It was great to hear from Alissa a couple of days ago. She has touched upon a fundamental discernment question for many women. They are pulled between marriage and children as well as religious life. Amost every woman I have encountered has grappled with that choice. That is why it is important to be prayerfully connected to God – as God helps us discover the path for us.
A comment by Alissa referred to her leaving her family and a concern about if she can do that or handle that separation. Leaving home is simply a human experience we must go through as we move into adulthood. I left home for college while others may leave for marriage. Maturity requires that we become independent, regardless of our path.
It is important to know that joining a religious community does not necessarily require leaving your family behind. While there is a normal separation when we move on, there is not the literal leaving family behind forever. However, there are religious communities that are cloistered and do limit the amount of time a sister can visit family. These communities intentionally do this and often their sisters do not work outside the monastery or motherhouse. My community, St. Mary’s, does not have that flavor. We very much include family whenever possible. We allow visiting family and we pray for our families each day. We also work outside the Monastery in different areas like chaplaincy, teaching, pastoral care, parish ministry, nursing, social work to name a few.
In many ways we are no different from marriage and the choices a couple must make as to where to spend holidays or attending family events. Couples have to consider work responsibilities, family responsibilities, their own family life etc. Likewise, in a religious community we have to balance our choices – our primary family is our religious community and there are times we sacrifice family time to be with our community. That is natural choices most all couples as well as Sisters have to make.
Drawing from my own experience I can honestly say I have been fortunate in living this balance between community and family. There have been times when my family has come first due to illness or another stress. Mostly though, community comes first and my family adapted because they saw the value of my life choice. My family has always been welcomed wherever I have lived. After my dad died my mom has often come for holidays and enjoyed her larger family of Sisters. She is less able to travel now so I been able to be with her for many holidays. My community, I feel, is very reasonable in this regard.
Learn as much as you can about the religious communities you are interested in joining. Visit communities and contact their vocation directors. Know what their policies are. These will be clues for you!