“Get thee to a nunnery”?

So how come nuns get a special place to retire to? It is a lot nicer than a retirement home. Cleaner, smells better, better lit. Better food. There are no special codes to get in and out either. There isn’t a feeling of being trapped.

They have donated their lives to serving those who suffer from “poverty, sickness, and ignorance.” Their whole lives have been given up in the service of the church. No husband, no income, no possessions; they have sacrificed themselves to serve others.

How is this different from a teacher, or a police officer, or a nurse? How are their lives of service different? Their lives, the lives of the secular who serve, are harder in fact. They have to secure for themselves a home. They have to buy their clothes. They have to pay for the electricity, the water, the gas. They have to do upkeep on their homes. They have to pay for their training. If they are smart they save for their retirement. Then they have to find a place that has an opening that is nice to retire to.

This is a beautiful convent that just happens to be a nursing home. The grass is lush. The rooms are pleasant. It was built as a retirement home for aging Sisters of Mercy. Not all nuns, just these particular kind of nuns. The sister who welcomed us said that they had served the poor and the homeless all their lives, and now with their convent they are still serving them. But then she got a little quiet. How? By letting people come here on retreat.

Now, they aren’t leading the retreats. They are allowing people to come and have their retreats here. They didn’t initiate it. They had 41 sisters to start with and are now left with 18. Other people started calling, wondering if they could use the space. There are a lot of empty rooms.

This makes me wonder about the ranks of nuns. Surely there should be others who are ready to retire. A steady influx of novitiates would result in a steady stream of retirees 50 years later. But the stream is drying up.

Do people not want to serve God by being a nun? Is it too much of a commitment? Is it a stigma attached to the Catholic Church, and church in general? Or are people choosing to serve God in less open ways?

You don’t have to be a sister to serve. You can be married or not, female or not, Catholic or not. You can work in a church or a school or a department store. You can work anywhere where you can use your talents and your gifts to help others.

God wants each of us right where we are, right as we are.

Be honest in your dealings. Treat every person fairly. Speak truthfully and kindly. In these ways you are serving God.

You don’t have to join a nonprofit. You don’t have to give all your money away. You don’t have to go on a missions trip to Belize or the Congo or Africa.

God is here. The poor are here. You are here. Get going. You don’t even have to “get thee to a nunnery.” Just go.

(Started 9-14-13 at 11:30 am, middle of a 26 hour silent retreat. Expanded 9-16-13)

Temporary nuns.

I know a lady whose friend thinks she is being called to be a nun. She is about to enter a year-long discernment process to determine if she is indeed being called. If it is anything like the Sisters of Mercy process it could take a minimum of seven years before she is able to fully be accepted as a sister.

Why? Why this long? But then again, wouldn’t it be helpful if all people went through a process to see if they were suited for their professions? I’ve lost track of the number of people I know who spent many years and many more dollars to get an education to get professionally certified; only to find out when they actually entered their chosen field they hated it. They trained to be teachers or nurses and found they couldn’t stand it in reality. When it came time to do the work they were trained for, they found that they didn’t love it.

That is a lot of time and money and energy wasted. A little discernment beforehand would have helped a lot.

Of course, deciding to be a nun isn’t the same as deciding to be a nurse or a teacher. Well, actually it is. A lot of nuns end up doing those very jobs. They are both service jobs.

But nuns don’t get paid. They don’t get to marry. They don’t get to own anything either. There is a lot more commitment to being a nun.

I’ve heard that very few young women are entering the convent these days. Perhaps the Catholic Church should rethink this whole thing.

Let people have 5 year runs. Let young women sign up to serve the poor, the homeless, the sick for five years. During that time their “pay” is room and board, just like regular nuns. During that time they are single, so they can dedicate all of their time to their mission and not a family.

After that time they can leave. It is kind of like the Peace Corps, but with church training and oversight. This would bolster the ranks of the nuns and give young women who want to help a way to do so without the lifetime commitment.

