About Me

My photo
Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

Someone asked me yesterday if those were my pants in the picture from my last post. No. I am at all times pantsless. If I did have pants they would be black and decidedly unfancy.

Those are lovely pants, though. I agree.

Sister -- I have a patron saint-matching request. I joined a wonderful religious community ten years ago and remained there a year until health problems forced me to leave. I was heart-broken at leaving and dealt with a lot of grief for a year or two. Since then I have come to accept that year as a gift that will prepare me in special ways for whatever else God has planned for me. I'm very happy at the thought that I might have a married vocation.

BUT, I've come to realize recently that I am still coping with a lot of anger at God for what felt like abandonment and betrayal after I left everything for Him. I have had uninterrupted spiritual dryness since I left, and a few priests have suggested that this deep hurt may be the cause. I want to draw close to God, but He's the source of the pain. It's like being in a marriage with someone you still love but can't bear to look at because of an affair.

I'm going to start spiritual direction specifically for help with this, but I'd like all the help I can get! Is there a saint who would be a good fit? People have suggested various saints who have gone through the dark night of the soul, but when I read their stories, I feel some resentment at the grace they had to still believe confidently that God loved them in spite of His apparent abandonment. I don't feel that.

On a related topic, St. Teresa of Calcutta always said to "show a smiling face to Jesus" whatever you might be feeling. I feel more like yelling at Him, but I feel guilty and a bit scared when I do, like it's blasphemous. I'd rather be honest with Him, though. What do you think? Is it okay to haul off and "give Him what for"?

I am so confused. It seems to me that the first part of your statement about looking forward to a vocation of marriage and seeing this all as a gift from God is just not true. Let's get to the facts. You are still mad that you didn't get the life you wanted and feel God abandoned you.

Pay attention. God did not abandon you. You said you had to leave ten years ago for health reasons.

You are still alive

You have no reason to give God "what for". He has reason to give you "what for".

Here is another thing that is not true:
People have suggested various saints who have gone through the dark night of the soul, but when I read their stories, I feel some resentment at the grace they had to still believe confidently that God loved them in spite of His apparent abandonment.

At some point they believed that God loved them in spite of His apparent abandonment, but the fact that they felt abandoned indicates that they didn't go around feeling like this much of the time. They felt despair. Which is a sin, which is a further estrangement from God because God never abandons anyone. What a mess. That's why it's called a "Dark Night of the Soul" and not "free floating anxiety" or some "ups and downs in the faith department."

I'm not trying to minimize your pain. I just think you have it all backwards. You shouldn't be asking yourself to forgive God. You should be asking God to forgive you. He gave you some gifts that you don't seem to want. That's not His fault. The gifts are there. They arrive every day. You just keep marking them 'return to sender'.

Open them.

So! The patron saint! St. Paul.

I always think of him as the patron saint of doing a total 180. The patron saint of going full throttle in the wrong direction and then spinning right around and going pedal to the metal the other way. He couldn't have been more wrong in his direction when he was spun around. He couldn't have been more right after he picked himself up again.


Anonymous said...

Sister, I'm a little confused. It sounds like you're saying the dark night of the soul is the same as despair. Mother Teresa went through the dark night most of her life, but never despaired; in fact, she suffered the most when she was actually the closest to God. I think St. Therese de Lisieux thought at some point that she was going to end up in hell, but said that was fine with her if it made God happy.

Isn't it possible to *feel* as though you've been abandoned and still not commit the sin of despair?

Sister Mary Martha said...

You are absolutely right. I didn't mean to say that. I meant to indicate that despair is just around the corner. Also there is a difference between feeling the emotion of despair and living is a state of despair.

Anonymous said...


I love your blog and was wondering if you would have time to offer your take on a question I have.

I'm wondering how much of a role a couples' financial situation should play in determining when they should marry. More specifically, my boyfriend and I are both in college with a year and a half left before graduation, are both practicing Catholics (living very chastely, if I even need to add that), and are both as sure as we can be that it is God's will for us to be married. Two of my friends who are my year (also with 1.5 yrs left before graduation) are getting married this summer, and will be in school while married for one year w/o any source of serious income or jobs lined up. Their reasoning was, "If it's God's will for us to get married, why wait?" Is this a good way to think about marriage? If you know God has called you to the vocation of marriage with a specific person, should you just go for it? Or should you wait until you're "financially stable" (i.e.- You both have jobs, are able to support yourselves independently, etc).

Thank you, Sister!

Claudia said...

I have come to the conslusion in life is life is what we make it. We can not blame God for our little trials and tribulations. I think He is too busy to deal with the minutia in everyones life. I think that for the most part the things we think are punishment is just a matter of bad luck, or the opposite, good luck. I think there is a great deal of overlooked personal choice and responsibility. I guess that would come about the concept of Age of Resoning or Freedom of Choice.

