmoil on them. It was, as they said, too intense.”

After about four years, I finally met someone who was interested in hearing the whole story. The weird thing was, when the opportunity arose for me to spill it all, I was the one who gave the Cliff’s Notes version. It just felt odd at that point to talk about it for hours and hours. Because at that point, I had finally gotten past it all. I had processed everything that needed to be processed, expressed everything that needed to be expressed. But I’d done it slowly, over time, with my Fellow Traveler, rather than in one great big sudden dramatic dump with someone who wouldn’t have been able to understand anyway. I think it worked out better that way. More naturally, at least.

If you have someone who is willing to let you dump it all out on them, consider yourself hugely blessed. If you don’t, and you really need one, this ministry is for you. Reach out to your fellow former-sisters in the Comment boxes. Share your experiences, and be willing to listen, too.

But if none of those things is an option for you, then know that, as time goes on, you’ll work it all out anyway. Slowly, over time, with your Fellow Traveler. Until one day, it will just feel strange to make such a big deal out of it. Because life will have gone on.

By J.E. Sigler.

Nun-Ya Beeznuss!

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.


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 ( 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.