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.
After I returned from the convent I was filled with worries, fears, and questions about my future. I asked God over and over: What do You want me to do now? Where do You want me to go with this life You have given me? Why am I back here?
I like to have a plan, directions, and a goal. When I left the convent I felt like I was plan-less, direction-less, goal-less. I didn’t know where to go, what to do, or how to do it.
So, two weeks after I got back I got my first job, working at a deli. I knew if I didn’t start doing something I would go crazy. St. Joseph, the patron saint of workers, isn’t my namesake for no reason! I recently quit the deli in favor of a bakery job and am now saving up for college in the Fall. I don’t know what I’m going to study, what career I want to pursue, or even if God is calling me to religious or married life in the future. These are all future vocations, vocations of later; I needed to have a vocation of now.
I believed that I didn’t have a vocation of now. But I do. What is my vocation of now? I am a single working lay Catholic woman, soon to be a student, too. I try to attend daily Mass and to “pray unceasingly” throughout my day. I try to serve everyone at work with the dignity they deserve as my brothers and sisters in Christ, even if I am only serving them donuts and coffee. I try to be a joy-filled witness of Christ’s love to all. And soon I will also be called to be a living example of my Catholic faith in a college setting, too. This is a pretty busy vocation: spiritual priorities, being in the workforce, and being a student.
Sometimes I get so caught up in wondering what my vocation of later is that I miss what is right before me. I need to live in the moment and use each second to glorify God. This is my plan now: to trust God, show Christ’s love to all, and be joyful no matter what my directions are. My goal is to use where I am now to bring me closer to Heaven, and to bring as many of my brothers and sisters with me, too. These directions, plans, and goal fit with every vocation: vocations of now and later.
Let’s realize that God is calling us now and that we do have vocations of now, and God will guide us to our vocations of later in His own time.
“Entrust your works to the Lord, and your plans will succeed.” ~ Proverbs 16:3
Josephine was a postulant for six months before discerning that God was calling her back to the world to attend college. She has been back for four months and is enjoying her job at a local bakery. She is still discerning religious life but is open to married life, too, if that is what God is calling her to. She loves to read, write poetry, sing, cook, go thrift store shopping, and she likes to laugh a lot! She is grateful for the opportunity to reach out to others who are going through the same situations as her.
This past week we explored the process of grief in the context of leaving the religious life. The final stage of grief, Acceptance, can seem a far way off when one is in the deep valley of anger, depression, or denial. Yet it does, and will come to all of us.
Today is Ascension Sunday, the day when Christ, in all His glory, is taken up to heaven to be with His Father. What a contrast to his prior exit from this earth – one of bloody defeat to one of triumphant victory.
Despite the contrast of Christ’s two exits from earth, one aspect remained – His wounds. Why did He keep them? Perhaps it is more than a symbol of what He did for us. Perhaps it is a lesson in suffering – that it has a purpose, that it shapes our identity and our mission in life. Our past wounds, Christ shows, are not to be hidden, but to be a sign of triumph and transformation.
The final stage of Acceptance is not forgetting about our loss, but embracing it as a part of who we are and who we are to become. It was said once that where our wounds are, there is our mission. How paradoxical that sounds. Yet, if you look around, you will find this truth.
By Wendy Macagno
Wendy has received her MA degree in Counseling Psychology from Regis University and her BA in Religious Studies from Benedictine College. She has served her community as a career coach in both the non profit and government sectors.
On May 29th 2014, we explored the stages of grief and discussed healthy ways of coping with the pain experienced by those who have been in religious life and returned to the world. We sincerely hope you benefit from this video! May God bless you.
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?