Here's an exhaustive list. You should not discern religious life if you are:
Already a priest, nun or monk, or
A consecrated single person
That’s it, in my book. Those are the only reasons not to discern religious life.
I’m writing this because I remember the plethora of “reasons” I invented to not discern. I remember my intense desire to run away from the question “Is God actually calling me?” I remember how painful it was to convince myself to get up the guts and set aside the time to visit a convent. I remember the excuses I made, usually “I’ve got a lot going on right now,” as though my plans automatically trumped God’s. I remember so well how I grasped at every word my spiritual director said that I could interpret as letting me off the hook from discerning.
It took so incredibly long to actually do discernment, meaning to face the question, pray about it, and visit a convent. I was bugged by thoughts that I ought to, but I would just put it off. I wish I had asked myself this question then:
What do I have to lose by discerning religious life?
Time? Nope. You’re giving that time to God and he will multiply your blessings a million trillion times through whatever time you give him. (I got engaged to my husband five months after meeting him, and we had two babies by our second anniversary! #becarefulwhatyouprayfor)
Your friends or family will think you’re weird or disapprove? Find yourself a new posse or go in secret.
You’re nervous? Terrified, even? Well, that’s natural. Take a deep breath, find an order you think you might click with, talk to your spiritual director, and go. Have the “seek adventure and take the leap” motivational pictures on your Pinspiration board done nothing for you? The nuns won’t suck you in and imprison you, I promise. Every vocation story involves nerves because we’re human. I was super nervous before my first meeting with John. I was shaking in my boots as I pulled up to the first convent I visited. Jesus himself felt anxiety, sometimes intensely. Nerves are just feelings; nothing more.
You have a lot going on with your career or life? You will always have a lot going on with your career and life. You can go on the internet and find 16,839 things to do on any given weekend. The list is endless. You can fill your time with less important things, or you can give it to God.
You just don't feel like you would like the life and you've always felt attracted to marriage? Well, ask yourself: do you know what a religious's life actually looks like? Hint: it's not just praying. I mostly saw families and few religious growing up, so it was natural to want to be a wife and mother. However, that was no reason to put God's will in a box of my making. I was shocked by how much I was drawn to the daily life of the Sisters I visited. They were happy and led fulfilling lives. They are inspiring and I am continually blessed by the presence of the people I met while visiting convents.
Ultimately, you can’t choose between religious life OR married life unless you’re actually discerning both.
When you truly discern between options, you are allowing God to sit in the driver’s seat. He’s the only driver who won’t crash your life. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Let’s talk about the benefits for your future, whatever your vocation, of discerning religious life. The obvious one is that, if you are meant to be a religious, you will be happiest having discerned and discovered that! John and I frequently talk about why discerning, even though we weren't called, has benefitted our marriage. We have lots to work on still, but I maintain that our discernment was a gift to each other. Here’s why:
We both met incredible people who continue to influence and help our spiritual lives today.
Discernment helped tear us away from the false belief that “it’s all about me.” Giving our will over to God really prepared us for laying ourselves down for each other and our kids- a daily necessity in marriage!
When we met, we each felt found. The peace that eluded us as we discerned religious life was suddenly, unquestionably there. During discernment we had learned to tune into our desires and sort through them to find the deepest ones, and when we met it felt like “oh, there you are.” We don't question whether or not we made the right choice by marrying each other.
Religious orders are unified by a mission called a charism. John and I both remained attracted to the idea of a charism so we made our own. We put our heads together during our engagement and came up with a list of values we wanted to live out in family life. This has been a source of great unity for us.
We mutually feel that our purpose is to offer our lives and everything we have up to God. Therefore, we continue discerning our life choices in light of the question “what does God want?” Having that question be our starting point is hugely freeing and brings us closer to each other. It feels like we're under God's umbrella together being sheltered from the storms, and that's a pretty cozy place to be!
You may be called. Do yourself a favor, my friend. Go and find out.