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Monday, July 27, 2009

An Email I Received from a Reader....

I received an email from a reader and she gave me permission to post it, although I have removed all identifying information. (Emphases in bold added by me during editing)

Hi Adoro,

I am a faithful reader of your blog.

I really, really liked your recent post. You hit on a great point that the real experts are very cautious with their advice. I asked a priest I know for help once when I was having a hard time spiritually, and he wouldn't help me at all besides to tell me to talk to my SD. :)

I also have another little story that you can add to your "inappropriate advice" collection. One time I was talking to a man I didn't know very well (though I did know he was a very faithful Catholic), and I mentioned that I was discerning religious life, probably on the contemplative side. He replied that I am too social for that life and that it would be too hard for me! [YIKES! TALK TO ANYONE DISCERNING THE CONTEMPLATIVE LIFE AND THEY'LL TELL YOU PEOPLE SAID THAT TO THEM, TOO!]

In your post you focused on how inappropriate and unhelpful this un-asked-for advice is, but you didn't mention how damaging it can be for someone at a fragile stage of discernment. Thankfully I handled his comment well-enough at the time, but if it had come just a few months earlier, I would have been thrown completely off-track. As is, I still desperately needed the reassurance of a good friend when, a week or so later, I shyly mentioned to him what this other man had told me. My friend was shocked and said that I shouldn't give the comment any credance at all. That's what real friends are there for -- support, not critique.

This friend does give me advice, but he has the right to give me advice, and I am confident that his advice always comes from God. It's always exactly what I need to hear at that precise moment.

Anyway, sorry for the length of this email, but I wanted to share my own experience with this type of advice. It can be so harmful. ~ A reader

Thank you, dear reader, for sharing your heart with us. It also helps me to hear such stories because it tells me I'm not alone in this experience. I also think your own willingness to share will be helpful to others out there who may mean well and don't realize that no matter how good their intentions, their words can be outright destructive. It's one thing for me to sit here on my blog and tell people that this is a common experience. It's another thing entirely to be able to share with them the words of another person who has experienced the "dark side" of discernment.

This reader gave an example of a harmful comment and explained why it was so harmful. Did the person who made the comment intend to destroy her? Certainly not! But one can see that at a fragile moment, that kind of a remark can actually chase someone away from a Vocation. It also displays a a very common myth about the contemplative life, and I have also been told similar things by thoughtless and uninformed people, even recently as they learned I'd be visiting a couple contemplative communities this summer.

There is a really ignorant idea running rampant both in and out of Catholic circles that contemplative nuns and monks are maladjusted introverts who can't function in society, ergo anyone with a personality would not be able to survive such a life.

My friends, get that idea out of your head IMMEDIATELY and stop telling people that! The contemplatives I've known are far more social than YOU are! And in fact, they HAVE to be! They have to function in society, a very small society, which can be much more destructive than living in a small town. Do you think that people stop being human when they enter a monastery?

If they don't have a sense of humor and an ability to relate to people in a very social way, they won't survive very long. This means they have to be willing to put up with small annoyances (that become large in close quarters), different temperments that don't change, conflicting personalities, etc...and overcome that. Most introverts I know CAN'T do that. (Of course, there ARE also introverts in a monastery, but they are well-adjusted introverts!)

So, there you have it. This is just some of the stuff that happens and why it's awful. Oh, and I should mention that as one commenter pointed out in my previous post, it happens to people who are dating, too. A couple meets and before they're done with their first date their family and friends have arranged the wedding and bought plane tickets for the honeymoon, decorated the baby's room and made arrangments for the "soon to be grandparents" to visit as soon as possible.

Here's what I've learned from being on the wrong end of this experience:

1. Discerners are always wrong
2. If discerners are actually right and know what they are doing, see #1
3. Never give advice unless specifically requested to do so. Ever. (Yes, I'm guilty, too!)
4. Advice is cheap.
5. No matter what any of us does with the best of intentions, we're still going to mess it up. That's why God is in charge and when the questions are deep and broad and important, He's the ONLY voice that matters. And our voice isn't His.

I'm sure there's more "rules" on this end but I think I'll end this post now. I've already gone overkill on this topic.

Thanks again to my "Guest Blogger" tonight! :-)


Julia said...

Discernment is one of the most fragile and demanding things I've ever heard of. Every personal flaw needs to be put under the microscope. Every sin and every moment of prayer is magnified a hundred fold. It's hard and intense. We're a bunch of weak, flawed people being put through an interior, spiritual boot camp, invisible to those around us. The last thing we need is for other people to add on more weight.

Thanks be to God the comment from that misguided man came when it did instead of earlier.

Kathreja said...

Here is something scary, I was told I was perfect for contemplative life because I was a thinker and an introvert. And truth be told I avoided the contemplatives for a long time because of that comment, because while I am quiet I need that sense of community that I misguidedly thought didn't exist except in active orders.

Adoro said...

Julia ~ Amen to that! All of it!

Kathreja ~ That's the old stereotype...if you're X you would be perfect for X. But you know, I know a lot of introverts who are in active life!

And oh, yes, community in both. I only have a little tiny experience in contemplative community, and as I was OUTSIDE the community, nto even that. And the personalities I met briefly...seemed to be to be a mixture of both introvert and extrovert. Hard to judge, so don't really know.

God calls all personalities to all types of communities, and all types of vocations. That's a fact we can hang veils on! lol

Jill said...

The first two sound like liberal 101 (The third being call names and run) I think they balk because deep down there is a kind of spiritual envy or feeling of inadequacy (why do I not have a relationship with God like that, why am I not asking myself what more I can do to serve Him) alot of the naysayers are filled with guilt too because they arent doing anything for God. The only one whose approval you need is His. Blessed Mother Therese got dissed by her own family when she left to go on her mission with only three pennies in her pocket, and she told them "with God and three pennies, I can do anything." So can we.

Hidden One said...

Even good advice can be so damaging when mistimed.

Linda said...

I do have a cute story about an afternoon with the Cistern's in MA.
A small group of us TOC's went for a little prayer one evening. We went to a restaurant on the way home from a very prayerful Holy Hour. The waitress kept looking at us and says, "You guys are glowing". We thought it was the light in the place. She said, "No you are glowing". I said, "Well we did just get back from the monastery after praying. LOL.
I will keep you in prayer!