Dear Discerner: live the questions now
As you begin the process of exploring whether religious life is right for you, I want to start by saying Congratulations! If you’re at all like me, there was quite a bit of pre-work to get you to this “beginning.” You may have a lot of mixed up emotions right now. I know I did. That’s okay, and it’s a good thing to honor all of those emotions.
I also want to echo a few sentiments shared with me by other Sisters of Providence. When I visited her in Boston, Sister Jane Iannacone told me that, in her initial formation years, she often said, “Even if I were to leave the community tomorrow, I would be eternally grateful for the time I spent here.” And during discernment retreats, Sister Joni Luna is fond of quoting what someone said to her as she was pondering whether to join the community: “The door swings both ways. You’re not free to come if you’re not truly free to leave.”
In my discernment process, Sister Tracey Horan would refer me to the quote of poet Rainer Maria Rilke: “Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps, then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”
In my process, I had to step back from intentionally discerning with the Sisters of Providence after my first discernment retreat. Something inside me told me that it wasn’t the right time, so I used that time to look at other options. I applied for the Providence Associates program and journeyed with a sister as my guide in that process. She was able to suggest other communities that I could explore. Though I eventually came back to the Sisters of Providence, this time gave me some additional and much-needed perspective. It was the right decision for me, and it still serves to remind me that Rilke is right: sometimes it is more about the process than the answer.
Like Jacob, I wrestled with God frequently in my discernment process. I wrestled with myself quite frequently, too. It’s all part of the process – necessary, even if frequently painful. Whatever the outcome, it will get you where you need to be.
I hesitate to say too much, to offer too much guidance, because everyone is profoundly different. Your discernment process will be yours, and it will be beautiful. I encourage you to keep living it, following wherever your Divine Creator leads you.
And know that we will be praying with you and willing to have any conversation or answer any questions that may be helpful. Please don’t hesitate to reach out.