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AnneLine, you are right that the rules for men's communities are usually more lenient. Although of course there are many exceptions. I do think in part it is a result of gender disparities in human history that became part of tradition and were never dislodged from the orders that absorbed them. I remember the first time I discovered this, how shocked I was, and how it made it seem like the women were considered to be children who needed to be watched and controlled more carefully. .

 

I always wondered why men had shorter formation periods.  As an example, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal have 1 year of novitiate and 6 years (I believe) of first vows before final vows are made.  The women's side of the same order has 2 years of novitiate and 6 years of first vows.  Why do women get 1 more year?  The reason, I've heard, is that women have the natural desire to have a family of their own, but that still didn't make sense because I've heard of men who desire to get married and have children, too, but maybe it's because it's stronger for women?  Whatever the case, that threw me off when I first found out.

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Friar John Paul, this thread is about the experiences of people who have left monastic life.  I don't know whether you have had the experience of leaving a religious community but I don't think it is

Very interesting thread! I was a postulant and will share some experiences I’ve had, in hopes it will be of service. In advance, forgive me please if I am verbose.   I’ve been in three communiti

Dear Sr. Madeleine Marie:   I have read this thread carefully, and maybe I missed it.  If your community was specifically mentioned in this thread please hit the report button and we (mods) will cor

I always wondered why men had shorter formation periods.  As an example, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal have 1 year of novitiate and 6 years (I believe) of first vows before final vows are made.  The women's side of the same order has 2 years of novitiate and 6 years of first vows.  Why do women get 1 more year?  The reason, I've heard, is that women have the natural desire to have a family of their own, but that still didn't make sense because I've heard of men who desire to get married and have children, too, but maybe it's because it's stronger for women?  Whatever the case, that threw me off when I first found out.

 

My view? Excuse me for being cynical, but I know that most men would walk out if they got put through the wringer as much as most women seem to put up with. I have no idea why this is, and I'm not claiming women are worse than men, but I've seen it happen.

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Thank you to all of you who added feedback... keep it coming!

 

Beyond the whole question of what is technically legal under canon law, one of the things I have noticed in women who leave is that many of them just found the structure and lifestyle restricting.  Granted, most thought they knew what they were getting into... and they wanted it, most of them.... but there is a difference between WANTING something and finding out that when it is tried, it just ISN'T a good fit.  And I think that can sometimes take some time to get in focus.  It's hard to know whether once one is under vows and living in the main community (be it an active ministry or just as a professed nun or priest/brother in a cloister) will work in the long term.  Sometimes even someone who WANTS that lifestyle finds out that the structure just doesn't work in supporting their prayer life and/or ministry.  That was certainly the case for me.... I saw the others relaxing into the lifestyle, and I was getting tenser and tenser and tenser.  And less and less able to pray.   Finally, working with my postulant mistress (because I couldn't talk to anyone else.....) I realized that was a sign I wasn't meant to be there... and I have never regretted that decision.  (and there were other factors as well...)

 

And.... 

 

I think Maggie, Mater and ARFink are making some good points, too, about the structure that is imposed on women vs that on men.  (Notre Dame noted it as well).   I can remember at one point a friend noted that there really seemed to be a huge difference in what was being asked of women going into religious life versus the men going into the life .... what women were being asked to bring in terms of clothing, dowries, etc., and in just the kind of structure we would be experiencing in formation AND in life after formation was SO VERY different from what our male friends who were entering communities were being asked to bring.  Remember what NonNovi's 'list of things to bring' looked like?  I don't remember things like aprons or sewing kits.... ;)

 

And... I have a good friend who joined one of the orders a year or so ago, and his first year as a postulant was spent living in a regular community, but pretty much with freedom to come and go at pleasure, he had money for his use, he was allowed to visit home several times, came and visited Mr. AL and me several times.   He could call us on his cell phone.   He could go on long, solitary walks.  He also spent time in classes, in doing ministry with the Community, and in praying with them and getttnig to know them.   During the summer, he entered into his novitiate year.  He is much more restricted, no cell phone, no money, but he and his brother novices still can go out and have an afternoon on the town occasionally, so to speak.  He can occasionally send out an email.   He has some free time each day!   He is learning, he is growing, but he is being treated like a human being!   After his first vows, he'll be able to go home... and will have much more freedom once again when he starts living out his religious life (God willing!)    I don't think this is the case with most of the middle-of-the-road and certainly not with the more traditional women's communities.