Anonymous said...

My 2-bits is that marriage between Catholics is most times followed pretty quickly by... CHILDREN! So if you are financially able to have kids, go for it. If not, may be best to wait.

Amy Giglio said...


I know you addressed this to Sister, but if you'd like to read my $.02 here it is. As a very happily married woman I have to say this: Marriage is hard enough even when the money situation is OK. I think it's best to wait until you are both gainfully employed and a little more stable to get married. The Lord does provide and He is generous. But even as He was about to liberate the Israelites from slavery (and He provided for them in the desert), He also told them to pack up their stuff first. I don't think people should start the journey before they've put on their shoes.

And it's also important to be happy with having what you need and not worrying too much about what you WANT.

Anonymous said...

Anon., as someone who married before our financial situation was stable, I can say that it is very difficult. It isn't impossible, of course, but studies say that money is the #1 thing that couples argue about, and this has been unfortunately true for us. We also have to deal with the embarrassment of asking our parents for help when we feel like we ought not to be relying on them anymore. Furthermore, as Lawrence said, Catholic marriages are usually followed quickly by children. Unfortunately, because of our bad financial situation, we've had to delay having children (using NFP). We desperately want to have a baby, but neither of us have jobs that pay for health insurance, and we cannot afford health insurance for another person; also, my job will not cover maternity leave and my husband doesn't make enough money to support us if I take a leave of absence from my job, especially with the added expenses that come with a new baby.

We manage to be pretty happy in spite of all of this, and I never regret that we married when we did. However, I would counsel other couples to be cautious and think carefully about whether they are willing to tread this difficult path. We chose to go this way because we knew it would take a long time--years, perhaps--to become established in our professions, that there would never be a "perfect" time to get married. However, if you are planning to work in fields where you will get full-time jobs right out of college, that might pay expenses, I would advise you to wait that one year or two years more. Pray hard. Just because you're called to marry doesn't mean you're called to marry right this instant.

Anonymous said...

OK, my two cents -- I'm almost 41 years old and this August will celebrate my 20th wedding anniversary. I have a daughter who will soon be 18, and 16 and 13-year old sons.

We obviously didn't wait for financial stability, I had one year of college left when we got married, and my husband actually didn't get his degree until I was pregnant with our 3rd child. We were pretty poor those first few years, but we were happy. Very happy, in fact, and we just kept life very simple. No vacations, no eating out, we drove older cars, we worked really hard, and we rung up a whole bunch of student loans that we paid back.

If you get married young, you are likely to have children at a young age. And if that happens, you're going to have to do things differently than a lot of your friends that are waiting until they are 30 to get married and have kids. You won't own a home for many years, probably. You won't have the freedom that your friends have, and you'll probably have a lot of responsibilities. So here's the key thing -- discuss this with your fiance, and IF YOU'RE BOTH GOOD WITH THAT, then getting married young might be for you. And pray about it, very hard, for guidance.

Waiting until you're older and financially stable, by the way, does NOT guarantee a happy marriage. I have siblings who are divorced who can attest to that.

Anonymous said...

Sister -- thank you for answering my question. I can see that it sounds confusing: the main thing is that sometimes my emotions don't seem to fall in line with what I think (and pray and act on). The anger at God was something I wasn't even aware of until recently, and I've had a hard time sorting it out, as you can imagine. It's not a conscious rejection of His plan for me. I'm

Anyway, I thought I'd just give you this link to an *awesome* article written recently by Eve Tushnet, who sums up exactly what I've been thinking recently, in case you're interested: http://insidecatholic.com/Joomla/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=5237&Itemid=48.

I don't want to make excuses for myself, but I don't see my relationship with God as being something I can simply "will" to be different. I love Him and I'm faithful, but the anger and hurt are there.

Anonymous said...

Dear Caroline, love is not a "feeling" or a "sentiment", love is a decision, a commitment, a surrender to the beloved (and done with joy!). Of course, it is a decision of the will. But I bet I am much older than you and it took me years to see that so if there is a certain youthful desire to see love as a sweeping emotion, I can understand it. But here is one more piece of advice: it's looks to me that in trying to articulate your relationship to God, you are too absorbed in the very beginning of the thread, the one that is starting in you, you need to "spend" yourself more, to turn your gaze upward and, trust me or rather trust God! and you will find Him and find much more than you thought you knew. The love of God is the greatest adventure of all.

Anger is a terrible adviser, a constant distraction and a real and boring pain. I pray that your anger will melt like snow on a sunny day... Ask the Holy Spirit to take your anger away, have you thought that it can be a temptation? Ask him to take that temptation away from you, you cannot carry it right now.