Unveiled: My Life and Lessons as a Nun

A guest post by Melissa Tandoc of the Graciedo blog:

Having grown up in the Catholic faith my entire life in a very religious community and family, the call to know God was growing louder.

At the age of 20, I made a decision which would forever alter the course of my life. I decided to get hitched.

And I’m not talking marriage. I’m talking about a lifelong commitment to Jesus.

Dashing my parents hopes and dreams of a marriage, kids, a nursing career and dreams of going to America, I left it all behind to do something that felt so right in my life – to  become a nun.

The calling was so strong. I just had to be with Jesus at that moment.  Similar to Mother Teresa, I imagined a life of service to the poor. My mind was set on ‘doing’ things for God.

A journey of faith

The thing is, one has to be formed (prepared) before immersion (living in a mission area). It took several years of Bible studies, theology classes and tests in relationship before the real thing took place.

My spiritual mission started as a nurse in a private school. I asked my spiritual mentors, ‘how come I was assigned there when I wanted to be with the poor?’ However, within the months, I saw that the ‘poverty’ the rich children had there was deficiency of attention from their parents. They had all the material comforts of the world but with psychological and emotional issues of the modern world.  I have learned to embrace those children in their needs.

After a year, I was sent to live with the street children. With them, I learned that kindness isn’t in the softness of one’s voice. I learned how to be gentle and firm at the same time. I wanted to stay there with them but God has other plans.

The time came for me to go to a foreign mission and I said, yes, to a mission in North Africa. Preaching in North Africa was a no-no. And even if it were permitted, I couldn’t have done so with the little Arabic that I studied. It came to me as a surprise that some people there spoke Italian (it was an Italian colony before) and it was a huge relief!

Not all patients welcomed the idea of a ‘Christian’ working in their midst and some called me ‘kalba’ (female dog). It took years of working with them to finally call me ‘sorella’ (Italian for sister).

Preaching with words was prohibited but preaching with acts of love and kindness weren’t. Most of them said that, ‘Christians’ lit the dark rooms of the hospital where we worked.

I spent several years in North Africa, being a nun and serving as a hemodialysis nurse.

Maybe I could pause here because the next question will be, “If I were happy doing all these, how come I left?” And that would be another story (and another future post).

In taking this path, here are 5 lessons from my spiritual journey as a nun:

 Take life at your own pace. I decided to enter the convent at a time when most of my friends built their careers, dated and created their own families. Instead of following a set path and doing what others were doing, I did things on my own pace and time.

It’s something similar to child or a plant. We grow through our experiences.

Respect your own pace.

  Spiritual direction and trust is necessary. The answer to life is not in the formulas nor in the seven-steps to this and that. There are no quick answers nor shortcuts in living life fully.

We need modern day saints, holy more than spiritual people (priests, nuns), who could guide us in discerning our path.

Allow God to lead. Yes, we did psychology to understand ourselves better. But there are limitations to science. We couldn’t rely on psychology to heal us. I dare people to have faith that God works in our lives and to listen to the path that God has for you.

My greatest teacher and mentor, Jesus, was my guide to entering and then leaving this path that I had chosen.

->If religious life is not your cup of tea, then learn to discern . Your inner voice,  will tell you.

Go back to the roots. Dig deep. We are taught to forget our past. But I think we should do the opposite.  Reread your history with God’s eyes – in faith and openness.

Embrace your past and use your past as an opportunity to grow in faith. In the alternative, use ALL your experiences to be the best person you can be today. You are who you are because of your story.

Don’t dwell in it but don’t forget it neither.

Humility

The lessons learned in the convent are helping me live more humbly in my regular life today.

I am reminded not to have the ‘holier than thou’ attitude or judgment of others. We are all journeying together ~ some further along and others at the starting point.

Where you are on your spiritual journey is fine.

In my next post, Vishnu has asked me to write about how I began a new life outside the convent. Update: Part 2 Unveiled: Why I left? When should you?

To pick up a copy of my book, Is God Listening?, about God, spirituality and resilience, click here.  

