• Jamie Leatherby

Stepping Beyond the Walls

Wait, she left?

When people discover you’ve discerned out of religious life, and they see you for the first time, this about sums up the conversation:

“So why’d you leave? What’s your plan?”

Ummmmm get back to normal and try to figure out why I’m back in the world now?

*stares at your hair that’s been chopped off*

“There’s this job you should look into…”

*stares like you’re a totally different angelic being than who they knew before*

“Let’s meet up so I can hear all about it”

When was the last time we even talked before I entered? If I said that out loud you really wouldn’t think I was just in a cloister.

“Is it bad that I feel guilty that you’re back but am so happy”

You think YOU feel guilty...you have no idea...yep, get back to normal is the plan…

My Treasured Reactions

*Man in adoration does a double take since he didn’t know I left*

Yes, I’m THAT holy and am bilocating.

“Wait...You’re back?” long pause “Like for good?”

*Big hug* “It is SO good to see you!”

Friend, thank you, for no questions asked, in my journey.

The call home from the monastery to say I’m coming home:

Sibling having heard no details: “I don’t understand, but I trust you.”

No better words could have been uttered, thank you.

A father figure’s wisdom:

“It was a hard decision to go and a hard decision to leave. Thomas Merton’s best advice is ‘Don’t try to figure it out, just trust’...Do I still need to pray for you?” Haha, always, as I know you are.

Another father figure’s advice:

“Jesus is patient. Don’t you think he will lovingly wait as you figure it out if you are meant to be with Him? If that’s not your calling, just ask him to send you your husband. We will multiply our prayers for you.” Well if you put it that simply…

Fellow Warriors

Not long after leaving the monastery, I was praying after confession, and a woman in her 70s approached me whom I had never seen before, which is quite strange in the parish I grew up in. She proceeded to have a conversation with me about this little booklet she found in the back of the church which she had never seen in any church before. It was a booklet from the founder of the religious community she was a part of a long time ago. It meant something to her, and knowing nothing of my story, she proceeded to tell me how the two hardest things she had to do in her entire life were when she left religious life and when her husband passed away. I told her I too had recently left religious life. Sometimes God places random strangers as angels in disguise when you need them.

Only one month after leaving I happened to meet a man about my age who also had discerned the monastic life. He looked right through me and said, “You left only one month ago? How are you so normal right now?” He proceeded to share how the transition really shook him up where it was hard to function and upon meeting me, he seemed to think I was doing a lot better than he had been. I guess everyone just shows it a bit differently.

God tends to place me in the lives of others who have discerned out of religious life, or maybe there are just a lot of us around. I had many conversations with good friends who also discerned out around the same time as me: active sisters, cloistered sisters, and seminarians. I like to think these conversations were helpful for both parties, finding a friend on a similar yet unique journey that is quite the mess of suffering and questioning.

A Common Thread?

I met up with two friends who were discerning entering the priesthood, and I could see how similar their enthusiasm was to mine before entering. Yet, now I saw through different eyes, where the same fervor of long ago lay dormant and a deep sorrow mixed with peace enveloped me. Interestingly, neither of those men ended up entering and one is engaged to be married. Did I see in them, similar to myself, the zeal for Christ that propels one to follow Him at any cost but the lack of knowledge of oneself that makes one not really know one’s true calling quite yet?

Another man who left seminary told me it took him two years before he could function like normal again. Another friend told me it took him three to four years. I guess everyone’s different, but I’m seeing different stages in myself of moving on during the transition back to the secular world. It’s a tough battle that few understand but with a community like Leonie’s Longing it is nice to have people together on a similar journey. Christ’s peace be with you.

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