Sister Anna's Challenge
During my next conference with Sister Anna, we talked about solutions for my back pain, including possible physical therapy. Towards the end of our meeting, I mentioned how I was working with my mom on my fantasy novel.
“My mom’s been editing it for me,” I confided happily. “She’s polishing the story and then my family’s going to self-publish it!”
Sister Anna’s expression grew concerned. “Is there a lot of work involved? Your book can’t be published just as it is?”
My face flushed with embarrassment. I'd originally planned to revise and self-publish the book myself before Entrance Day. Unfortunately, one busy summer had not been enough time to complete this gargantuan task.
“My story still needs some editing,” I admitted. “My mom’s helping me, but she doesn’t want to make big changes without asking me first.”
As Sister Anna listened, her frown deepened. “So this isn’t a simple project, one that your family can complete for you.”
I shook my head, wincing at Sister’s serious expression.
“You’re preparing for your cloistered novice year, Sister Mary Joan. This isn’t the time to be working on a big writing project.”
I fidgeted in my chair.
“I fear all this work involved with your book will become a distraction from religious life. If you wish to be ready for novice year, you will have to stop working on your novel.” Her words were gentle, but certain.
I lowered my head, feeling childish and…well, useless. Writing stories was what I did best. But now Sister Anna had called it a distraction.
“Okay,” I stuttered, not feeling okay about it at all. “So…I shouldn’t keep working with my mom on the book?”
“It’s not enough to stop working on it,” Sister Anna answered. “You even need to stop thinking about it. Stop thinking about your book, your characters, your story. All of it.”
“Stop thinking about it?” I repeated weakly. For every hour I spent writing my fantasy book, I spent another ten hours thinking about it. All the storylines, all the possible outcomes. Worldbuilding and character development and the latest reveals. Who was in love with whom, and what noble deeds Dylan or Will would do next, and how Philia would feel about this or that thing, and—
If I did stop thinking about it, my spirit lamented, what would be left?
Good, Not Garbage
I carried Sister’s words around all week without coming to any peaceful, certain decision about them. The possibility of giving up my novel was just too painful to consider, so I distracted myself with other things.
But during Sunday Mass, after communion, the Lord had my full attention. I couldn’t busy myself with postulant duties or other sisterly concerns. It was just me and the Lord, in my chapel stall. Nowhere else to be, nothing else to think about.
The sisters in the schola, or choir, were singing a sublime rendition of Ubi Caritas. The words and music were like an elevator to focused, concentrated prayer. To contemplation with the Lord.
But the Lord didn’t turn my thoughts to some passage from the Gospel, or some act of charity I could perform for my sisters.
No, He took me right into my novel.
First I viewed the capital, a spiraling white castle glistening with pearls and precious stones. Then I saw my character Dylan, as he dragged himself across a slick dungeon floor. His enemies had discovered him, but he had no strength left to fight. He lacked even the stamina to crawl out of the chamber’s blinding ring of light.
Then came his father's desperate cry: “Dylan, boy! Do not go gentle!”
Dylan heard him, and turned. In the final hour, his errant father had come.
I hunched forward in my chapel stall. I loved that scene with Dylan and his father. It was about atonement and conversion, and the bond between father and son.
You’re not giving up garbage to follow Me, the Lord said. You’re giving up something good.
Rays of gorgeous winter sun drenched my folded hands.
You made something beautiful, Mary. Wet, hot tears stung my cheeks. And now the Lord wants it for Himself.
I couldn’t pretend anymore that giving up my book meant little to me. No, it meant giving the Lord my greatest treasure.
“Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols?
I will answer him and care for him.
I am like a flourishing juniper;
your fruitfulness comes from me.”
-Hosea 14:8, New International Version
I read this passage over and over again during my year in Texas, long before entering. It was about Ephraim, or Israel, and his idols. And about myself, and my own idols: about everything I put before and ahead of God.
My novel appeared again in my imagination, lovely and poignant and powerful.
You can have it, Lord, if You want it, I told Him, with great effort. I love You more than my novel.
The schola’s Ubi Caritas ended.
I love You more, Lord.
We concluded Mass with the Sign of the Cross: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…”
My novel wasn’t mine anymore. It belonged to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
I love You more, Lord, I repeated, deepening my determination. I want to follow You more.
Thank you so much for reading! Please join me next week to hear how letting go of my novel changed my entire convent experience. (For the better!)
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About the Author:
Mary 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. She writes about her convent experience at www.monasteryinmyheart.com, and about her struggles transitioning to post-convent life at www.maryrosekreger.com.
Mary also shares faith and fantasy quotes on her Instagram account, @faithandfantasy1.