30 Comments

  1. Like I told Melissa this morning it’s nice to see two of my favorite people working together.
    Melissa – thank you for sharing this part of your life story. I have gathered parts of it over the years, but didn’t have all the details you shared here. In many ways, although I had a regular job, I delayed other things in life as I followed my own Mission working with young people in the Church. Later, I too was involved to some extent with working for street children. I was told by at least three people that I had a ‘vocation’ to be a nun – and that confused me a lot. I’ve shared that with you. However, as I look back, I regret no part of my journey – I know everything gave meaning and depth to my life. I’m sure your experiences have done the same for you. Looking forward to reading the next part!

    1. People are too quick to tell us what our vocation is but only you could decide what it is.

      It took me time to appreciate my journey 😉 ~ you could tell, we’ve been friends since 2011 and I’ve never mentioned this 😛 And you are one of my most intimate friends BS.

      I always think it was necessary that I went there and had my youth spent with the sisters. I have learned a lot about myself and relationships through them. I really gave them a hard time… but everything has a reason.

      I also thought you were a nun before 😛 Love you lots and I’m happy to be journeying with you now.

  2. As well as I know you, Melissa, I had not put this piece of the puzzle together; I knew, of course, that you had been involved in mission work, but had no idea you actually joined a convent. Wow! And, what great spiritual advice you have offered here – you show a wisdom far beyond your young years. Just marvelous!
    I am looking forward to your next installment, my dear.
    And, like Corinne said above, how wonderful it is to see Vishnu and you working together – you are both like family to me!
    Love and blessings!

    1. The next installment was, honestly, added by Vishnu :P… yes, but it would be more liberating if everything is put out into the light.

      I never thought it was necessary to mention that I was a nun although at different points in my sharing, I was becoming the missionary star instead of Jesus.

      You are one of my inspirations to be a better me and I’ll never forget how I saw you in my vision ~ you pulled me out through a difficult test through your prayers.

      Love you lots Martha. I am blessed to be journeying with you this time.

  3. Hi Melissa,

    It’s great to see you at Vishnu’s blog.

    I really enjoyed reading your guest post and learning more about you.

    One of the biggest commitments I’ve left behind is the need to be a huge achiever in the material sense. I feel lucky to have embraced religion and spirituality earlier rather than later. I still see so many senior people in my own family caught up in endless suffering because they didn’t explore themselves and the world from a spiritual dimension.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Hiten ~ it’s good to see you too and thank you for taking the time to read…

      I could say the same of some family members and friends ~ but couldn’t impose on it. They have to decide in order to be well anchored. Regarding the tremendous need to achieve something ~ whether it be your name, your reputation or wealth (as you wrote, in the material sense)~ you are not alone. What you did is a great risk and I commend you for it. We all want a life of security and stability but embracing the opposite is a huge feat.

      Thank you for sharing Hiten 🙂

  4. Hi Melissa. Your story is cool! And the intrigue is awesome !

    Following your heart can be tough but very rewarding. How is it with your friends/family now, since you have been through this experience? Have their viewpoints changed?

    For me, I’m leaving behind huge commitments daily! ha ha! No, on a serious note: I left behind a marriage that was choking me, much to the dismay of my family. But living for others is just not in my nature, so the decision was worth it.

    Karen Armstrong is one of my favourite writers who left the nun life behind. Amazing story. Do you know of her?

    1. Thank you Razwana. I like you mentioning the ‘intrigue is awesome!’

      I’ve always followed my heart but it’s very impulsive ~ I’m learning to balance it with my mind… Would you believe that my family was very happy I came back to them? It took more time for friends/neighbors/college mates to absorb the change?

      The truth is almost all the people here know (even my bosses and they call me ‘sister’) and only my friends online don’t know.

      They still ‘see’ the nun in me ~ in the way I speak and maybe act sometimes…

      Thank you for sharing Razwana ~ I see that you are a brave woman. I would’ve said something about marriage but then, if it’s not helping you grow and you feel suffocated, then it’s time to decide to breathe…and I think you are happy with your decision.