 

Another factor people have mentioned to me was ability/inability to continue healthy relationships with family and friends outside the community.  Was this an issue for any of you, or a factor in anyone who left?

 

And people have talked about restrictions on reading materials... only being allowed to read certain books, or certain types of books.  In some cases, just during formation; in other cases, a permanent restriction.  Again, was this a factor for anyone?  

 

Again, we are NOT trying to bad-mouth any communities... just tring to see what factors lead religious and/or seminarians, etc. to decide that they need to leave....

 

Edited by AnneLine
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Wanted to rephrase those last couple of questions --- were either of these factors in YOUR OWN departures OR in the departures of others who have shared their stories with you?  

 

I clarify this because I want to be ABSOLUTELY certain no one has any compulsion give up their own personal story on the internet.

 

Peace to all...

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Wow, this is a good discussion. So much I want to say, but not really able to say it all as clearly as I know I'd want to.

 

Sometimes even someone who WANTS that lifestyle finds out that the structure just doesn't work in supporting their prayer life and/or ministry.  That was certainly the case for me.... I saw the others relaxing into the lifestyle, and I was getting tenser and tenser and tenser.  And less and less able to pray.   Finally, working with my postulant mistress (because I couldn't talk to anyone else.....) I realized that was a sign I wasn't meant to be there... and I have never regretted that decision.  (and there were other factors as well...)

What you say there, "saw others relaxing into the lifestyle, and I was getting tenser and tenser and tenser" describes my own experience very well. There were many other factors, for sure, but part of what forced me to question whether I had an authentic religious vocation--because I had WANTED a vocation so, so badly, so I didn't want to question it--was the fact that despite everything I did--trying to pray more, become holier, more obedient, etc.--I only became more terribly miserable. It really wasn't a good fit. I remember years before I left, I described some of what I was feeling to a Sister (not a Superior) and she said, "God doesn't desire that for His children..." (meaning, God doesn't want you to be miserable like that, so maybe you don't have a vocation.) At that point, I was terrified of thinking of leaving.

 

Another factor people have mentioned to me was ability/inability to continue healthy relationships with family and friends outside the community.  Was this an issue for any of you, or a factor in anyone who left?

 

And people have talked about restrictions on reading materials... only being allowed to read certain books, or certain types of books.  In some cases, just during formation; in other cases, a permanent restriction.  Again, was this a factor for anyone?

Yes, the inability to continue healthy relationships with family and friends was certainly a factor. I remember, when I wanted to tell my mom that I was considering leaving during a family visit so that she could be prepared for the possibility, I felt like a hunted animal -- hiding away on a walking path, constantly looking to the left, right, in front of, and behind me to make sure there weren't any Sisters lurking nearby who could have heard me and gotten me into trouble for mentioning it to my mother. Not a healthy situation. All our outgoing AND incoming mail was read by our Superiors, which also meant I was unable to express anything remotely true to how I was really feeling. I felt trapped by that, honestly.

 

The restrictions on reading materials personally did not bother me much.

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I personally think it is very dangerous to have a spiritual director from within the community.  There are too many opportunities for the director, subconsciously, to influence you in a way that isn't objective.  The other issue is that you may have to live with the person at some point.  If you bared your soul to them when you were a novice and now its ten years later and you have to live with them it isn't really a fair or easy transition to expect people to make.  Imagine you were in an awkward difficult vocation phase and that's all that person knows about you... and now you have to live with them.  

 

It also seems like if you HAVE to have a director in the community that the community is afraid of something... I know I'm reaching and I'm not saying its the only reason but it seems to cut a community off from the greater Church.  We have to be open to how God is speaking to us through a variety of sources while still being grounded in the charism and traditions of our own communities.  My spiritual director is a religious sister in another community, one that is very different than my own, and she has helped my prayer life so much because she makes me see my own charism and community through the eyes of someone on the outside.  It adds so much depth to my prayer life. Sometimes she suggests things that are outside, though not in opposition to,  the spirituality of my community.  Still it always enriches and never denigrates.  I'm so grateful to her.  

