Religious Life for my Kid? - by Ashley Svoboda
It was a cold, winter day in late January. I had been contemplating and praying about something huge that could affect the rest of my life, and I knew it was time to tell my parents. When I heard my mom pick up the phone, something deep inside nudged me to just get it out: “Mom, I want to be a religious sister. I’ve been praying about it and I’m so excited!”
After a long pause of silence went by, my frightened mother replied back, “Like a nun?” I replied back so enthusiastically, “Yup! It’s going to be amazing! I can’t wait to live this life.” My poor mother questioned me with concern, “but Ashley, didn’t you want to have lots of kids?”
The questions kept flowing the more and more I talked about discernment of a religious vocation with my parents. I wasn’t for sure how they’d respond, but it wasn’t the way I thought they would. Even though I grew up in a small Catholic family, we never talked about religious vocations. I had shared with my parents before how I just always wanted to be married and have lots of kids and adopt children one day from the amazing place I did missionary work.
The first time any of us had even seen a consecrated religious sister or actually have conversations outside of church with priests was when I attended college at Franciscan University. We were all amazed at how friendly and, well, how normal they seemed to be. As I journeyed closer to the Lord at my time at Franciscan, I started to realize that being opened to the idea of a religious vocation was a very real thing. However, to be completely honest, the idea scared the heck out of me.
“Me, a nun?! There’s no way. I don’t think I could be like those sisters in the movies. Besides, I want lots of children and can’t wait to meet the right guy to settle down with after college. Anyway, it must be lonely not having a spouse or children.” These were the thoughts that would fill my mind anytime I thought of the possibility of religious life. But that was before I actually encountered real, joyful religious sisters who were full of life and so fun to be with. I had no idea how fulfilling their life was as a Bride of Christ, and didn’t realize how beautiful and meaningful it was.
The more I was growing in a personal relationship with Jesus, the more and more commitment and service I wanted to give Him. Every time I’d find myself in the chapel praying, talking with friends, and just living daily life as a college student, the more I found myself asking, “What if I were a religious sister?”
I discussed the lingering thought and nudges on my heart that I felt from God to my closest friends, and they just encouraged me to be open to what God had planned for me and that they could see me becoming a religious sister one day. When I’d hear their reasons why, something just registered in my heart, but there was still fear of the unknown holding me back and the desire to have children of my own one day, not just spiritual children. So I still held on to my dream of marriage.
Fast forward a little bit, and I’m dating a really great guy and learning so much not only about myself, but seeing what it’s like to consider marriage a little bit more tangibly. Things are going great, and I leave to go on my last mission trip with the University for a couple weeks. However, this year on mission we got to meet the new auxiliary bishop of Montego Bay. When I introduced myself and shook his hand, he wouldn’t let go and was just staring at me, as if he was looking deep into my soul. I’m thinking to myself, “Shoot! This is like a Padre Pio or something! What the heck is he thinking? What does he see?!”
Then he finally replies back, “Sister!” I take a deep breath and clarify to the Bishop that I’m not a religious sister but just a student helping out on the mission trip. However, he’s still holding my hand and telling me, “No, you need to be a sister.” His look was intent and he meant what he said. Nervously I just told him, “Okay Bishop, sure, I’ll think about it.” When in my heart I was saying absolutely not!
And that’s when it hit me, I wasn’t opened to the idea of religious life, and God was calling me to be. He was growing me to be more opened to His will and trusting that He wouldn’t guide me where He didn’t want to lead me. He always has my best interest in mind, and I needed to step out in faith and trust Him.
Once I returned back to college after the mission trip, I was having a deep conversation with my boyfriend and I couldn’t believe what he was telling me. While I was away, nearly at the same time, his bishop told him the exact same thing about discernment. We both knew in that moment in our hearts that he needed to discern a priestly vocation, and that night I realized I needed to discern a religious vocation as well. Does God have a since of humor or what?
That’s when I told my parents. My mom was saddened and worried and my dad was elated and encouraging! Completely different than what I was expecting, but I knew that even my mom was supportive, even if she didn’t understand. It was challenging though, because my parents were living a completely different vocation, one that complemented religious life so much, but yet was not the same.
As I talked with different religious sisters and priests in different communities, I came to learn that it was okay if my parents didn’t fully understand everything about my choice to discern religious life, because to a certain degree, it would be different than their vocation. What was amazing though, was how much we all were growing in trusting God to lead me into my future. Not only was I growing in abandoning myself to Jesus completely, so were my parents. This was an immense gift that only God could bestow upon us if was actively discerning religious life.
It was such a challenging, yet fruitful and joyful season of our lives as a family. Yes I was a grown woman telling her parents the next steps in her life, but I was a daughter supported and loved by her parents for her future, even if they didn’t fully grasp or understand it. As a family, it was time to surrender our own personal desires in order to grow in understanding of the Lord’s, and it was an opportunity of growth that we couldn’t have received otherwise.
After a couple years go by of actively discerning and being accepted into a religious community, God’s leading took us on yet another turn. I felt Him nudging for me to trust Him even more deeply and to surrender my hopes and dreams of religious life now to Him. It was challenging, because once I surrendered the vocation of marriage to Him, I had begun to cling to religious life and I was dead set in living it out. However, I didn’t realize that His plan was for me to live it out for just a season of my life, not for the rest of my life. This took some time to process and seriously pray about, but I knew deep in my heart that it was right. God gave my parents and me a beautiful peace that continued to grow.
And with the perspective of time and with His grace, we saw the beauty of not only my discernment of religious life, but theirs as well. It brought my family even closer together, and the openness of discernment grew us in ways unimaginable. My hope is that all families can experience this same gift of surrender, trust, and strength that discerning a religious vocation for one of their children can bring.
Ashley is a sweet-as-ice-tea-Texan who’s embracing the Upstate New York life serving in youth ministry. After getting her Undergraduate & Masters Degree in Theology and Catechetics at Franciscan University, she fell in love serving the youth of the Church and enjoys being as silly & adventurous as they are. You can find out more about her at https://theunveiledblog.wordpress.com/