All the Sisters sat in their designated places within the chapel. The seats closest to the altar were reserved for…us. The postulants. Despite being the newest members of the community, we had front row seats in the chapel.
Well, we probably need all the help we can get, I thought, as one of the other postulants stumbled over a floor tile. I smoothed the front of my polyester vest. The downside to the front of the chapel, of course, was that all the Sisters behind us would see our every mistake.
Sister Anna had already given us a lesson about this topic.
“It’s not about doing everything perfect,” she told us. “You are month-old postulants. It will take time and practice for you to learn the customs of our community, and that’s okay. It’s the effort and the love that the Lord cares about, not about perfection.”
“But don’t we want to do things the right way?” one of the postulants asked.
“Of course,” Sister Anna agreed. “But doing things ‘perfectly’ or the ‘right way’ doesn’t mean anything by itself. It’s the love we put into our actions that makes them meaningful. So…” she walked sedately across the front of the classroom. “Do the best that you can, with the time that you have, for the love of God.”
Do the best that you can...for the love of God, I repeated to myself.
When I was serving in the refectory, presenting a pitcher of iced tea to the older Sisters: “Do the best that you can…”
As I wrote my first proposition for Logic class, and the bell for Vespers rang: “…with the time that you have…”
When I rushed to spiritual reading after scrubbing the showers: “…for the love of God.”
I slumped forward in my chapel stall, gliding my fingers over black rosary beads.
“The fourth Sorrowful Mystery: the Carrying of the Cross. Our Father…” The lead Sister continued, with her usual brisk pace.
Meanwhile I squirmed, trying to avoid the stench of my postulant clothes. I’d barely managed to get to the chapel on time after cleaning the novitiate bathroom. I’d made the rookie mistake of mixing the bleach water with the Scrubbing Bubbles, which produced a horrible smelling bi-product that clung to my polyester and stained my white blouse yellow.
“Hail Mary, full of grace…” I choked out, pulling at the front of my blouse. What I really needed was a shower. But the bell for prayers had gone off before I could do anything more than put the cleaning supplies away.
“…pray for us sinners…”
I glanced above the altar, at Jesus on the cross. He seemed so peaceful there. Almost as if He were sleeping.
Lord, what am I doing here? I huffed in frustration. It’s been almost a month since Entrance Day, but all I've done is scrub showers, serve dinner, and take some easy college classes. When are we going to get to the good stuff?
As the Hail Marys flew by, my thoughts zoomed along at three hundred miles an hour. There will be some good stuff later, right?
All the praying was wonderful; it was the silence I didn't like. In a place that was so externally peaceful and quiet, I was astonished by all the noise inside my head.
You don’t belong here, Mary. You’re not good enough to be a sister. Who mixes the bleach with the ammonia anyway? Why don’t you just go back home where you belong?
I cringed as the accusations assaulted me like physical blows.
Lord, I don’t want to be thinking about myself and my own problems, I told Him. I want to be praying and thinking about You. Please, show me how.
Don't Think Without Him
Soon afterwards, it was my turn for a conference with Sister Anna. She called me over in the middle of a baseball game with the novices.
“How is postulant life going?” she asked, with a smile.
“Okay, I guess,” I said. “I like it here. But…when I pray, or anytime there’s silence, I just have so many negative thoughts. Especially when I make mistakes.” I sighed and tugged down my postulant skirt. “Which is pretty much all the time.”
Sister Anna nodded in understanding. “That’s the tape recorder going on in your head. If you don’t like what it’s playing, take the tape out and put a different one inside.”
I considered that idea. It sounded good right now, but how would I know when I was listening to a bad tape? When it was happening, the words always sounded so true.
“Jesus wants to be present with you, always,” Sister Anna instructed. “Don’t think without Him.”
“But how do I do that, Sister?”
“Tell Him, ‘Jesus, I don’t want to think about anything, unless I’m thinking about it with You.’”
I pulled out my little notebook, scribbled that down. “Okay. Thanks, Sister!”
It sounded simple. But would it work?
Two hours later during Adoration, I had an opportunity to try out Sister’s advice. The
moment I knelt in my stall to adore Jesus in the Eucharist, the negative thoughts came rushing back into my brain.
You shouldn’t be here. You're pathetic. You’ll never be able to do this. Just give up and go home. The thoughts whirled around in my brain, turning faster and faster.
Like a fan. I closed my eyes, pictured
all my negative thoughts spinning like the blades of a giant fan, sharp enough to cut anyone or anything in their way.
“Jesus,” I whispered under my breath, “I don’t want to think about anything, unless I’m thinking with you.”
In my imagination, I saw Jesus standing on the other side of the fan. He gazed at me with a tender, serious expression. My negative thoughts cut us off from each other, with such turbulence I couldn’t possibly hear anything the Lord might say to me.
Then Jesus extended His hand towards me. Toward the deadly fan that stood between us.
I didn’t have the strength or motivation to stop my negative thoughts, just for me. But could I stop them for the Lord?
My hands folded together in prayer. It was time for some serious spiritual warfare.
Jesus kept extending His hand, gazing at me with love. I focused all my mental energy on stopping those blades.
I won’t think without You, I won’t think without You, I won’t think without You…
The fan blades slowed, then stopped. For a single, blessed moment, my mind stilled, and my heart rested. Afternoon sun from the stained glass windows warmed my face.
Then the Lord reached through the gap and caught my hand in His own.
New words rang out in the silence:
“Mary, I am going to make you into a saint.”
They had to be words from the Lord. So light, so positive, so freeing. Looking beyond the awkward, broken mess that was Sister Mary Joan, to some far distant future. He didn't say I was going to make myself into a saint. I couldn't even make myself into a decent shower scrubber. No, the Lord said that He was going to do it.
If You're the one in charge, then I know it can happen, I told Him. Jesus, I trust in You.
Thank you so much for reading! Join me next week for a day in the life of a postulant, from the 5 am "heroic minute", to lights out at 10 pm. And meet new convent friends!
About the Author:
Mary Rose Kreger lives in the metro Detroit area with her family, where she writes fantasy for teens, and blogs about her spiritual journey: before, during, and after the convent. Mary also shares faith and fantasy quotes on her Instagram account,@faithandfantasy1.