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.