Who Am I Now?

The ID Card Saga and other Former Nun-People Problems


By Misericordia.


I am reminded of God’s sense of humor every time I pull out my license. Why? Because I got my license renewed two months before I left the convent, and haven’t gotten around to changing it – so as you can imagine every time I board a plane or go to a bar for a Theology on Tap I have to pull out my ID, with a picture of me very clearly in habit. I can only imagine the thoughts of the Airport Security and Bouncer. I’m sure they’re thinking I’m some crazy nun in cognito who jumped the convent walls for the weekend. Keep going sister, hop on that plane to Orlando! I won’t tell anyone! I once walked into a liquor store to buy champagne for a cupcake recipe, and a second later walked right back out because I couldn’t bear to show my license. I could only imagine! Here sister, I’ll put it in a brown paper bag so no one will know! Ginger ale would have to do! Now I can laugh about it.


These experiences also remind me that although I’ve left Religious Life, despite the shame and confusion that often comes with it, the Lord is not disappointed that I am no longer a Sister. I am the same in His Eyes even when I’m wearing basketball shorts and a t-shirt and am called by my given name.


I think many of us go through this crisis when we leave Religious Life and Seminary. We live a particular life with a particular order, and our identity can become wrapped up and intertwined (like DNA chromosomal strands) with the identity of the community. Then when we leave we feel like nothing. I remember thinking, “Who am I if I’m not a sister?” But I think we’ve had it all wrong from the beginning. At least for me, I was never confident in my identity. In this “create-yourself” culture, I thought- from as far back as I can remember- that I had to find it. Everyone seemed to have some defining characteristic, relationship, talent, etc. that seemed to define them. And I didn’t feel perfect at much of anything.


Being an identical twin also makes things complicated, especially when people ask, “Who’s the smart once and who’s the athletic one?” and other questions of that sort. She seemed to be better at most things, and some people thought I was her because they didn’t know I existed. The more I tried to be good at something, or find what could justify my being, the more restless, empty, and alone I felt.

In college, it was a whole new world, where I found wonderful Catholic friends who loved me for me! It was hard to be convinced, but the healing began! I could trust people a little, and for once I saw people look into my eyes and see God’s Presence in my soul. I couldn’t describe it as such then but I knew that they recognized my worth more than I did. The Lord led me to Himself slowly and beautifully and I discerned Religious Life, entering after I graduated college.


I was excited for everything about becoming a Sister. I thought I could leave everything behind including the old me, and start fresh. But history was repeating itself. I had done this before. In sixth grade I moved to a new school, and decided to change myself. I didn’t like who I was and how I looked, so I grew out my bangs, got contacts instead of glasses, bought a few new outfits (since my old wardrobe was almost entirely Land’s End – my mom’s favorite). This is when I started developing an eating disorder. It was just in my thoughts at first- I wanted to be different since I felt so invisible. It got worse in high school and my family was worried. My soul was crying out for help but was afraid to receive it, so I managed it, and was “okay” all through high school and college. It was an exhausting, never-ending search for self-acceptance and perfection. Even after all those years at “failing” to be perfect I thought I had finally found the one path that would make me perfect.


Just as I thought I could leave the old “me” behind in 6th grade, I thought I could now leave the 22 year old “me” behind when I entered Religious Life, including the eating disorder. I got rid of my clothes, my job, my car, everything! But it stowed away in the few possessions I brought to the Convent.


I managed pretty well the first year of Postulancy as I had for so many years. When I entered Novitiate I was so excited because I was genuinely excited, but also because I thought I was a new person. The habit covered a lot of my body but it didn’t hide my past. My new name didn’t take away the hatred I had towards my old self, since – shockingly – it was the same self! Shortly after entering Novitiate, my eating disorder got progressively worse and my Novice Director noticed the darkness I’d held inside me for over 10 years. I was terrified, but consoled to finally be able to let this disorder not control me and my life. I went through Counseling for a while but it became clear that I needed more intensive treatment. And so after two and a half wonderful, beautiful, and blessed years, I departed with two outfits and my nun shoes, feeling sorrow but great peace and clarity that it was God’s Will.