They might also have the opportunity of renewing their contract. Either way, they will have training and on the job experience that can translate into a job in the secular world.

Seems like a winning solution to the shortage of help.

Grieving the parents that never were. On death, and healing when your experience doesn’t match up with the self-help books.

So many self-help books tell you how to deal with your parent’s death if it was a good relationship. What if it wasn’t good? What if it was terrible?

If your parents were less than ideal, you aren’t alone. Parents are people, and people aren’t perfect. But when a self-help book assumes you are sad and distraught because your “pillar of the family” of “chief cheerleader” dies, you may be feeling even more lost. Your feelings don’t match up with what it says in the book.

Sometimes your grief comes from the fact that you are now doubly missing a parent. The person who gave birth to you is now no longer physically present, while they never were emotionally present. When an emotionally distant or abusive parent dies there is no longer any hope of having a healthy relationship with her or him. All bets are off, all chances are over.

Some books say that you can create a healthy relationship with the person even after the person has died, but this honestly makes no sense. It takes two to have a conversation and work on a relationship. The only thing left to fix is yourself and your understanding of the relationship. Do you let this bad start stop you from going any further? Or do you learn from it and go on?

There are a lot of conflicting emotions when your parents die, and it is made even worse when the self-help books make it worse by making you feel like something is wrong. Worse, it is not only that something is wrong, but something is wrong with you in particular. It is like opening up an instruction manual on how to put together a piece of furniture and the box is missing the bag of nuts and bolts. You don’t have everything necessary to make it work. The instruction booklet assumes you do. The booklet plunges right in, assuming you have all the parts. You read along, trying to make it work, trying to learn how to heal this rift, this grief, all the meantime you didn’t start out on the same ground that it assumes you did. When you get to the end, the picture of the finished product looks nothing like your result.

It can’t. You are missing some important parts that hold things together.

I’m not sure how to tell you how to find those nuts and bolts. I’m just trying to honor where you are coming from, because it is where I am coming from. I think a lot of us had less than ideal relationships with our parents.

I think it is totally normal to be sad that your parents died because now you will never have them as the kind of parents you need. That relationship has ended. They weren’t there for you, and now they never will be.

I also think it is totally normal to be relieved that your parents have died if the household was abusive. I know that there is a sense of guilt for feeling this. I think that is because society assumes you should be sad, when really you can’t be sad. I think to be sad that you are free of an unhealthy relationship is insane.

I think it is healthy to feel however you feel you need to feel, without regard to what people think you should feel. It think it is very healthy to get these feelings out – don’t bottle them in, and don’t deny them. If you stuff them down they will come out in ugly ways later. Trust me on this.

There are a few ways I’ve learned to deal with these feelings. Pick a couple. Try them out. If it doesn’t work, try something else. This is by no means an all-encompassing list.

Talk to a therapist or a counselor or a faith leader or a compassionate friend. Go for a walk or a run. Punch a pillow. Cry, sing, wail. Jump up and down. Dance. Journal – write it out. It doesn’t matter if you are good writer or not – you don’t even have to use sentences. Create – use non-word activities to get it out. Sometimes words fail us. Draw, paint, garden, make jewelry – anything where you can get your feelings out.

Most importantly, have patience with yourself. This work of grief, especially grief concerning a broken relationship, is hard, and it takes a long time. Know that what you are going through is normal. You aren’t alone. It is hard work, and it is important work.

What the books don’t tell you is that this isn’t the end. Just because your biological parent wasn’t up to snuff doesn’t mean you can’t find new role models. You can have second third and fourth parents. You get to pick your parents this way.

You can have one friend teach you how to cook. Another can teach you how to sew. Another can teach you everything you want to know about fly fishing. You can take a class too, or read a book, or watch a video. You aren’t stuck with just one set of parents. There are hundreds of people who are able and happy to teach you whatever skills you need to know.