Friday Discernment Q & A: What’s It Like To Enter a Convent?

For those of you who have sent in questions, thank you for your patience! For now, Friday will be a Q & A day. Feel free to email me your questions, or contact me through the blog’s contact page.

530am Beach and Sunrise 049A young woman who was recently accepted into a community and will enter the convent in nine months asked the following.

“I’m interested in any tips or stories you have for either of these two things: 1. the upcoming months of saying goodbye/getting rid of material things/getting increasingly excited and probably lots of other emotions  (I bet there are some good stories here!) and 2. what does discernment look like once you’re in the convent? I’m sure it’s different for each community and individual but it’s just been interesting taking this ‘big step’ but also knowing that God could just be calling me to the convent for a time (though I do think He is calling me forever). Is it normal to assume that I’ll be there forever, or do you think there’s prudence in speaking of it as ‘the next step’ on a long journey?  I’ve just been curious about that…how does one look at the vocation once they’ve been accepted or once they’re in the order?”

Congratulations on your acceptance! You will be in my prayers—and I suspect in the prayers of all those who read this post. Since you asked a few different questions, I’ll split my answer into two parts.

The months between acceptance and entrance into a religious congregation are just as you describe: a whirlwind of emotions. For me, I experienced the dizzying joy of God’s profound love for me in inviting me to take the next step toward an exclusive, spousal relationship with him; I was also looking forward to an adventure that would be filled with the support of a loving community. Overall, I had so enjoyed visiting the sisters that at the end of each visit when it came time to go home, I didn’t want to leave. A couple people told me that after I’d made the decision to enter, they could see me “glow,” I was so happy. (A funny footnote here: I was so thrilled to enter that I actually became excited when my mom and I bought the un-stylish black “nun” shoes I was supposed to wear as a postulant. Definitely not the kind of shoe I was used to wearing.)

Alternating with the incredible joy, I experienced great fear: fear of the unknown; fear of the sacrifices I knew I’d be making, fear of being asked to do something I didn’t enjoy or couldn’t do, fear that I might not “measure up” to being a religious and the expectations of the sisters.

In addition to my fears, I very much dreaded the separation from my family. Until I made the decision to enter, I shared my discernment journey with just a few close family members. Telling my family that I was entering the convent was not easy. Almost everyone was supportive, but a couple of times I was surprised by remonstrances or regrets from a close family member–someone I’d been sure would understand. While I didn’t expect everyone to be supportive, it was harder than I expected when someone close to me didn’t understand or agree with my decision.

In looking back in those months before I entered, two things gave me great joy and/or peace:

  • In discerning my vocation and in the aftermath of experiencing such a strong joy and peace by which God confirmed my decision to enter, God communicated such tremendous love for me that it was easier to trust that God would be with me every step of my journey. The whole experience of being called and so greatly loved really strengthened me through my fears. (And this joy has continued to be strengthen me throughout my journey as a sister.)
  • My greatest fear and source of suffering before I entered the convent was leaving my family. My vocation director encouraged me to remember two things: a) Leaving home was part of growing up, so eventually I would leave home even if I didn’t enter the convent now; and b) God would take care of my family better than I could, and our love would continue to grow. It helped that I knew that my congregation encourages us to stay in touch with our families, to call and write regularly. Now, with the internet that’s even easier. I truly believe that God blesses my sacrifice of leaving my family to dedicate my life to him by sending special blessings on my loved ones.

In many ways, my vocation to become a sister has shaped my relationships with my loved ones. Especially when I’m sent to carry out our mission in a place far away from my family, my less-frequent visits home become very focused and conversations can go deep—we talk about the important things because we may not have the luxury of another long conversation for a while. So, despite often living far from my family and missing the daily details, I’ve still been able to stay close.

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