Question from a website visitor …

I’m stepping into religious life… or at least I think I am. I was wondering – do you ever feel lonely and alone? I really hate travelling alone and I yearn for the physical presence of a man – not sexual – just the ‘being there’. Jesus is my spouse, yes, but there are times when He just isnt there – and you just want someone to lean on or to hold you or to just pick you up from the airport. I dont know if you know what I mean. Is this normal? And how can we deal with it? Or do we just accept it and learn to suffer it?

Thank you for the question, Rosemary. It’s a good one, one that I certainly wondered about when I was considering religious life. The answer has many dimensions, so I’ll just give you my thoughts (hopefully in some semblance of order) on loneliness.

Feeling lonely is something everyone feels at one time or another, nuns included. But do nuns feel it more acutely because they make a vow to be celibate, that is, nuns choose to not have 1) sex or 2) romantic or exclusive relationships? (NOTE: the vow of celibacy is actually not about the “have not’s” but about being free to love all and go where God calls us to … but that’s the subject of a future post). Because of this vow, it may seem like women who become nuns are going to be physically lonely — like you said, not necessarily in a sexual way, but just having someone physically present to you.

This is a question that I too had when I was discerning religious life. I wondered about how intimacy (not talking sexual here) could be expressed as a nun — physical intimacy, emotional intimacy, spiritual intimacy. I didn’t know if the vow of celibacy and just the general life of being a nun prohibited any kind of close connection with others. I treasured my relationships with close friends, siblings, etc. What was going to happen?

Now, I’m not exactly sure how this all worked itself out (probably by living into it and trusting God), but I do know that I came to realize that God did not desire that I be cut off from everyone, that I be isolated and therefore alone. It’s just that my primary relationships were now with my religious community, and (as it always had been) with God. My community of nuns is my family. They’ve got my back — always. And I’m there for them. I’d drop just about anything (short of someone else’s welfare) in a heartbeat for any one of my nuns. So in this sense, I am never lonely or alone.

In another sense, however, there is a kind of loneliness that I and others (not just nuns) experience. The source of such loneliness is not necessarily lack of another person, but that ultimate realization (conscious or otherwise) that only God can fulfill us. Saint Augustine wrote, “Our souls are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you.” Even with our closest relationships, we feel this radical loneliness because we long to dwell with God. Don’t mean to go existential on you here, but it’s an important understanding of loneliness. It’s what helps people not suffer loneliness, but embrace loneliness as an experience of God.

A little while back I wrote a post called, Do Nuns Know How to Love? You might check that out to for a response to your question here.

Do respond and let’s have a conversation about this. And I know others will have insight into this question too.