Being a sister can be wonderful, and I feel strongly that I made the right decision in entering the monastery. It does, however, have its challenges. Some of these are predictable, such as learning to live with a large of group of people.
One of the things that I wasn’t prepared for was how to deal with the preconceptions that many people have about nuns. I recall the vocation director saying to me when I was first exploring whether I was called to monastic life how important it is to recognize that sisters are just people and that being professed doesn’t somehow make you a more holy human being. Indeed, sisters are subject to the same moods, personality traits and irritating habits as everyone else. That was excellent advice, and I think women living in the monastery would all relate to it.
Sometimes, though, people on the outside look in and believe that we are much more perfect and much closer to God than they are. I wish it was true, and I guess it’s an incentive to try to become a better person. However, less easy to deal with is when people assume that all sisters are very naïve, and despite the fact that we come from regular homes and families, we’ll be shocked by any mention of things like sex or atheists. We’ve had lives, seen movies, read books, and met people. We know about these things!
Hardest of all for me is when it’s assumed that I entered the monastery because I have all the answers to questions of faith. I felt called to become a sister because I don’t have all the answers and I wanted to live a life which enabled me to keep exploring the big questions: What is God? What is faith? What’s the relationship between different faiths? Why does a loving God allow suffering? What happens to us after death? I’ve been here for 16 years now and I’m still exploring.
I don’t honestly believe we can have complete answers this side of the grave. What I have learned, as I’ve lived this life, is that you have to try to enter into the mystery of the Divine, and just keep trusting, trusting, trusting. You are never going to take a “God test” and get 100% and be signed off. Paradoxically, it seems to me that the more I let go of the idea that I need know the answers, the more deeply I’m able to live into the questions, and the more able I am to let myself simply be held by God, and to allow God to be God.
So let me end by saying that, in my experience, being a sister isn’t a dead end of having all the answers; it’s a life of mysteriously drawing closer to God through continuing to question and explore the magnificent adventure which life is, and the monastery, far from being an ivory tower removed from real life, is a fine place to live the big life questions.
Karen Rose, OSB