Today my younger sister Hannah entered the convent, becoming a postulant (the first stage of becoming a nun) with the Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist.
She has been thinking and praying about this step for a while. She shared this reflection a couple years ago after a retreat she went on with her youth group:
“This year I experienced Jesus in a way that I never have before. For the last 4-5 years, I’ve been struggling while trying to discern the vocation that God is calling me to. My heart has been filled with excuses like, I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not holy enough to do what God has asked me to do. I felt that God was too great and I was too small to give my life completely to Him.
So I was praying at Exposition, and at one point, I just closed my eyes and saw myself give all those worries and doubts to God. I emptied myself completely. Then I looked up, and standing in front of me was Jesus, His arms open wide and a huge smile on His face. He ran to me and hugged me. I could feel his arms around me. He held me and held me, and all I felt was this incredible peace. I wasn’t afraid anymore to do what God had asked.
So this morning, at the end of Mass, I stood in front of everyone with a group of young women, all willing to consider religious life.”
This spring she went on a retreat with them. She said it felt like coming home and felt like God made it clear during that time that this is what He was calling her to do. Once she felt like He confirmed that, she didn’t see a point in putting it off while she pursued other things (I could definitely relate to that reasoning). So as she finished her final year of high school, she began preparations for this step: sewing and gathering “nun clothes”, giving away her possessions, another retreat. This summer she took a road trip out to Kansas City with my older sister to visit us (and put up with massive amounts of picture taking) and then on to Tennessee to visit my younger brother.
And now the time has come.
For Hannah, this move will mean a lot of things (including early morning prayer times, a new rhythm of community, and the end of leg shaving, because – as she pointed out – if you’re wearing ankle-length robes and knee socks, it’s kind of unnecessary and a waste of time).
For me, it means a drastic change in my relationship with her. Yesterday the reality of it finally begin to hit. She will have limited opportunities for visitors this coming year (only three scheduled days) and one five-day visit home. She can receive letters as often as we write them (except during lent and advent) and can write one letter to family twice a month, but there will be no phone calls. If we visit on a Sunday, she said we can pray vespers with the nuns in the chapel and so could see her, but not talk to her.
It feels surreal. It’s such a different lifestyle. I’m sure it will be a vibrant lifestyle, full of prayer, study, community with the other women she’ll live with, and meaningful ministry as a teacher eventually.
And I love her heart for the Lord, her gentleness and purity, and admire her courage in giving her whole life to the Lord in the way she feels He’s calling her to.
But to be honest, I’m grieving the loss of my ability to share life with her. Yes, we already live hundreds of miles apart and we can still write, but she’ll be absent from holidays, weddings, children’s births, funerals. We won’t be able to joke together around the dinner table, or go out for coffee, or walk through a park, or do crazy photo shoots. It could be a year or more before I even hear her voice. These are little things, but these are life. And that life can only be shared from a distance now.
This afternoon I talked to her on the phone for a little bit. I talked about our new place, my job, the neighborhood clean up we helped with today, and I asked her about her preparations for this move and how she was feeling about it. She said she was excited and at peace about everything. For her, this feels like a natural next step in her walk with God. Before we said goodbye, I prayed for her.
And now I’m carrying this sense of loss. I could dismiss it with a trite comment like, “Well, that’s life I guess…” but I feel the need to sit with it for a while, to wrap my thoughts around the empty spaces, package them and tuck them in my pocket to keep close at hand as I walk on with life and all the changes this fall will bring for me.
Here are some pictures my mom posted from Hannah’s entrance: