I received this comment/question a little while ago and want to address it front and center because it is an important issue in religious life. It also follows a bit from Sister Susan’s post about Religious Life in the Age of Facebook.
Hello Sr. Julie. This is my first post and I would like to say how much I enjoy reading your blog. I didn’t know where to ask this question, so, I will put it here.
I am the youngest member in my congregation under 40. It’s very lonely at times. The the loneliness is difficult and I only meet with younger members from other congregations sporadically. Sometimes, I really feel like leaving my order because of the loneliness.
I am posting this because I know younger religious read your blog and thought your advice would be helpful. Thanks and God bless!
Dear Younger Sister,
So good to hear from you. I am very sorry to hear that you are having a rough time with feeling lonely. It can definitely be tough when you are the youngest one in a religious community and there’s no one near your age. You are not alone in the sense that other young religious feel the same way. Have you been able to talk about how you feel with a trusted friend in your congregation? Are you able to relate to people your own age outside of the community? For me it was helpful to stay in touch with friends my own age and to get to know colleagues with whom I minister and young people who attend my parish. I know it’s not the same as having young sisters in your own community, but it does help.
I had some struggles with the age thing for the first few years of my life with the community. I always felt (as much my own expectations as others’ expectations) like I had to mirror the religious life of my sisters who lived it as 50, 60, 70+ year-olds. I couldn’t exactly distinguish between what was a characteristic of age and what was a characteristic of religious life. It took time, and the help of wise mentors, to find my way. Not always easily, but authentically and with trust in God, in my Sisters, and in myself.
Never forget that you are a gift to the community and that you have much to offer. They need you there and are open to being changed, “formed” as it were, by you just as much as you are to being changed by them. Spend time with the Sisters who “get” you and who can help you grown in religious life in an age-appropriate way.
A few weeks ago when I was home in Monroe at my IHM Motherhouse, I brought my laptop in with me when I went to visit a dear friend, Sister Annunciata (“Nuncie”), who will be 100 years old in August. She is a light in my life and I can always feel her prayers with me. After chatting for a while, I pulled out the laptop and explained a bit more about my blog and my ministry online. I took her through the blog and read her some posts and comments (wireless Internet at the Motherhouse is totally awesome). She was so happy for me and proud that I was extending gospel hospitality and the IHM mission online. It meant the world to me that she could rejoice in what I was doing even though she herself had never been on the Internet.
It is nuns like Nuncie who see the gift that you are and can encourage it by even the twinkle in her eye. Find your Nuncies and don’t be afraid to let your light shine. Loneliness is definitely a reality, but don’t let it consume you or prevent you from experiencing new kinds of relationships. At the same time, find ways to connect with younger people. And come online and hang out with younger sisters. There are a bunch of us on Facebook too. Perhaps we should form our own online forum just to hang out with and encourage one another.
My prayers are with you, Younger Sister. Please feel free to contact me anytime if you’d like to connect.