In the last few months, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on both my decision to enter the convent and to leave. January 21 will mark one year since I left. It was a difficult decision on both ends but so worthwhile.
There is one truth that really sticks out to me from this whole journey: God loves me as I am, not for who I think I should be but just for exactly who I am, who He created me to be.
God desires my happiness and joy and He doesn’t ask me to be something that I’m not. He doesn’t call me to fit myself into a mold that forces me to lose myself, my personality, my joy, or my hope. He does call me to be more. He calls me to virtue; He calls me to holiness. Those things are difficult, but that path looks more like becoming more myself and less like the image of the perfect Christian woman that I created in my mind.
I spent most of my time in the convent trying to fit myself into the mold of the perfect postulant. I worked really hard to do everything I was supposed to just as I was told. I showed up the places I was told when I was supposed to be there. I was present to the people who I was asked to serve. I prayed when I was supposed to pray. I played games with the other sisters when it was scheduled. I did exactly what I thought would make me happy and I even acted happy. It’s not to say that I didn’t have joy filled moments while I was in the convent, I most certainly did, but not as many as I tricked myself into believing.
You see, the reality was that when I was in public or even just with the sisters I was always putting on a show. I was pretending to be at peace and joyful. I was acting how I thought I was supposed to be feeling. I was faking it except I was so good at it, I didn’t even realize it was fake. Looking back I’m able to see the intense stress I put myself through. There were more days than I can count that I would come down after evening prayer feeling exhausted, not from working hard physically, but from working hard to convince myself and everyone else that I was good, that I was just fine, that I was joyful and at peace.
I thought the only way to Heaven, the only way to be holy and the person God created me to be was to make this path work. I thought the pain I felt was just part of the process and eventually it would pass.
When I came home after Christmas, last year for a week, is when things started to change. I struggled to be present at home because I was dreading so much going back. I was so caught up in the fact that I believed God called me to the convent that I couldn’t accept the fact that maybe He didn’t mean forever. I was so focused on being who I thought God was calling me to be I couldn’t hear Him whispering my actual identity.
My friends and family noticed a difference in me. Most of them weren’t vocal about it until way later, after I had made the decision to leave the convent, but they noticed. One of the only people to actually say something to me was my sister. I remember specifically lying in bed one night talking and she asked me if I was happy. I gave her some response about being asked to be selfless and sacrificial and penitential. She didn’t let me get away with it though. She reminded me that God wants me to be happy. She asked me why I stopped caring about my own happiness. I thought I was being selfless but really I just wasn’t listening.
God used my sister’s honest concern for me and questions to open my heart just enough that He could get in. That little crack that was made in my hardened heart was slowly broken open more and more when I returned to the convent after my home visit. The Lord used homilies, class lectures, a video by Fr. Dave Pivonka, and an appointment with a counselor, plus lots of prayer time. I was moved to start reflecting on where my peace was coming from and whether the Lord was asking me to do something different than what I had originally imagined or thought I heard.
We watched Saving Mr. Banks one Sunday and I remember immediately following the movie I made my way to the chapel. It wasn’t a scheduled time for prayer, I was in the chapel all by myself. The Lord used that movie and that time in prayer to help me to see His Perfect Fatherhood. He showed me His love for me and helped me to see that He had made me a certain way and that way didn’t line up with how I was trying to live.
You see, for months I’d been wanting to leave community but I just couldn’t let myself. I thought if I just forced myself to stay just a little longer that things would get easier for me and that eventually I would find the joy the Lord had promised me. But the Lord gave me permission to be myself that day as I reflected on His love for me as my Father. The Lord helped me to understand the freedom that comes with being in relationship with Him. I knew in that moment that He was giving me permission not just to be myself but to leave community. He was telling me it was time to step out once more in faith.
I took a few days to pray through what I had experienced. I asked for confirmations and the Lord came through. He used class lectures and scripture that following week to help me to be confident in what I had heard. And just a week after that afternoon alone in chapel, I was riding in my parents car on my way home for good.
The Lord created each one of us uniquely and He has a specific call for each one of us. I don’t know what exactly that will look like in your life. What I do know is that the Lord doesn’t ask us to be someone we’re not. He asks us to stretch and to grow but He never asks us to wear masks or pretend. He calls us to be authentically ourselves and whatever the Lord’s call on your life is will bring peace and lasting joy beyond what you can imagine.
Two bits of advice before I finish this incredibly long blog post:
- Have the courage to speak up when you think someone you love is unhappy or struggling. They may not even realize what’s going on. God uses us to speak to others and your words may help them to be open to what the Lord is trying to do/say.
- Never forget how personally, deeply, intimately our Heavenly Father loves you and desires your peace, joy, and happiness. Have the courage to follow where He leads even if the path looks different than what you thought it would.
Thanks for reading. Know of my prayers for you!