Letting Go of Control: What Leaving Religious Life Taught Me About God’s Presence in Transitions

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“Transition is an opportunity for growth.”

When I read this sentence as part of an assignment during my first year of formation to become a Daughter of St. Paul, I rolled my eyes.

I entered the convent right out of college. Over the three and a half years that I was in formation, I went through a fair number of transitions. I moved across the country and traded hours of Netflix in for the rhythm of prayer, study, and work that makes up life in the convent. Then, women with whom I had grown close discerned out. I went from living in a small community of 10 sisters to the motherhouse of 70 sisters. Every time it was difficult. And every time I grew a little bit more open to being surprised by God’s grace.

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While I remember the hope-filled message of the reflection that we had been assigned, I also remember the sister who was teaching us giving an honest addition: “And transition will always be difficult.”

Earlier this year, through prayer and serious discernment, God made it clear that it was his will for me to leave the convent. Before leaving, I worked with the sisters to prepare for the transition. I lined up job interviews, went shopping for clothes, made arrangements to move in with a friend, and took time to call all of the people in my life to tell them that I would be moving back home.

The day came, and I took off my sweater vest and navy blue skirt for one last time, replacing them with jeans and a flannel shirt. In many ways, it was more difficult to leave the convent than it had been to enter, but I was full of hope as I imagined what God might have planned for this new part of my life with him.

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For the first few weeks, the transition went pretty much as I imagined it would. And then a pandemic happened.

I went from seeing 70 people in the convent every day to only seeing my roommate. I went from living with a chapel downstairs and having daily Mass to not even being able to receive the Eucharist on Sundays. I went from actively working with other people on projects to spending eight hours staring at my computer doing my new work in parish ministry.

One evening, I was scrolling through social media and stopped on livestreamed Eucharistic adoration. On my phone, my eyes were locked on the reality of the Lord’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament, and I began to weep.

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The pain of how much had changed and not gone according to my hope-filled plan came out in that torrent of tears. And through my blurry eyes, I found myself face-to-face with the reality that God was here. He was here in the plans that were thrown out the window, here in the adjustments to my daily schedule, here in the tears that I wept as I wished that things would just go back to normal.

“Normal” was what I longed for. I wanted predictability and stability. In this time of transition, I had to come to the acute awareness that nothing will be “normal” for a long time, if ever. And thanks be to God for that.

I don’t type those words flippantly. I mean them with all sincerity, as this is the prayer that has been formed in my heart over these past few months of struggle and grace in the midst of a huge life transition. Praise God that nothing is normal. Because in longing for things to be normal, what I really wanted was to be in control.

When I know that I am in control, I feel safe because things are predictable and I know that I will be able to handle them. If I had things my way, I would still be in the convent. I would not need God’s healing. We would not be in the midst of a pandemic.

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But I am not in control. This huge life transition has made that abundantly clear. Our loving and all-powerful God has foreseen this time from all eternity and he is the one in control. My plans are being turned upside down, but things are going exactly according to God’s plan. He is giving me the grace to grow and know his love more deeply, strengthening me to not only overcome difficulties, but to be a sign of his strength in the world. How could I say no to that?

It is a day-to-day decision to let God have control of my life, especially when things feel so incredibly out of control. About a month ago, I realized that once again, I needed to make another change and begin a new job. This transition has been incredibly difficult, as it has involved acknowledging my own limitations, saying goodbye to a parish and people who I loved working with, and taking on new responsibilities. But as I undergo a transition once again, I have a renewed peace. I am not afraid of the reality that things will inevitably not go according to my plan. In fact, I’m looking forward to my plans being “messed up” because I know that is how God will be reminding me that I can trust him totally.

“Transition is an opportunity for growth. And it will always be difficult.”