Deliver me from the “Post-Convent Binge” – 3 practical tips

By seekingHim

OK… so I’ll admit, this is probably a surprising topic, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who has turned to emotional eating and binge-watching TV as a coping mechanism during my post-convent adjustment! So it’s time to break the silence and speak straight to the heart of the matter.

For me, in the first few weeks after leaving the convent, life was fantastic. I was at peace with my choice, I was confident that I had been called out just as I had been called in, and so I was keen to discover God’s purpose in that.

Fast forward a few months >> my uncertainty and my lack of clarity about that purpose started to get the better of me. Both patience and trust faltered… and I looked for comfort to replace the peace I was rapidly losing. I looked in all the wrong places.

Enter: the Post-Convent Binge.

It started with food – emotional eating.

It continued with TV, hitting “next” at the end of each episode.

Then there was coffee. Then I landed a part time admin job, but longed to be taken more seriously, as I had in pre-convent days. So I sought after human respect. Then as I landed full-time work and acquired more responsibility and respect, I of course sought to be remunerated accordingly.

It’s worth noting that, with significantly more lucrative conditions now, and more professional seniority than in those early days, I’m still not satisfied. None of these things satisfy.

This is not to say that seeking to better oneself and one’s conditions so that one can buy a home, meet civic and financial responsibilities, etc. is a bad thing! What I’m admitting to here – in this public forum – is trying to replace what I lost when I was called away from the convent with lesser things.

Would that I had remained in trusting poverty and littleness, in His presence, instead of seeking to forge ahead without Him!!

Living life in reality, though… just because for a time I discerned religious life and within the safety of convent walls sought to love God with an undivided heart, doesn’t mean I’m now Saint <insert name>!!

No-siree! As each day of post-convent bitterness needed to be sweetened with more sugar, which called for something savoury to balance out the sugar, and then caffeine to keep me awake so I could watch more episodes of whatever TV series harnessed my attention to escape from the reality of my restlessness, I became drastically unhealthy. Dormant health issues resurfaced and I put on an alarming amount of weight. My lifestyle had become hopelessly sedentary, and all the things that lit up my brain’s reward center and gave me short-term solace and distraction were having a more holistic effect of hurting my body and making me feel shame and deep unhappiness.

With grace, some things began to improve. I started exercising and lost a heap of weight. I started to curb my emotional eating – this is still an ongoing battle for me but progress is being made. My health dramas have started to fade again into the background. I don’t spend all my time watching TV (although this isn’t perfect yet, either).

But this article isn’t about my progress in these areas. What this article is ACTUALLY about is remembering where we find our happiness. And as you’re about to see, my improving health and lifestyle are NOT the source of my peace – rather they’ve become possible because I’ve been turning instead to He who is the source of my peace… in very concrete ways.

Permit me to get theological for a moment.

Aquinas asks the multi-pronged question “Does happiness consist in wealth? In honor? In fame or glory? In power? In any good of the body? In pleasure? In any good of the soul? In any created good?” (ST I-II, Q2) and goes on to categorically demonstrate that happiness cannot be found in any of these things. Having established where happiness is not, Aquinas goes on to look at where happiness IS, i.e. in man’s ultimate end, God (ST I-II, Q3). Aquinas rather eloquently demonstrates that it does not reside in our will – we can’t just put aside our food and our TV on DVD and set our teeth and gird our loins and decide that come hell or high water, we’ll be happy. Nope! Happiness – TRUE happiness, which is not completely attainable in this life but can be experienced in the next – is a consequence of the will having already done it’s choosing, and ultimately coming to rest – in Him! It makes a nice bookend to Augustine’s “You have formed us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are ever restless until we find our rest in You.”


So if two of the giants of Catholic tradition are telling us that we can’t be happy until after we die (echoed by Bon Jovi’s “Sleep when I’m dead” …? OK, maybe not!) then where does that leave us now?


Our earthly happiness – the extent that we are granted a foretaste – resides in the level of union with Him that is possible on earth: our participation in the Sacraments. Further – our earthly happiness is in the seeking… it is in the very restlessness we are experienced coupled with trust that we will come to rest in Him when all is said and done:

“Upon my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer. I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him whom my soul loves.” I sought him, but found him not.The watchmen found me, as they went about in the city. “Have you seen him whom my soul loves? Scarcely had I passed them, when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go until I had brought him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me.” – Sngs 3:1-4


So let’s move from our theoretically theological headspace back into the realms of the real.


Do you binge on food?

On coffee? On TV?

On quiet catch-ups with friends?

On noisy parties with friends?

