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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

"Those Who Know Cannot Explain. Those Who Don't Cannot Understand"

Remember "No Fear" shirts? The Mall of America used to have a "No Fear" store and I loved that place! It's where I found and purchased a t-shirt with the title phrase of this post. I wish I still had it.

I'd wear it every day just so I could point to it every time someone asks me a question about how my trip went and what my decision is.

Of course, everyone is assuming that I will enter religious life, and they can't seem to understand why I really can't discuss my retreat very much. So in order to perhaps explain a little, this post will answer some of that, only so that I can be left in peace and the curious among you can move on as well.

"Everyone Says..."

Everyone says that when you find where you belong you'll "know" it with every fibre of your being. Everyone I've spoken with found their convent or monastery or abbey or even seminary that way. They explain how they arrived and just knew it was Home.

And yes, that's beautiful, and for some it turns out to be a temporary home, for others, permanent. But it was clear that God wanted them there, and when they describe this experience, their eyes shine, even if they aren't at that particular place anymore.

I didn't approach my visit with an expectation of that, but rather just tried to stay open to what the Holy Spirit was desiring for me. I had two main questions, hoping to settle at least one of them:

1. Is God calling me to religious life?

2. If so, is this home?

Even though I've been writing about this for a long time, whether or not God is calling me to this has never been a settled question. It has been a mere reasonable suspicion, something I needed to find out before making any other life decisions. Everything for the rest of my life flows from an answer to that very big question.

The ten days of my discernment retreat with the two communities did not answer either question. I did not experience a single moment of actual "peace" that everyone describes. What I did experience was an interior agony of questions without answers.

I've written of the practical experience in the convent and the brief visit at the monastery outside of the enclosure, and yes, it was a good experience. I'm glad I went. I have no doubt that I was SUPPOSED to go, God was present, He spoke to me in many many ways and I was grateful for every moment with Him.


Jesus revealed His own agony and suffering in totally new ways to me while I was there, and I will write a little about that in another post. He was with me completely, every bloody step, and sometimes hauling me along when I was ready to drop in my tracks.

Last Sunday and Monday, even part of Tuesday, I was on the edge of tears almost every single moment, so spiritually exhausted I wasn't sure I could carry on any further. Were it not for God's very real grace, I wouldn't have been able to continue on.

I've never experienced that kind of complete and total exhaustion. Some of it was due to the very regimented schedule. The fact that the schedule tired me surprised me, especially given the kind of work I've done juxtaposed with the simplicity of the work in the convent and all the quiet time in the chapel. It didn't seem to me that it would be possible to be so tired!

Yet I can't say I really slept that well there. The bed was uncomfortable, the pillow was industrial plastic, I wasn't adapted to the hours of sleep and waking, etc etc. Sleeping well wile travelling is a rarity for most people I think.

Put all this together along with the constant spiritual struggle, the very intense discernment I was experiencing and,'s pretty obvious a human being can only experience so much before collapse.

While I was with the Sisters of Charity, I didn't speak of this struggle. I couldn't. They were wonderful to me, offered great advice, and their clear invites to join them were sincere. I did tell Sr. H., my "Guardian Angel" that I still wasn't even sure I had a vocation at all, and she said nothing, probably knowing from her own years of experience how difficult it really is.

It actually caused a certain kind of interior agony when the General Superior told me in our meeting on my last day that she'd welcome my entrance, and another dear Mother came into the bakery on the morning that I left. She extended her own personal invitation and told me that if I wanted it, they had a place there for me. Now, this dear dear lady is one of the foundresses who suffered much for this American congregation, and even though she is bent over with osteoporosis, even though she can't look anyone directly in the face, I never saw her without a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye. She even went into the kitchen to help the novices clean the dishes a few times!

Not knowing where I'm called, what I'm supposed to be doing, and yet receiving these invitations tore my heart in two and contributed even more to the intensity. And yet, I was joyful in the knowledge that they were so willing to give me a chance and welcome me into their home and community. And, especially given that I'm 35 and so many communities have shut their doors to me, well, it was especially meaningful to know that this door remains open.

I did receive an explanation on my weariness from Sr. MC when I visited the Dominican Monastery, and discussed it even further this morning when I met with my spiritual director. It is actually a great comfort to know that everyone experiences that and, in essence, I'm completely normal! This kind of intense discernment is very, very wearing on every level, and EVERYONE "crashes" at some point. I certainly did.


It's a bit frustrating that everyone in my life is asking me if my experience at the convent is "something I think I might want to do." Many people think the experience is akin to a job. It's not.

They can't understand why I can't give an answer. They can't understand why I can't really discuss it. They don't understand the intensity or the interior agony that is discernment. They can't understand; many people who are married never actually "discerned" marriage! (Oy, but that's a different topic and one I'm not going to touch!)

It really is a very lonely place to be, and yet, it's FILLED with God. Anything that causes this much suffering HAS to be a great gift.

But it's not something that can be revealed. I have my very short list of people who are privy to what's going on, and the cool thing about them is that they've been there and know what this is like, which means I don't have to describe very much.

I can talk to them and not have to explain why it's so hard. I can allude to the agonizing week I've had and don't have to define any specifics. They know that what goes on between a soul and God doesn't have words in any language. And yet, those who have been through this trial know it so well that they won't even ASK for an explanation.

A Personal Request to my readers:

People often read such posts and in their good will, find it hard to overcome the temptation to offer advice. Please don't try to offer me advice. As I said, the list of people privy to what's really going on is very very short and I NEED to keep it that way. I do not write of this struggle by way of a request for advice, and too much advice is overwhelming and often presumptuous. (I mean no offense by that!)

I considered closing comments up front, but there may be readers who want to share their own experiences. So, maybe I can say this: If you are tempted to want to offer advice or "fix me" in some way...duct tape your fingers to your chair or your desk or anything that keeps you away from the keyboard. Please and Thank You! :-)

If you have your own experience to share, or a practical question, random free association having nothing to do with anything (spam will be association is OK...), etc....comment away! :-)

My hope is that this post satisfies those who are on the edge of their seat expecting the climax of some epic movie. Might as well settle in...the end is NOT near! I hope it also causes those who have been holding their breath at the announcement of my Profession to breathe again. I'd prefer that no one suffer on my account!

I will continue to write of my discernment and where it goes, as long as God wills. But for now I have a great deal to think and pray about and much to consider that I'd prefer never to discuss in an open forum.

Please continue praying for me, and all those in discernment, INCLUDING especially those who have entered religious life and haven't taken solemn vows. They are ALL in formation and without prayers, they'll never make it. (Pray for those who HAVE taken vows, too, they still need lots of help!).

The Nuns, Sisters, Brothers, Monks, Friars that you write to for prayers need prayers too. Never forget that. Pray for them without ceasing. They pray for you.

*** Comments are now closed. I posted a very simple request in bright red bold colors and it was subsequently ignored. ****