 

I agree with all you have said here, particularly, "There are too many opportunities for the director, subconsciously, to influence you in a way that isn't objective." That was my own personal experience. I had expressed my serious doubts at certain times throughout my entire formation, and that, paired with my behavior (not BAD behavior per se, just behavior that would make one question whether or not I had a vocation) while in the convent, makes me truly believe a "more established" community (I don't want to say "healthier," but that was what I originally wrote) would have recognized my lack of a true religious vocation very, very early on.
 

 

EDITED TO ADD: Something of a "caveat," which is that I know my former community has changed some things about their formation. While my previous experiences did happen, and they did many things which were in my opinion unhealthy, the community could be--and is likely--very different from the one they were when I was there. They could definitely have cleared up any unhealthy aspects of their formation since I have been there. I mention this in case anyone knows the community I was with. My experiences aren't meant to discourage anyone from discerning a vocation with them if they feel thus called.

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Anneline, What you say resonates with me as I go thru the discernment process.  I am an adult - a college graduate and a teacher.  I have been in the work place and living on my own for several years.  I would think that most communities would want a person with my maturity and life experience - that these qualities in any applicant enrich the community and make better sisters.  My grandmother told me a story about something that happened to her as a 2nd grader in Catholic school.  Some kid wrote the  f word on her yellow rain slicker.  When her mother saw it, she called the school furious that the nuns let my grandmother walk home with that written on her coat.  The principal did not know what the word meant.  I guess she probably entered at 16 or so and was pretty sheltered.

 

I understand that many of the restrictions placed on women versus men in religious life were imposed during a time when women were not considered equal and needed more protection but that is no longer true.   I visited the DSMMEs and the Nashies - both beautiful communities, but I felt that in neither place would I be treated like an adult.  I know I would find the constant scheduling and little personal time difficult and some of the petty rules seem pointless - why no mail in advent?  Men in formation get mail, why not women?  I understand that some of the rules are disciplines designed to foster obedience but I could think of many ways to accomplish this goal without them.  Years ago, a novice mistress could tell an 18 year old novice just out of high school - "you do it just because" and she would accept that.  We don't live in that world any more.  I was really very sad when I came to the realization that the DSMMEs and Nashies were not for me - I loved the youth and vitality I found in both communities.  So I can really understand how some of the practices would cause someone to leave.  The community I am seriously considering now certainly has rules  - there are limitations on visits home and family visits but the community also involves families in the formation process - parents of sisters in formation meet and get to know other parents.  There is certainly no way to know whether religious life is right for you until you live it but communities can make the transition much easier by treating new members as adults.  I don't mean to criticize any community I mentioned here - I'm just saying that they were not the right fit for me.

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Emma, not receiving mail in Lent and Advent is a very common religious practice, and it's not related to the vow of obedience - it's because Lent and Advent (especially Lent) are supposed to be 'desert' periods for the deepening of prayer. Post is saved up for Christmas and Easter. This applies to men in monastic communities too, but I'm not sure about seminaries - as seminarians tend to be surrounded by people day in and day out anyway, there would be little point as the custom wouldn't foster any greater solitude for them.

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As to the difference between men vs women orders... I don't know exactly which groups you are referring to so I'm having to make interpolate, but perhaps the biggest difference you describe isn't so much a difference between male vs female orders as it is a difference of active vs contemplative (penitential) ones?

 

Most guys are entering active orders where they will also be trained for the priesthood.  Meanwhile, active orders for women is a relatively new thing and many of these groups are contemplative/penintential, right? 

 

Not sure about this, but tossing it out there as a hypothesis.

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I'm not sure if it was "spiritual direction" per se, but in my community, those of us in formation were encouraged to talk to the professed Sisters whenever we were having difficulties.  It didn't have to be our superior, so long as the Sister was professed.  Some of them definitely helped me out a lot, for which I am very grateful.  I admit, though, that there were times toward the end that I felt pressured to stay...basically the implication that I could leave, but it would be a really dumb decision.

Confessors: we didn't have that much choice, at least not that I was aware of.  We were supposed to go to Confession at least once a week, and we pretty much always went to the chaplain (once in a while to a visiting priest).