On seeking prestige/money/power in jobs?

On seeking academic achievement and recognition?

And the big one of our time… on scrolling almost feverishly through social media?

If you do – don’t despair! I’m convinced I’m not the only one, and neither are you. Provided we don’t get stuck in the mud, it’s all a part of the seeking… but here’s the thing. When we realise that none of this is helping us, none of this satisfies – well – the search needs to move on! We need to acknowledge that – like our first parents, we sought to be like God but without God, and turn back to Him! God sure as heck ISN’T in my smartphone, so where to from here?

These three tips have been helping me to break free of slavery to things that don’t satisfy, to free my heart for God alone:


1. Each time I become consciously aware that I am seeking my happiness/peace in something other than God, I take a moment to prayerfully and explicitly reject the lie and ask God to help reorient my heart back towards Him.


2. I pray Blessed John Henry Newman’s prayer, “Lead, Kindly Light” (or sing along with Audrey Assad’s awesome version of it) – and I am very intentional about the line: “I do not ask to see the distant scene; each step enough for me” as an exercise in renewing my trust in Him. Whilst I am not capable of ACTUALLY trusting just because I WILL to trust, I know that His grace bridges that gap and makes trust possible if only I continue to renew that expression of my will to trust Him, and my need for Him to help me.


3. Finally – and most importantly – I get to daily Mass whenever possible. It’s not always possible in lay life – it isn’t protected in the same way that the horarium of my past religious life made possible. When I cling to the Mass, and to Eucharistic Adoration and to Confession, and make good use of them, I am participating in that foretaste of the happiness we trust will be possible in eternity resting in Him. This ebbs and flows for me, and sometimes I go weeks without getting to mid-week mass because of work schedule or just other excuses – but I always notice that when I DO cling to these beautiful Gifts He makes available to us – this makes all the difference.


I hope these three tips help any of you who might be struggling in the same way that I have!


May He give you peace. He’s the only one who can!

If any of you have found other things helpful here, please feel free to offer these suggestions in the comment box below to help others who might be struggling. You don’t have to use your real name, if that helps… I didn’t! *wink*

Video Blog Post: Finding Community Away From Community

Here it is, folks!

 

Bonus: blooper reel and out-takes at the end!

 

Convent Cuisine

Grace in the Ordinary
By Pinkie.
When I was in the convent as a postulant we were in charge of cooking. The kitchen sister would tell us the menu for the day and then we had to execute it. As a result, I learned many new recipes that I hadn’t ever encountered before. Some sounded strange initially but ended up being surprisingly delicious. We also had many special desserts for feast days and holidays that were truly amazing. And then of course kitchen accidents or sisters trying to make due with limited resources resulted in some interesting creations. I though it might be fun to share recipes that we experienced in the convent. Here are a few of mine to get us started:
“Dominican” Dog Salad

When this was described to me I am sure I wrinkled my nose. Um, cut up hot dogs mixed with cabbage? No thanks. But then when you eat it – yum! Here’s a recipe I found on-line that I think is really close to the convent version:
http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/rachael-ray/chicago-dog-salad-recipe.html

Sr. Katie’s Saltine Dessert

We needed dessert and the baking cupboards were bare. An industrious classmate of mine pulled this together using what was available and everyone enjoyed it! Lay out saltines on a cookie tray, (over wax paper makes it easier to get dessert out and to clean.) Pour homemade caramel, (1 cup butter and 1 cup brown sugar, boiled until thick and bubbly,) on top of saltines.  Sprinkle with chocolate chips and melt in the oven. Spread the chocolate evenly over the top and then harden in the freezer. Break into little squares.

Please share your favorite recipes and cooking stories below!

The Perfect Husband

Sacrament Table Church Gold PixabayBy Maria Jacinta.

Have any of you ever made a list of the qualities you would want in a husband? I certainly have.

After leaving the convent, I wondered (and still am) if I am called to be married. I am not at the point where I can start dating and have not received a legitimate call to the vocation, but I cannot help to think about what I would want in a husband if I were to get married. I believe it is wise to have an idea as to what we want. It’s not healthy to be too strict about it or we may not find anyone. After all there is no “perfect man”, except for Jesus. It is also not healthy to lower the bar and settle for anyone.

I came across an interesting article on a blog called “Single Catholic Girl” that spoke about the qualities we can look for in a husband. She started out with a long list of qualities in the “perfect man”, which I found to be quite humorous. Then she suggested that we narrow it down to 4 qualities.

So here my question to those who feel called to be married: what four qualities would you look for?

