Freedom in Monasticism and What It Means for the Un-cloistered

When I was younger I wanted to be a nun, badly. Even though I eventually discerned a vocation to marriage, I still retain a love and admiration of the monastic life from spending time with the Sisters.

While I firmly believe that everyone should embrace their current vocation, I see the vocations to religious life and married life as complementary. Aspects of monasticism still ring true in my life as a young wife and mother! Here are three big takeaways that I found freeing in monastic life and married life.

Time is Intentional

One of the best parts about living in the convent was feeling so productive, yet so relaxed. I think this miracle balance is achieved by giving everything a proper place and time in your life. In a monastery this budgeting of time and energy is determined by a Rule. The Rule lays out priorities such as prayer, study, eating, rest, work, and recreation and allots to each an appropriate amount of time and placement in the day.

Yes, it’s a schedule, but it’s different! A rule is crafted to value and protect those things that are important. In the order I was discerning, it was important to reconnect as a community after spending most of the day split off into our work areas. So after dinner we had an hour of recreation. You could not work during recreation, and everyone was to stay in the common area barring sickness. I have never played so many board games, card games, or done crafting projects on such a regular basis as I did in convent. It was a balm for community life!

Holly Pierlot talked about this beautifully in her book A Mother’s Rule of Life. I also think Sterling Jaquith’s Catholic Mom Challenge is another fantastic resource for people wanting to ease into creating a rule.

Knowing When It’s Not My Call

Not everything in my life is something that should be hemmed and hawed over. Often because there is only one viable option, but frequently because whatever decision needs to be made is not my call. This is perhaps the greatest source of struggle when living in community. It is so hard to give up the emotional and mental claim to decisions that affect our lives! The convent taught me that we all live at the nexus of relationship with others, and that that space is where we will be most authentically human. I have to let others make calls that are rightfully theirs.

In family life this means letting my husband do bath and bedtime his own way, accepting that a friend may or may not take my advice, and being grateful for the food someone else has made or planned. I don’t have to have an opinion about their decision, think about it, or even deal with it. I just have to know when it’s not my call, and let it go!

Simplicity Where Freeing But Generous Always

The movement towards minimalism has made the aesthetic of “living like a monk” (almost) fashionable, but there is a subtle yet important difference in the simplicity of monastic living from Instagram minimalism. While most inhabitants of a monastery will have only a few simple garments for personal use, you will frequently find extra dishes, sheets, towels. In a monastery, or convent, simplicity is valued when it is freeing, but generosity is paramount.

Less time choosing what to wear? On board!

Unable to seat guests for dinner? That’s a problem.

Freedom is not hindered by the presence of others, and our simplifying must always be primarily concerned with the needs of those living in that place and those we might be called to welcome.

Do these sound like freeing concepts to you? Where do you see freedom in monastic life?

 

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