      No, I haven’t heard of Karen Armstrong but will google about it. Thank you!

  5. What a wonderful article. So full of grace and incredible light.

    I’m a firm believer that with God all things are possible, even the seemingly impossible (to me) and I’ve had to let go of believing I was master of my universe. It took a while and truth be told it’s a work in progress…but accepting one master of the universe with powers far beyond anything I could muster up has actually made life soooo much easier and flowing.

  6. I’m so amazed by the depth of your insights. Each one resonates for me strongly. I’m going back through my life now and looking at how I can heal, purify, and use for good everything that has happened to me. Thank you for this profound inspiration.

    1. Hi Ms. Sandra ~ thank you! I think what makes the insights more convincing now is it has passed through several tests and I have learned a lot not just with my mind. I am learning to practice them with my heart. That part on using ALL our experiences was Vishnu’s ~ he’s such a great mentor.

      Thank you that it resonated with you.

  7. Bella,

    You reflect His light whether you are overtly talking about Him or simply sending kind words across the Internet in a virtual, loving embrace.

    Maybe you don’t realize how much your words–which are ultimately His words–have the power to heal and to restore.

    Talking about respecting your own pace hit home for me. While I considered myself a devout Catholic for most of my life, the last so many years have been a struggle to find hope again and believe. Sometimes, we can find ourselves in places we never thought we’d be only to discover that we needed to be there to finally understand others’ hurts, needs, wants–to get past our own.

    Thank-you for your gift of being and love. Your inner beauty lights up dark spaces.

    Love to you and safe travels,

    Pamela

  8. As I wrote on your timeline, you have touched me deeply with your words Pamela. We have always been connected through dreams and prayers. Maybe those dreams were God’s way of talking to us.

    Know that in every circumstance of your life, He is truly with You. And we are always united in prayers.

    *Hugging you* ~ know how much you are loved! I care for you (*even if I have not been a nun). Love you always!

  9. I love how you remind us to take life at our own pace. It is such an important message because so often we are pressured not to, I love the idea of trusting yourself to know what that pace is for you. Thank you for the lovely post!

  10. Thank you very much Wendy.

    It also took me time to come to terms with this. Things are revealed at their own pace ~ and we just have to be patient and wait til we grow and understand them. And there will be mistakes along the way ~ what matters, is we learn from them.

    Keep your pace and your peace 🙂 Lots of love.

  11. Your life is slowly unfolding right before our eyes, Melissa. Do know that some of the facets of your life already revealed have blessed me tremendously.

    A LOT has been going on in my life right now that I am not yet ready to share, but are teaching me more to allow God to lead my life, as well as the life of everyone else around me. And I do notice that there is more peace when I just leave everything up to Him whenever I feel like I’ve done the best I can. It is grace to truly learn to let go…

    Beautiful, inspiring post, Melissa. I am looking forward to the next installment. And am always looking forward to learn from you. God bless <3 🙂

    1. Hi Irene 🙂 It took me time to respond to this, my apologies.

      Thank you for your comment. I remember what brought us closer together from last year. I care for you deeply. I know that you are capable of reflection but sometimes the ‘mood’ just get in the way. Be patient with yourself. You are not forced to open up like I did ~ but you will at your own time. It may take many years but everything will come to the surface ~ the important thing is to keep on sharing what you have right now. Know that God loves you where you are and whatever point you are in your spiritual life. Keep on journeying.

      And thank you so much for ‘listening’ to what I write. Your reflections really contribute much to enrich a post.

      Lots of love and I will wait too for my next installment lol… United in prayers always!

  12. Great story and lessons! I love your statement: “Preaching with words was prohibited but preaching with acts of love and kindness weren’t.” It’s important to show God to others before we tell about God. I’m a firm believer of living a life of example.

  13. Thank you very much for your comment Dan.

    I also believe that Dan ~ and it’s a continuous journey. Maybe it wouldn’t even be such a great effort to ‘show’ God if there’s much love in one’s heart that could easily be reflected in our love for other people.

