Give religious life a chance
Erin Thomassen | Thursday, September 22, 2016
In my 21 years of life, I have considered dating 21 guys and joining zero religious orders. Upon reflection, it seems I never gave religious life a chance. But how could I? I take two pieces of fruit out of the dining hall. I go to the Backer in short skirts. I like babysitting and cooking. I am a younger sister and older stepsister, but surely not a future Sister.
Furthermore, I am studying mechanical engineering, and how many engineering nuns are there? Surely I was made to profess differential equations, not vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. If I was not destined for academia, then surely I was called to revolutionize business or government. Or maybe I was called to be a kick-butt soccer mom who helps six children with homework while baking the perfect creme brulee.
Yet a summer in the “real world” made me realize that working and married life was not as sunny as it seemed. A day in the cubicle felt like an eternity — and not a blessed one.
When we went out after work, I learned that more than half of my coworkers were divorced, some more than once. One woman was upset that her boyfriend broke up with her because she had an argument with his preteen daughter. She pulled up a picture of him on her phone. “You’re too good for him anyways,” her friend reassured her. Was I conversing with middle-aged professionals or middle-schoolers? Their bodies may have aged with time, but their maturity levels and life dilemmas hadn’t.
One of my best friends from high school played tennis at a sports club this summer full of wealthy adults who were less than satisfied with their lives. “I hate my daughter and my husband,” one woman confided in her. “She’s a brat, and my husband spoils her when he gets home because he feels guilty for always being at work.” She goes out almost every night to escape her unhappy home life, hoping to relive what she remembers as carefree college years.
This taste of secular adult life made me realize that religious sisters may have the most blessed lifestyle in the world. Their lives are dedicated to prayer and service in a special way. Everyone is called to orient their lives towards God, but sisters start, end and intersperse their study and work with prayer. As a person guilty of self-absorption and prayer neglect, the sister’s schedule could be both the best and the worst thing for me ever.
In “The Seven Storey Mountain,” Trappist monk Thomas Merton calls a monastery “a school in which we learn from God how to be happy.” My whole life, the few times I have felt truly peaceful were when I felt in communion with God. Yet, the majority of my life has not been spent seeking this peace or communion. My day is action-packed and contemplation-barren.
But isn’t sitting and thinking, or sitting and *gasp* not thinking, a waste of time? Everyone else is busy and important. I should load up my schedule so that I am busy and important, too.
I am susceptible to distraction, the world’s false promises of happiness. I fall into thinking: I will be happy if I am successful, beautiful or in a loving relationship. I will be happy if I have fun friends who host tailgates before football games, or if I get on TV during said football game. None of these things are bad. They can be quite fun. But they will never be a source of lasting happiness.
Happiness will be impossible if I am not in communion with God. That means I can’t be too busy to listen to His will and then pray for the strength to do it. I can never be truly successful, beautiful or in a loving relationship without Him. For success comes from victory over death and sin through Christ, beauty comes through suffering with Him for the sake of others and love comes from God, Love Himself.
If I choose a “religious” lifestyle, there is less of a chance that I will be led astray by materialism, the lure of power and prominence and the desire to set up my own kingdom with myself as reigning queen. For when I have doubted the existence of God, whether consciously or subconsciously, I have not been an atheist, but an egoist — one who worships and serves herself.
Yet a vocation should not stem out of the fear of the emptiness of secular adulthood or of losing my way forever. There are plenty of single and married adults who dedicate their lives to serving Christ. A vocation may, though, appeal through the observation that religious sisters are freer than married couples in the working world to care for those who have no one to care for them. Since they don’t have a significant other or biological children to take care of, they can dedicate their time and energy to those who are not related to them who are in need.
Sisters are ministers of grace. They are humble servants. They look a lot more like Christ than my previous heroes. They look a lot more like Christ than me.
They are also humans, with plenty of faults and struggles. I am sure there are plenty of nuns who don’t get along, as there are plenty of unhappy families.
Jesus didn’t start a biological, but a spiritual family on earth. Omniscient and perfect, he could have made scientific and mathematic advances. But he didn’t come to develop a more precise numerical approximation. He came to wash his disciples feet, pray, preach, be rejected and die. He also conquered death so that we could live eternally. Thanks are in order.
I don’t know whether I am called to religious life. At least I can look at sisters and see them for more of who they are. Rather than foolish girls who have “thrown their lives away” or Shakespearean characters being punished for lusty sprees, they are wise women who have embarked upon a demanding but joyful path to sainthood.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.