For Family and Friends
“Mom, dad, I’m coming home.”
The flood of emotions come. This is the phone call you never expected. Is she ok? Did something happen? I can’t believe she’ll be home for dinner, she’ll be in her bed again. I never thought I’d have her back.
The adjustment for you having your daughter, sister or friend “back” after some expanse of time might seem unbelievable at first. You might be elated and try to pick up where you left off. Or expect the same buoyant personality to come bounding through the house or accompany you to your once favorite hangout spots. Though, upon her return, you might notice that she’s, well, different. Perhaps she can’t talk about what transpired regarding the events that surrounded her and the community’s decision for her to leave. Perhaps she wants space and quiet, and that is communicated effectively, or more likely not effectively. Perhaps she’s not eating or sleeping more than you remember and you begin to wonder, how long will this last?
As unique as every woman’s vocational discernment path is to enter religious life, so it is for leaving. The reasons span a vast range from those who are sure they are called to the vocation of marriage, to those who were asked to leave by the community, those who discern to enter a different religious community, those who have health needs that are not able to be supported by the community’s way of life to those that just don’t have peace with moving forward and discern, carefully, to exit community.
Regardless of the “why,” every woman goes through some degree of the grief process. The change of her life course, the loss of her identity within the community and as a religious sister and the transition out of her well formed daily schedule are real losses.
So, what can you as a parent, sibling or friend do to help her in this time of transition?
Love. Love her well: with patience, gentleness, and flexibility. Some women have expressed that this is a period of their life where they feel abandoned by God, unloved, unwanted. Though in her mind she would be able to identify this as untrue, in her heart she may be experiencing this feeling. Love her as best as you can and know she is trying her best to love through this time as well.
Listen. When she’s ready to share, she just needs you to listen. Be ok with not having an answer for her. Statements like “this is part of God’s plan” or expressing your own frustrations that religious life brought on you or the family are not helpful. Inevitably she just wants to share her heart with someone she trusts. Someone who will let her cry or laugh or sit in silence with her. Your presence to her will be the greatest gift you can give her.
Be gentle. Depending on the particulars of how she left, she may need help acquiring practical life necessities: clothing, a haircut, car insurance. These can be very difficult experiences as this might be the first time in years she has had to pick out her own clothing or anyone has seen her hair. These might seem to be inconsequential, everyday tasks for you, but for her it might take every ounce of energy she has to do these seemingly “small” things.
Be patient. This immediate stage does not last forever. Time is truly the best healer and so patience and love go a long way. As the days and months go on, she’ll continue to process what has occurred and, depending on her personality, it will take varying lengths of time for her to get to a place that she deems “good.” The grief process, even for one who has experienced a death of a loved one, comes in varying stages and intensities. This also applies during this transition.
Have hope. God, our loving Father, is in the midst of all of this. He is with you and your daughter through this journey. He is loving each of you and He is drawing you closer to Himself. It may not be apparent now, or months from now, or years from now, but He is.
Contact us. Leonie’s Longing is comprised of women who discerned religious life and who come from families that are of varying degrees of support and understanding. That is to say, it’s a learning curve for all involved and we understand. Each family has its own way of navigating difficulties, expressing love to each other and journeying with the Lord.
Once again, the Lord extends to you – as mother or father, as sister or brother, as best friend – a particular invitation for you to grow deeper in your relationship with Him as you journey with your beloved daughter, sister or friend. Trust Him more, ask Him for His Heart to love her when you don’t know how to, allow yourself to be a conduit of His love and mercy. Not only will she experience His peace that surpasses all understanding through you, but you will as well. No greater gift could we give one another than to continually draw one another closer to our merciful Father, especially in the midst of the unknown.