I actually came up with five. Here they are:

1) Practicing Catholic who goes beyond the minimum requirementsChurch Religion Freedom Spirit Man Pixabay

2) Making enough money so I can be a stay-at-home mom

3) Knows what it truly means to be a man, a husband and a father and is living it

4) Handsome

5) Loves God more than he loves me, but at the same time, loves / cherishes me for who I am

Feel free to comment on any you come up with!

Here is the article: http://singlecatholicgirl.com/thoughts/four/

The Vocation to Consecrated Virginity

Vocation to Consecrated Virginity Saint AgnesBy Jenna Cooper, a consecrated virgin from the Archdiocese of New York.

Over the years, I’ve been privileged to be in touch with a number of women discerning vocations to consecrated virginity in the Catholic Church, with more than a few of these being former religious Sisters in the process of discerning their next step. Since consecrated virginity is not yet very well-known or well-understood, properly discerning a vocation to this particular form of consecrated life can be difficult for any woman. Yet I imagine it might present special challenges for those who have recently left a religious community.

Information and advice for former Sisters discerning consecrated virginity could fill several blog posts, but here are some basic points of consideration for anyone who finds herself in this position:

 

Not all women are called to be consecrated virgins.

While this may sound obvious and self-explanatory, I’ve heard of cases where a recent Sister is advised to discern a vocation to consecrated virginity by a priest, spiritual director, or former religious superior, even without anyone involved having much understanding of what the life and spirituality of a consecrated virgin actually entails. Other times, it seems women who have recently left convents consider becoming consecrated virgins almost reflexively, as though consecrated virginity were simply a sort of “catch all” category for unmarried women who needed to find a niche within the Church.

Yet consecrated virginity is not a general vocation which is categorically open to all the faithful, but is rather a relatively rare charism which results from a very specific call from God. Even a woman who meets all the canonical criteria to qualify for the consecration of virgins might not actually experience a true interior call to this way of life. And in some situations, there can be good pastoral reasons for advising women who are technically qualified to become consecrated virgins against discerning this vocation.

The upshot of all this is that no woman who has left a convent should feel in any way pressured or obligated to discern a vocation to consecrated virginity. As serious Catholics, we might sometimes be tempted to think that we should always be able to put ourselves into neat canonical boxes. But we need to remember that this is not the way that God thinks!

Our Lord loves and is pleased with everyone who sincerely seeks to do His will, regardless of whether or not one is settled into a permanent state in life. If a woman is truly called to be a consecrated virgin, this vocation will needed to be discerned on God’s time, and will come about solely as a result of His providential design and good pleasure.

 

Consecrated virginity is a distinct vocation in its own right.

Another common misunderstanding about consecrated virginity is that it is simply an “alternative vocation.” However, the charism of the Church’s ancient Order of Virgins is much more than simply “being dedicated to God, but without living in a convent.”

Consecrated virginity as a vocation actually pre-dates religious life by several centuries, and the spirituality of consecrated virginity is as unique as that of any religious family. For example, consecrated virginity as a form of consecrated life has a particular focus on the call to live as a bride of Christ, a special affinity with the Church’s early virgin-martyr saints, and a characteristic emphasis on the virtue of Christian virginity.

Consecrated virgins also have their own proper role and identity within the broader household of the Church. Through their consecration, consecrated virgins acquire a special bond with the local Church (and are therefore part of their home dioceses in a more “direct” way than religious, who are first and foremost members of their communities).

Likewise, consecrated virginity is also very different from simply making a private vow. A woman is consecrated as a virgin in a fully public liturgical rite, and from the day of their consecration consecrated virgins are called to bear a public evangelical witness.

 

Consecrated virginity has its own challenges

On the surface, a call to consecrated virginity might seem less demanding than a call to religious life, since consecrated virgins are not required to leave their homes and families or adhere to all the discipline inherent in community life. Still, my strong belief is that when a consecrated virgin is living out her consecrated life fully, this vocation is just as challenging as religious life, only in different specific ways.

One fairly obvious challenge inherent in the life of a consecrated virgin is the need for a great deal of self-motivation and self-discipline. Consecrated virgins are obligated to live serious lives of prayer (generally understood as the recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours, daily Mass in regions where this is possible, and daily time for private prayer), and they must be faithful to this even without the support of a community or the direct supervision of a superior.

