Being nun the wiser

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With the help of a winky face, Sister Lisa challenged me to reach into the deep end of my spirituality.

Her honest and beautiful approach to a recent wedding led to her curiosity of my perspective on the possibility of religious life today. The winky face was for effect.

Other than the occasional pop culture reference, the majority of my childhood exposure to women in religious life was at family events (several non-habit-wearing nuns in my family) and from the 1966 classic, The Trouble with Angels. If you have never seen this film (shame on you), I suggest you stop reading.

The goofiness of 1960s films culminates in this story about a trouble-maker and her partner in crime. These teenage “captives in a nunnery” spend three years throughout the movie at a boarding school populated by nuns and other teen girls. Heads butt and rules break at every turn.

By the grace of God, after a lot of trial and much more error, the trouble-maker comes to understand a purpose in self-sacrifice, especially that which it takes to be a religious sister.

“But how could you give it up?” Mary presses. Reverend Mother smiles and says, “I found something better.”

Though discernment has only elevated to a guess and check process for me (thanks, God, for giving me so many second chances), I understand that this “something better” will be both different and obvious for all of us. We hear our mothers and grandmothers say “I just knew” that they had found the man to marry.

For those called to married life, this is how God told them they found “something better” than whatever more selfish options lay before them. I trust that God places the “I just knew” moments on the hearts of those called to serve Him through vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience.

For those women, like me, shaking in your boots right now: Why are we afraid to know this? Can it be as simple as a fear of the unknown? We fear that God has a plan far beyond our decades-long expectations.

You find a man you Love, marry him, and have babies on your journey back to God. That’s what you do! Mainstream Catholic culture is fertile ground for the marriage vocation, but we need some PR help for the religious life. Let’s start with ourselves.

The idea of being a religious sister is scary to me because I know it would be fulfilling. I could work with children, speak a different language, live simply, and create strong bonds with a community. I’ve tried to keep the religious life option “open” in a “Yeah, sure, God, whatever” way much of my life.

At points in high school I felt begrudgingly obligated to be a nun since I seemed to be the only one not blocking it out entirely. Someone has to be a nun, I thought, as if I was saying “Someone has to sweep the floor today.”

I suspect God doesn’t want us to come to Him begrudgingly. He wants us to come to Him in Truth.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28

His yoke may be easy, but I often carry burden on me like a marble backpack. The option of a religious vocation is even scarier now that I’ve found a man I Love and who Loves me.

In fact, he Loves me so much that when I told him about this post he said, “We all need to be constantly discerning our vocations and our Faith, etc. That’s what makes it legitimate. You can cheat on me with God any time you want.”

Those who chose the right man to marry tend to feel more fulfilled than those who yield to factors like convenience or pressure on the path down the aisle. It is the same with all vocations. Our vocation is a choice, one that aims to glorify God and to point us to be with him for eternity.

At the end of The Trouble with Angels, the trouble-maker decides to remain at the boarding school to begin her novice year in the convent, surprising and upsetting her best friend. At her departure, her partner in crime erupts at Reverend Mother, saying her formerly trouble-making friend was brainwashed and the decision to stay was not her own.

The older nun’s eyes drooped at this declaration, yet she said, “It was her decision. You, of all people, should know how strong she is. She didn’t yield, Rachel, she chose, and I’d rather have one like Mary who chooses than a hundred who yield. She has so much to give!”

We need to be open with God and honest with ourselves when reflecting on our vocation. He created us with a great concoction of skills and gifts to be given to others. Why waste them?

Don’t shut the door because, you know, God opens windows too (forgive me for the cross-movie-nun-reference and my corny title).


Photo credit.

Hop over to Startling the Day for more! UPDATE: A friend suggested I take another shot at this post, as I spent more time saying nothing than something. Here goes.

Elizabeth Hillgrove

Elizabeth Hillgrove

Elizabeth Hillgrove is a young cradle Catholic who grew up in a tight-knit, if not absurdly close family in the tiny Catholic world of Virginia. After a few divots and detours into apathy, embarrassment, and a vested political interest, Jesus Christ jump-started her faith life. Elizabeth has researched her way into a passion for bringing the simple, fulfilling Truth to youth and young adults, especially females. A recovering tomboy, Elizabeth will challenge you on the field, in the pool, on a trek up a mountain, or in the art studio. Game on. She is one of the three Bright Maidens and her website is Startling the Day.

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9 thoughts on “Being nun the wiser”

  1. Avatar

    This is great! Considering my family isn’t Catholic, my biggest exposure has been watching Sister Act every time it shows up on TBS (and listening to the soundtrack…a lot). When I was in middle school, I wanted to be a religious sister of some sort (which religion was less of a concern), but not Catholic. One of the most flooring things when I was in RCIA two years ago was that it would now be an option, and one I should not discard lightly.

    Related, I sometimes wonder how in the world we’re supposed to discern all this (really, anything) correctly, and more importantly, what happens when we screw up? It seems easy to brush away the smaller life choices, but what about the larger ones, like religious life versus marriage? Jennifer Fulwiler has a great post on this here. The lines that sum it up the best: “…the truth is that we rarely know exactly what God’s will is in every situation anyway — we probably veer off his path of perfect love way more often than we realize. What matters most is not complete knowledge of the mind of God (which is impossible anyway), but a disposition of love and trust.”

  2. Avatar

    I LOVE THAT MOVIE!!! We used to watch it all the time growing up… I haven’t seen it in years though (we only have it on VHS at home). Still love the “You can cheat on me with God anytime” line too haha. That’s all I have to say 🙂

  3. Avatar

    I was so sure that I was called to the religious life (notwithstanding that some of Trouble with Angels was filmed at my high school), but then I discovered boys and moved on to that vocation- the married life. Which ended in divorce and an annulment was granted. On the day that I received the annulment I went to Adoration and said OK God, 2nd chance here – do you want me to be a religious? Very clearly I heard NO, but with no explanation of what I should do. Within a month, the “next” thing presented itself in the opening of a Catholic bookstore. 6 years ago – my how time flies!

  4. Avatar

    Love this! As a former campus minister this question was the most common topic for any women’s group gathering. It is such a unsettled place to be not knowing which path you’ll end up following, yet it needn’t be. God has it all covered. I love how you talk about the right path beign the one that will lead you away from selfishness. 100% true and very wise to point out. I wanted to be a sister because I thougth it would be fun teaching kids and traveling and just kicking it in a habit. But God had other plans. The religious life would have been an “easy” choice for me (not that complete devotion as a Bride of Christ is easy!), but with my temperment I would not have challenged myself to grow into the mother Christ required of me. I am still learning, but I know marriage and family was right everytime I get up to say my midnight evening prayer while changing a diaper; “Lord, have mercy on me!”

  5. Avatar

    I really like the “I found something better.” line. It is so true. You have you own plans and things that you want to do but then you find something better (God’s plan) and then you leave your own plans without any regrets.

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