Monday, August 30, 2010

Saying yes at 50-something

In 2000, I attended my first vocation retreat. I was 47 years old. Three weeks ago, I publically made perpetual (final) profession of vows as a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa.

Why would anyone say “yes” to beginning a discernment process toward vowed religious life when in her late 40s and early 50s? I have been asked some form of that question numerous times. There is one answer for me: The inner stirring was too great to ignore. The “chase” [by God] in The Hound of Heaven, a 19th century poem by Francis Thompson, has become a metaphor for my journey into religious life. There was pursuit, surrender, and a “yes” – actually, many yeses.

Discerning religious life in your fifties is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Separately and together, the Congregation and I took the time we needed for good questions, honest conversations, and much reflection to determine if this would be a good fit. There is a lot to let go of when you’re my age, including a few possessions (like my dog!) to which I had become attached. I also chose to let go of exclusive relationships and things that symbolize individual success and buying power. These are just a few. I have however, become a member of a large family, learning more every day about “community of goods” and shared responsibility for the good of the whole. I have chosen to combine my energy with women who are also committed to reflecting God’s presence in the world.

Learning to live interdependently continues to be a challenge. It’s comforting to know that the process of becoming Dominican is a life-long one. The Spirit still stirs within and the persistent voice of God remains a companion. Is the call to religious life also stirring deeply within you?

Sr. Tanya Williams, OP


  1. Dear Tanya,
    I, too, discerned religious life in my late forties and completed the end of my novitiate year in St. Louis at age fifty. For me, growing up in a lare familiy helped me to adjust to the "rigors" of community. When asked to tell my vocation story, I liken God to a gentle nag who does not give up the nagging until one sees the light and gives in. I make my final profession to God an dteh Dominican Sisters of San Rafael two years ago. I am the happiest I have ever been in my life. Grace to you and peace,

  2. Mary--
    Thank you for sharing some of your late discernment story with us. You and I have a lot in common, it seems, including novitiate time in St. Louis and joy of life as a vowed sister. Blessings to you and all of my/our Dominican Sisters of San Rafael.

  3. Lovely post! I'm a novice at 31, but I share some of the letting-go that you mentioned. I am also glad to know that the "becoming" a sister is not a process that ends throughout our lifetime.


  4. This is a wonderful and inspirational post. I have discerned for several years a call to the religious life, and had said yes and had found a community.....but in the last year, I felt this tremendous tugging to another direction which caused me to step back and hit PAUSE....I realize it was not only me hitting that Pause button, but our Lord, for whatever it is He needs me to accomplish still in this life I live now....I wait patiently, but am ever grateful that the years of discernment completely turned me around to serving God alone, giving up what used to be me my single life in the secular world, and living a single life dedicated to God alone. The challenges are many and the temptations are great, but my happiness time and again is found in Him alone, He who I am head over heels IN LOVE with...and I am grateful still that my discernment continues, as I listen in silence for His Holy Spirit's next tugging - A journey of a lifetime has become a lifetime journey and I am grateful for the many travel companions the Lord has blessed me with, but especially His companionship during those sharp curves and long, lonely roads.....Cristina

  5. Thank you! I have been looking forward to this line of conversation! All sharings have been enlightening. For the past several years, I've been trying to understand what I was feeling and experiencing with regard to living a life of meaning and value. Along the way I have thought and prayed about and discussed with friends and women religious (and God!) what that future may look like. I continue to wonder if I possess the personal strength, level of faith, religious and social convictions, and dedication to live this challenging life of service.

    Several times I have dismissed the possibility of joining a religious community at this stage of life (late 40s), only to find the idea creeping back into my thoughts in various ways. Community life - with the "letting go" and the interdependence you mention - would be most challenging. I have spent considerable time with my own questions and with the sharings of others.

    Did you find any particular reflections or conversations proved key to your own discernment process? I understand it is a deeply personal process and that listening to the voice within is essential, yet seek some new direction for thought & prayer which may shed some light on the "foggy" path ahead.

    Blessings to you and to your ministries and thank you for opening the door for continued conversation.

  6. What great responses and questions! Thank you Juliet, Cristina, and Karen.

    Toward the very beginning of my discernment process I heard a definition of discernment by Richard Rohr. He defined it as 'honestly seeking truth.' For some reasons, those three words impacted me in a powerful way. I understood then, that if I was truly serious about seeking insight into what direction I felt called - whatever the vocation - I must honestly seek truth. Questions, of others and myself, became really important. Contemplating the truth of what I heard, saw, felt... etc was key in determining the next step (or question).

    Throughout my discernment two people and the process we engaged in were key: our Sinsinawa Dominican Vocation Director and my personal spiritual director. With them I felt completely free to be authentically myself and trusted them to be themselves. They loved their lives as women religious (they were from two different
    congregations) and shared parts of their stories - the wonderful and the challenging. I was free to ask any question and share my truths. They always asked me to name how I was really feeling and what I was truly thinking before proceding on to whatever the next step might be. I never felt pressured to respond in any way.

    To seek truth and freely choose my vocation direction was consistently encouraged. And at each step I freely chose, including the difficult pieces involving "letting go." I chose to simply trust the inner stirring of my heart, having no idea of outcomes or what might come next. In other words, I tried my best to stay out of the driver's seat and trust in Divine Wisdom.

    Karen asked: What particular reflections or conversations proved key in my discernment process. I have shared my response. Anyone else have something she would like to share with us?

  7. Hi Karen,

    As I read your post I recognized some of my own questions prior to entering religious life. I just wasn't sure I was "good enough" or "holy enough." Then I did not know of Karen Armstrong, but I carry a piece of her wisdom with me. She encourages people to focus on "right action" and contends that if we do that, "right belief" will follow. I entered religious life with the intention of giving God my all. With that intention, my prayer was to trust that God would work with whatever was lacking. That continues to be my prayer.

    May you continue to trust your process....and that God is with you and leading you through it all.

    Sr. Evie

  8. Sr. Evie,

    Thanks for the assurance that self-doubt can be part of the process rather than a sticking point. There is truth and wisdom to Karen Armstrong's words and a personal challenge as well. I appreciate you sharing your perspective and leaving me with words of encouragement.



Sinsinawa Sister Videos

Blog Archive