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That's really interesting, Ave, because usually there is a huge separation between the run-of-the-mill professed sisters and the sisters who are postulants and novices.  They literally DO NOT let them talk.  In fact, it's pretty common that except for a special occasion (like Christmas) or a family visiting day, even blood sisters can't talk to each other if one is professed and the other is not... I've seen it and I've heard of it in several communities.  The idea is to make it less likely that a sister would be 'influenced' by someone to stay or leave.... but it also could mean she wouldn't be able to talk with someone who could help her through a tough spot.  I don't know.... can see both sides.

 

Again, what has been the experience of others?

 

And I'm curious about the question Notre Dame posed... is it more of a 'cloistered / non-cloistered' issue, or a men/women issue?  Anyone have a sense on this?  As far as active/not active women... I wouldn't excactly say 2 or 3 hundred years is a recent thing... and many of the religious communities for women who have an active apostolate have been busy doing it for hundreds of yars.... and living with those restrictions all that time.  And many of the more modern apostolic ones have them in as well.  But I don't think they do for the most part for the male communities.   (I do agree that some of the more penitential ones for men and women may have greater restrictions... but I am not convinced that they are always a good idea.... my opinion....

 

littlePaula, are you getting the discussion/info you had hoped for?  Do you have any follow-up questions or thoughts for us?

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In fact, it's pretty common that except for a special occasion (like Christmas) or a family visiting day, even blood sisters can't talk to each other if one is professed and the other is not... I've seen it and I've heard of it in several communities.  The idea is to make it less likely that a sister would be 'influenced' by someone to stay or leave....

 

If that's really the reason, then it's a pretty sick reason, but I don't doubt you because I know at least one place this kind of stuff happens (usually not for everyone, but on a case by case basis - even sicker if you ask me)  though they would never say that's the reason they are doing it.  

 

However, there still could be valid reasons for contemplatives to limit outside contact (though it's not clear what type of group you were referring to) and outside contact would generally be limited during the novitiate even for active orders.  Of course, that's one reason why people need to discern properly and perhaps have a postulancy:  So they don't get into a novitiate, freak out, but not be allowed to talk to anybody.

 

And I'm curious about the question Notre Dame posed... is it more of a 'cloistered / non-cloistered' issue, or a men/women issue?  Anyone have a sense on this?  As far as active/not active women... I wouldn't excactly say 2 or 3 hundred years is a recent thing... and many of the religious communities for women who have an active apostolate have been busy doing it for hundreds of yars.... and living with those restrictions all that time.  And many of the more modern apostolic ones have them in as well.  But I don't think they do for the most part for the male communities.   (I do agree that some of the more penitential ones for men and women may have greater restrictions... but I am not convinced that they are always a good idea.... my opinion....

 

AL,  you are the one bringing up the double-standard, so I was hoping that you'd be able to tell us "yes, I've seen the double-standard exist between male vs female orders that were both the same type of charism" or perhaps "well, the women's orders where I see this double-standard are contemplative and the men are active, so perhaps that explains the double-standard." 

 

We can go on and on all day about how group A gets to go outside, while group B is stuck inside, but we need to be specific about their charism and rule, otherwise it's an apples to oranges comparison.   In my limited exposure I haven't personally seen a double-standard per se, at least not as I define one, so I'm relying on other's to share their experiences (including you.)

 

That's my point of view, at least. I could be wrong.   Anyway, interesting discussion.  Interested in hearing more!

 

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I appreciate this discussion very much. It is great to hear your experiences and thoughts.

 

I was a member of one of the ancient orders that is said to be a mainly contemplative one - for both branches. And I did see a lot of double-standard between women and men. Even if every monastery in that order is independent enough to make their own rules regarding post, vacation, visits etc. the differences between the nun-houses were little compared to the differences between women and men. It is said that if asked which vow is the hardest to keep nuns say: 'the vow of obedience' , whereas monks say: 'the vow of chastity'. I think the reason is not so much that men and women are different, but that rules for men are different, so that they don't 'feel the pressure of the vow of obedience' in the same way nuns do.

Saying this I don't want to negate that there is a big difference between active and contemplative orders. And that there are some monks living under stricter rules than some sisters (of another order!). I'm just saying that I saw in one single order there are big differences between men and women.