Another significant challenge which is perhaps less readily apparent is the need for continual ongoing discernment. While canon law and the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity call consecrated virgins to be dedicated to the service of the Church, the practical details of how this can be best lived out concretely are left to the discretion of an individual consecrated virgin and her bishop. On even a purely human level, this requires a great deal of prudence and personal maturity; spiritually, it also demands a certain kind of asceticism. Consecrated virgins need to cultivate a listening heart which is truly open to God’s will and sensitive to the actual needs of the local Church, which underscores the necessity of fostering a profound sense of interior detachment in order to serve God’s people generously and disinterestedly.

A general lack of understanding and support is another difficulty which, while not intrinsic to this vocation, is a hard reality for most consecrated virgins at this point in time. Very few dioceses have well-developed formation programs for those aspiring to consecrated virginity, and young consecrated virgins in many places often lack peers and role models. Additionally, today’s consecrated virgins are likely to encounter, at least occasionally, dismissive attitudes and insensitive comments from even good people within the Church.

Of course, a woman who truly has a vocation to consecrated virginity will be given the grace to cope with these challenges. Still, it is important for discerners to be aware of them.

 

To sum up:

Consecrated virginity, like any life-long commitment, is a decision which needs to be carefully and peacefully discerned. Many recent Sisters may find it helpful to learn more about consecrated virginity, while keeping in mind that not every former religious who inquires about becoming a consecrated virgin will find that this is where she is called. Yet at the same time, I would also imagine that some former Sisters may actually have been called to the charism of consecrated virginity all along, with their time in the convent serving as part of God’s providential plan for the discovery of their true vocation.

Jenna M. Cooper recently celebrated her sixth anniversary of as a consecrated virgin. She has degrees in philosophy, theology, and canon law, and she currently serves as a parish Director of Religious Education. Jenna writes a personal blog on consecrated virginity titled: “Sponsa Christi” (http://sponsa-christi.blogspot.com).

Finding Employment

Writing PixabayBy Wendy Macagno.

The process of job seeking after leaving the religious life is daunting. Job applications, resumes, and cover letters are usually not on the forefront of your mind as you are processing your transition back into the world. A common question that arises is what to put on your resume regarding your time in the convent or seminary.

From an employer’s perspective, a gap in work history, particularly a long one, raises a red flag. They will wonder if your job skills are out of date and if there is something wrong with you that made you unemployed for so long. Therefore leaving a gap in your resume can hinder your chances of landing a job. However, you may not want to share such a personal part of your life, and this is entirely understandable. One way around this potential dilemma is by describing your time in the convent or seminary as volunteer service and word it as such that it does not reveal that you were in formation.

Beneath the title “Volunteer,” you can list your former job duties and tasks that you were responsible for, such as Finding Employment Library“assisting first grade classroom with behavioral management,” “organizing files using the alpha-numeric system,” or “landscape maintenance.”  It is especially important, for any resume, to add specific job duties that relate to the job you are applying for. This may take some creativity on your part, but keep in mind that the employer wants to see if you are qualified for the position and your resume should always be tailored to that end. If you are stuck on how to word your job duties, I recommend going to www.onetonline.org and type in your job title on the top right hand corner. From there you can find many examples to get you started on the kind of wording to use.

Looking for a job is no easy task for anyone, and can often be discouraging after sending in what seems like the hundredth job application. But don’t give up! As one who returned to the world during the height of the 2008 recession after living in a cloistered monastery for an entire year, I can testify that with a little elbow grease, you can find the job that is right for you.

If you have any questions regarding resumes, job applications, or career guidance please comment below or send me (Wendy) an e-mail via the contact form. Best of luck on your job search!

Wendy has received her MA degree in Counseling Psychology from Regis University and her BA in Religious Studies from Benedictine College. She has served her community as a career coach in both the non profit and government sectors.

Postscript: below are three examples from real CVs that include time spent in the convent, showing several different approaches. The first one focuses on duties and responsibilities without mentioning that they were undertaken while in a convent:

February-July 2013. Part-time tutoring position at Saint ________ College in ________. Responsibilities involved teaching remedial English to two Year Seven students (emphasis on spelling, grammar and phonics, but including a text study of The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde), and occasional supply teaching across primary and secondary year levels.

The second mentions directly the time spent in religious life, but places the emphasis on other work experience:

Work Experience:

Aspirant Dominican Sisters of ___________ (Convent in __________) 2011

Office Manager Company Name (Location, State) 2007

  • Positively assisted customers and clients through fruitful communication.
  • Represented President via email and phone.
  • Managed projects and co-workers, productively lead meetings.
  • Maintained order in chaotic atmosphere through filing, data entry, AR/AP and tier 1 support.

The third is a list of the terms that the individual has used to turn her convent duties into marketable skills: Convent CV Examples.