  14. Thank you so much for a job well done Melissa. I’m so glad you told this story and inspired many people in the process. Of course, all your lessons are excellent and your self-discoveries and lessons are applicable to all of us. For example, we all need to go on our own pace in life. And using our past experiences to be a better person today.

    Welcome back to the civilian life and I can’t wait to read Part 2. And part 3 🙂 Thanks again for writing this and being so open and vulnerable with a big part of your life.

  15. Thanks God right? and thank you. You have played a great role in this ‘unveiling.’

    We shall see about Part 2… part 3? LOL… what’s that going to be?

  16. wow, I didn’t know you were a nun! And very interesting post… I look forward to your future post 🙂

    I can relate though, because I put myself in a monastery for 6 months. I wasn’t there to become a monk (in that 6 months I knew very strongly that WASN’T my path)… but it was still slowing my pace down to what’s “normal” instead of concentrating on my career. I am very glad to have these experiences though and it’s taught me a lot about life. I wouldn’t even be opposed to living in a monastery for a year or more… maybe by my midlife crisis? lol

    1. Thank you for your comment Janet.

      I think you are fortunate to live with the ‘monks.’ I was an active missionary. And the lifestyle would’ve been totally different had I been a Poor Clare.

      I think I also need the silence and discipline found in the monastery.

      LOL, I’m not praying for a midlife crisis for you ~ but if need be to experience a new set of life lessons, then be a missionary (Just kidding).

      God bless and lots of love on your way.

  17. The first thing I thought when I read your post was, “WOW.” It takes real courage to go against parental and societal pressure to lead the life you want.

    I say a big Amen to “taking life at your own pace.” Before my husband and I quit our jobs to do service around the world, I felt immensely pressured to do certain things, to be at a certain place in my life. People didn’t even have to say these things out loud to me; it felt like everyone just “knew” that these were the things people should strive for and achieve.

    I’m doing better at going at my own pace, but every now and then I get niggling feelings of “Should I be doing this? Should I be doing that?” It’s hard to let go of preconceived notions that are subconscious and shared by so many. But I am inspired by your story and I can’t wait to hear the second part!

  18. Hi Jammie ~ thank you! I’m so happy to see you ~ at your guest post you talked about traveling and just doing it ~ and I did 🙂

    Thank you also for reminding me of that ‘courage’ when I decided to become a nun. I think even the age has something to do with that and my impulsiveness although now, I’m learning to slow down things a bit.

    I think love could make one do everything. I am glad to hear that it was a mutual decision for you and your husband to travel and do service around the world. “Pressure” will always be there when we ‘think’ of others’ opinions but if you know what you want and how to get it, then things will be easier…

    It is good pause at times like what you’re doing to validate certain aspects of your life. Be at peace and don’t think too much ~ trust much 🙂

    Lots of love to you and your husband ~ you are doing great. God bless!

  19. Hi Melissa ! loved reading your post, I can related very well with this post, at 25 I desired to commit myself to Jesus, and was seriously thinking of a committed life, I did not know how or where to start, till a friend of mine suggested that I take a break for a year and observe the life of salesian sisters who work for youth and education.

    I left my home town to be in Chennai, Tamil, India to work with the salesian sisters in a school, I worked as a teacher for a year, and it was very clear that this life was not meant for me. I came back and continued to work with young people in our local parish and later joined a charismatic group… as you rightly put taking life at its own pace is very important, and letting God to lead us is the most beautiful aspect.. I am glad to read this post, for it brought in so many memories of past. Thanks to you and vishnu for this post … hope to read the next part ..

  20. Loved reading this post esp because it is written by a nun and the points are so heart warming to read. Given that I grew up in close proximity to nuns in Central Africa, I could totally connect to it. I like a point mentioned here ‘We grow through our own experiences’ – that is so true.

    Thanks Vishnu for getting such a wonderful, spiritual person to write this post.

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