I knew when I left that, even in a community dedicated to proclaiming the dignity of life, I could tell anyone else they were a beautiful, unrepeatable gift of God, but I could not believe it for myself. I knew that God was going to help me know that I was beautiful and loved.


Misericordia works for her home diocese, is a caffeine addict, and loves swimming.


I was once told that leaving during postulancy is the equivalent of ending a relationship after a couple of dates: it was only a trial, a getting-to-know you period, and no commitment had been made on either side. Unfortunately, that’s not what it feels like. When I hear people describing what it was like to pack their bags and move out of an apartment shared with someone they’d eventually hoped to marry, I now feel a strange kind of empathy: that’s what it feels like. (Did you sometimes look around at the other postulants and novices and imagine what you’d all be like together as a group of old nuns one day? Yep, me too.)

If not yet formally committed to the religious life, a postulant is at least invested in it, and it won’t go quietly from the heart or mind afterward. Insignificant things suddenly remind you that you’re not on the path to being a nun anymore. It hits like an actual punch to the ribs, and all you can do is brace yourself and think: Ouch.

A few weeks after I left the convent, I looked around my new bedroom for somewhere to flop down and read, and realised with a shock that I was no longer subject to the custom that forbade sitting on the bed, because I was no longer part of the community which held that custom. Ouch.

At Mass six months afterward, I stood for the Our Father and tucked my hands under the long cotton scarf I was wearing. I had left well before receiving the habit, but suddenly realised what a scapular would feel like draped over my hands, and that I would have been wearing one by then if I had stayed. Right on cue: Ouch.

A couple of months after that, we had the story of the rich young man as the Sunday Gospel. To describe the result, I will need bold text, Caps Lock, and a minimum of three exclamation marks: OUCH!!! The story is far too familiar to need repeating here. Have you ever read a vocations guide that didn’t include it? For balance, I wish there were resources for discerners that included this story:

And the whole crowd of people from the district surrounding the Gerasenes’ country begged Jesus to go away from them, for they were thoroughly frightened. Then He re-embarked on the boat and turned back. 

The man who had the evil spirits kept begging to go with Jesus, but He sent him away with the words, :Go back home and tell them all what wonderful things God has done for you.” So the man went away and told the marvellous story of what Jesus had done for him, all over the town.

Luke 8:37-39

Why had I never noticed it before? This one lonely everyman, overwhelmed by the love shown him by Jesus, begged to follow Him, and was gently told to go back to his family instead.

When I read that story during Lent, it was like letting out a breath that I’d been holding for the best part of a year. I was not the rich young man who had turned away sorrowfully out of love for the world. I was not the foolish bridesmaid who had brought a lamp but neglected the oil. Most of all, I was not the worker who put my hand to the plough and looked back. I was the one who knelt at His feet and said, “Lord, let me come with You!” and received instead the loving instruction to go home.

Naturally, there are still things that catch me off-guard: During the morning Mass on Easter Sunday, I felt a rush of emotion as the familiar opening notes of Haec Dies flowed through the church. If your Sisters sang it every morning throughout Easter week, as mine did, you could probably chant the first two words in your sleep. Ouch. Forget nostalgia: this felt like hunger.

God’s gift to me is the grace to be able to say now when that happens, “Lord, thank you for this pain – please turn it into something productive.” It took ten months for me to reach this level of acceptance, and I have a long way to go yet, but I’m grateful to be here.

By Spiritu

At the age of seventeen, Spiritu watched some elderly nuns laughing together after Mass and decided instantly that this was what she wanted to do with her life. After six years of intense study about the Catholic faith and the religious vocation, she entered a beautiful community in her own country, Australia. Seven months later, she returned to the world, saddened that her discernment hadn’t worked out as she’d hoped. She is now exploring other possible options for the future, and owes an enormous debt of gratitude to her family for their love and help.