 

The other point that came up is the separation between noviciate and convent. I suffered a lot under that one. The rule was that the sisters who hadn't solemn vows yet weren't allowed to talk to sisters from the convent if not absolutely necessary. Actually that was the rule 20 years or so ago and officially it didn't exist any more in that strict way, but it was still present. It happened that after lunch a sister asked me something and another one passing by shook hear head and said depreciatory: 'Noviciate and convent! Tsss, tsss.' I just couldn't understand that rule. I was told that the rule protects the sisters in formation so that not everyone tries to form them. I didn't feel like I needed protection and didn't think that a community from which I did need protection would be a good one to stay with.

Once a week the sisters were informed about important things. The noviciate was informed one day later by the novice master. One time I asked my abbess (who was also my novice master) about the reasons. And I was honestly shocked when she told me that it wasn't about the informations - we would get the same informations as the other sisters - but that she didn't want us to see their reactions to it.

I still can't believe that. How am I supposed to decide to share the rest of my life with those women if I don't get to know them?

And how is noviciate supposed to be bearable if you're not allowed to have neither contact with people outside the monastery nor the professed sisters? This might have made sense in times when the noviciate consisted of 20 young women with whom you could share, but today you just can't hold on to a rule like that if you only have a few sisters in noviciate.

 

I know that some time ago (in some houses still today) it is generally forbidden to talk privately with any other sister. You are supposed to keep silent and only to speak about work if necessary. I don't know. Maybe it is a special sort of vocation. But it certainly isn't mine.

I believe that we can grow in so many ways by sharing our personal experiences and thoughts and I think it helps the community to be a real community if the members know about each others joys and pains.

 

That was another point for me - I didn't feel like we were a real community. We lived together but it seemed more like a 'flat share' to me.

Also, it can be really frustrating to see how much distrust and enviousness can exist among nuns. Among people who want to follow Christ more closely.

 

I'm still a big 'fan' of my order and monastic life in general, but some things I'd do differently...

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Hi, I was curious to get everyone's insight on my predicament. It may get a little long so apologies in advance.

 

I am in my late 20s and have discerned religious life since I was 15.   I didn't do any active discernment until I finished my university studies. I worked for four years before I finally found a community which felt right on every level imaginable. I was able to discern for a year and a half while working before deciding to take the plunge. So my decision wasn't the product of an impulse or whim or "spiritual high."

 

I spent ten months there as an aspirant, and came home on the scheduled 10-day "vacation" which was meant as a period for me to discern whether I wanted to continue in the novitiate. When getting on that plane back, I had every intention of returning despite all the struggles and challenges I faced there.

 

Once I was at home and had some distance from the convent, I began to see things in a more rational light. To make a long story short, I did not return to the convent and am currently on a "temporary leave." 

 

Some issues I had during my aspirancy:

