Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long. Psalm 119:97 NIV
I had grown up with the belief that the best thing to do for God was to become a nun and dedicate my life to serving Him. In fact, my mom raised all of us kids believing we should all become nuns or priests. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized that some of her zeal in “encouraging” us in that direction was very likely a result of her difficult marriage to my dad* who “abused” alcohol more and more as the years went by.
However I persisted in my desire to become a nun, and so my parents sacrificed to enable me to attend high school at a girls’ academy at the motherhouse of the order of nuns who taught me in elementary school. I loved Mount Saint Mary Academy in North Plainfield, New Jersey. I was a serious student, so I was happy to not have the distraction of “boys” while I was studying. But more than that, the Mount was a wonderful, nurturing environment in many ways. I loved Religion class and Latin class. I was challenged by English and Math. Non-athletic me hated P.E. and ballet, but surprisingly loved archery. And then there was the Glee Club.
The “British invasion,” beginning with the Beatles, captured my attention in my senior high years, especially after the famous four made their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The Vietnam War began and later claimed the lives of many of my male peers during my college days.
So my interests began to turn from the convent to college and marriage in my future instead of the “nunnery.” But after a year of college and my dad’s first heart attack at age 40, I had a spiritual crisis of sorts…”life and death” and “what is really important in life?” I wondered what God really wanted of me. So in my search for the will of God in my life (Stone #1), I returned to my childhood “ambition” and entered the Sisters of Mercy in North Plainfield (the site of my high school Alma Mater) after my freshman year in college.
As an interesting aside, two events took place the summer before I “entered.” The first was the debut of The Sound of Music in movie theaters. I took my mom to the show, and I’m thinking we probably cried, or at least Mom did. Little did I know how somewhat “prophetic” the storyline would be. (Take a look here for a refresher: The Sound of Music).
The second event was a “last hurrah” trip to visit my childhood best friend and her family in Tucson. Even though our family had moved back to New Jersey after my third grade year, Monica and I stayed “pen pals” all those years. It was a dream trip to be back in the Southwest with its towering Santa Catalina Mountains and its amazing desert beauty. And I fell in love with the University of Arizona campus. I remember remarking, “If I ever decide to leave the convent, I will finish college at the U. of A.” Prophetic again!
But I was excited about entering the Novitiate of the Sisters of Mercy in September 1966. To me it was a response to what I believed at that time was the Will of God for my life. And I loved the life there, at least initially.
Life in the convent was disciplined. There was a regularity about it that was very stabilizing: regular times of prayer & meditation; work at assigned jobs; study sessions and classes (both spiritual, theological and for college credit); meals and recreation; bedtime and rising. It was a peaceful and full life.
This was after the Vatican II Church Counsel. Many things in the Catholic Church changed drastically after Vatican II. Catholics were encouraged to read the Bible. And we had a mother superior who loved the Scriptures and taught us from them. She also encouraged us to read the Bible for ourselves. So I began to love and trust God’s Word during that time.
One of the places this love of the Scriptures took me was on a search for what Jesus himself said to do. To me this would be understanding what the Will of God is. So I immersed myself especially in the Gospels. And I started to question whether every rule of our superiors was truly (as we were told) the Will of God. I didn’t really understand the concept of spiritual disciplines as helpful to experience the presence of the Lord. So I went from being a perfectly obedient little novice to one who only would do what I saw in print in the Bible. A bit extreme, but God was doing a work in my life, even back then, to deliver me from legalistic living. It would take years, because later in life, when I moved from Catholicism to evangelical Christianity, I exchanged one to-do list for another one—not for my salvation but for my growth in Christ.
I struggled. But it wasn’t about the rules or way of life that I struggled. I wondered: Was it really God’s Will for me to give up marriage and a family and a normal life? In many ways I loved the life in the convent. I loved the prayer, the devotion, the college classes, the regularity of it all. But after two years, I realized, through the counsel of my priest-cousin, that if I was doing the will of God for me, I would have peace. I knew I wasn’t at peace. So with that reassurance, I left the convent and returned home.
And God would soon use His infallible Word to answer my question about the will of God and redirect my journey in a surprising way.
Thank you, O my Lord, for revealing Your Will to me through Your Word. Thank you for using Your humble servant, my Mother Superior and my time in the convent at Mount Saint Mary’s. My love for the words of Your Mouth continues today. Thank you for the unexpected ways that You have nurtured this child of Yours. You amaze me constantly, O precious God. Amen.
*For more about my dad, see An Unexpected Grief
Before starting your own remembering stones, be sure to read the introduction to this series: Remembering Stones: Reflecting on a Life Being Lived. This will help you with perspective.
Also Stone #1: The Will of God;
Stone #2: The Holy Spirit
What about you, dear reader? What are your earliest memories? Was there a significant person, place, truth that impacted you in your early years? What were your “stepping stones/remembering stones”? This doesn’t have to be set in concrete. You may likely change around your order and even delete/add as you go along. Just jot down your “now thoughts.”
And jot down even the hard things that happened in your life. You can then process them with the Lord. Watch how He takes those struggles and trials, as time goes on, and “filters” them into the truths about Himself and about your life that you can build upon.
Just start writing or journaling your thoughts — no need to write it up formally. I had started out with “Topics” and descriptions long before I started writing it up formally.
Happy reminiscing, recording, and writing!
And a shameless plug: The with-ness of our God ( Kirkus Review)