By Sister Sarah Simmons
I have been asked many questions by loved ones, friends, and complete strangers over the last four years about my decision to enter religious life. They range from questions about why I don’t wear a habit and how often I pray, to clarification on whether I can still get married and have a family (the answer is no). The most popular question, however, is always “why would you choose this life?”. What they are really trying to get at is why would I choose a life of poverty, celibate chastity, and obedience? Why wouldn’t I want a family or home of my own? Why would I want to enter a community whose average age is about two generations older than me? As they ask this seemingly simple but incredibly complex and loaded question, I see them trying to understand why I would choose something that is seemingly the opposite of our culture’s definition of happiness.
I understand their grappling with my decision just as I did at one point in my discernment journey. My call to religious life cannot be measured, calculated, or sized up because my call is not about logic, but about mystery. It is the mystery of embracing God’s abundant love for me and the desire to share that love extravagantly with others. I found the way I can most fully embrace this mysterious gift is through religious life. I experience the vows and community as the context in which I can fully enter into the inheritance of love that God has bestowed upon me.
The most tangible and practical way I live out this inheritance of God’s love is through my life in community. I see a countercultural, radical life being lived out most concretely in our morning prayer, at the dinner table, and conversations about how often to change the kitchen towels. These everyday moments are the essence of a God centered life for me because it is where the rubber hits the road. The way I live in community reflects how I live religious life in all other areas of my life, including my ministry. For me, religious life begins at our dinner table and in our prayer space, bringing all that we are to one another.
This is not to say that a commitment to community is easy or straight forward. Living with others that have a wide range of preferences, wounds, and upbringings requires patience, curiosity, and choosing to love when it is difficult to love. Community is an every day, every moment commitment to making space for others and a choice to be inconvenienced by allowing others into my life and discernment. As a woman who has lived a very independent life, this is hard work. I have experienced the growing pains in learning to allow others to help me, support me, and hold the difficulties and disappointments of life. I thought that the goal of my life was to be successful and have a life of convenience. However, through community I realized that my real desire is to learn how to love with abandon. My work is to listen, to be present, and to make space for every person, no matter our differences. It is saying yes to the mystery of transformation through everyday moments.
Religious life is indeed where I can most fully live into my inheritance of love. I once had grand notions that living a radical life required me to step out of my home and go “out there”. The gift that religious life taught me is that my call to a radical life begins at 7:15am by choosing to get out of bed and pray with my sisters. It is in my choosing to do the dishes and a willingness to have a long conversation about our values around changing the kitchen towels.
As we choose to make space in our hearts and lives for one another, we are choosing to love, and therefore, more fully enter into the inheritance of God’s love that we all share in. However, this is not just for me and my community, but simply the birth-place of belonging. As we nurture love and belonging with one another, we cannot help but share it with a world whose people are struggling to find their way back to one another.
About the Author
Sister Sarah Simmons currently serves as the program associate at Life Directions, a peer mentoring program that works with young adults ages thirteen to thirty-five in Chicago and Detroit. She just recently celebrated taking initial vows with the Congregation in pandemic fashion on zoom. In her free time, she enjoys yoga, reading, and a really good cup of coffee.