  • Being expected to overcome my spiritual struggles and issues alone through prayer. Seeking the help of anyone including the novice mistress was frowned upon, because they saw it as dependence on man over God. We had once-a-month meetings with the novice mistress but this was more to fulfill a routine.
  • The way they accepted practically anyone and everyone into the formation program, but weeded them out later. One girl was dismissed one month after her first vows. It was extremely difficult trying to live with girls who did not have the purest of intentions in entering (for example, trying to escape a troubled home or being unable to find a job, or having become too old for marriage).
  • Any show of emotion or weakness was forbidden. Crying in front of another was forbidden, and regardless of how you were feeling inside, you were always expected to have a smile on your face and a cheerful demeanor.
  • Lack of communication and extreme gossiping. Even among the older sisters there were clearly communication issues.
  • The contradictory way I saw the older sisters living. They seemed very well-off and had everything.
  • Dog-eat-dog culture in the convent. Instead of promoting an environment of genuine care and concern, the girls were so caught up in trying to become the "teacher's pet" that a disordered rivalry was clearly present. Jealousy among who got more attention, or who had this or that, or whose families were well off and whose weren't were all issues.
  • The extreme hierarchical system. This particular convent had a steady stream of 6-8 young women entering every six months. So when I entered, the girls that had entered six months before I did treated us as if we were much younger than them on every level imaginable. So you can imagine how the older sisters treated us.
  • Double standards. What was allowed for one person was not allowed for another, and vice versa. 
  • Going back on their word. Flip flopping. For example, they told me that I would get more days to go home after my first year instead of the usual allowed time due to the travel time involved (the community was in another country than my own). They went back on their word later.
  • Using public humiliation as a means of discipline (novice mistress yelling at you in front of everyone else).
  • The extreme revere we were to have for priests
  • The girls in formation expected to be of "entertainment" for the older sisters by acting silly/cute and putting on plays, all the time.
  • Not having the choice of a spiritual director - the novice mistress was the only professed sister you were technically allowed to talk to you about your issues/struggles
  • Not having the choice of a confessor - the priest came once a month and everyone was required to go to confession to him alone. He was great, but he gave a one-size-fits-all penance (1 Our Father) to every single girl.
  • The extreme segregation between the girls in formation and the professed sisters. The meals were served in a buffet-line style, and two tables were set up - one for the professed and one for the non-professed. The dining room was divided in a like way as well. On all fairness this is understandable, but what I did not like or agree with was that the convent would often place the undesirable leftovers or fruit that had gone bad with the bad parts cut out on the non-professed side.
  • On Easter and Christmas there were literally mountains of snacks and goodies on every table, and you were encouraged to eat as much as you wanted. I found this to be a promotion of gluttony and contradictory to the vow of poverty they are preparing you to take, regardless of the fact that they wanted to celebrate. 
  • The inequality in how feast days were celebrated. Since birthdays were not celebrated or observed, the sisters celebrated feast days according to your patron saint which basically became the equivalent of your birthday. What I had a problem with was that the "higher-ranking" sisters, for example the sisters in the general council were thrown lavish celebrations in which the girls in formation spent weeks preparing skits and songs, and there was cake and special food during mealtimes. Meanwhile, the ones who were in formation were almost forgotten on their feast days.
  • A constant feeling of having to prove that you are fit for their standards and what they're looking for in a sister.

 

This is just the tip of the iceberg. So why is it that I can't just close that chapter of my life and move on? There were a lot of things I had issues with, but that doesn't mean there wasn't any good. I absolutely cherished prayer time, and the liturgy of the hours, daily Mass, spiritual reading and adoration. I thrived in the clockwork routine schedule.  I met sisters before I entered that I really respect and love and look up to. I still have a deeply ingrained conviction that I need to keep trying and that it was God who called me and that I shouldn't let such things get to me. But I also know God gave us mental and rational faculties for a reason, and from a rational perspective nothing makes sense for me to return. But from my heart I feel like I would be the one giving up if I didn't return I feel like I will regret it for the rest of my life.

 

 

Would appreciate any insight or advice.  :sos:

 

Edited by moderator:  at the request of original poster to remove potentially identifying information -- cmaD2006

Edited by cmaD2006
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Hi Peteysunshine, thank you so much for sharing your story!

I don't want to respond to all the issues you listed. Many of them I have heard of, some are new to me. Despite all those things - and every single one could be a good reason not to return - I would recommend to listen to your heart (as 'worn out' this may sound...). During my time in the monastery there were moments when I thought of leaving, but when I played it through in my mind - when I imagined leaving, looking for job, going on vacation, etc. - I realized that I would miss monastic life too badly to be able to leave. I aways had the feeling that I would miss the monastery more than I could ever miss all the other things (freedom in all my choices, a partner, etc.). So I stayed.

Until one day this had changed. Somehow I knew I had to go and couldn't believe I was actually thinking and deciding to leave. But this time - playing it through in my mind - I knew it was right.

So my suggestion is to go to a place where you can pray. A church or a place by a lake or wherever you can sit for a long while and think and pray. Imagine you decide to go back. How would it feel sitting in the plane, what would it be like to be back in the community etc. Play the hole thing through in your mind and than make a cut. Take a brake. And than do the same for the other possibility. Imagine you don't go back. What will you tell/write the community, your family etc.? What will you do? How does it feel? What do you think, you would do in 5 years?

 

No one but you can make this decision. Playing it through always helped me to find out what I really wanted/what was the best to do.

May God bless and guide you!!  :console:

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