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Why Choose This Life?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Sarah croppedSister 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.

40 thoughts on “Why Choose This Life?

  1. judithcsj says:

    Sarah, thanks so much for your beautiful and profound reflection on your call to religious life! Thanks, too, for calling me to revisit my own faithfulness to the gifts and challenges of this lifestyle so I, too, will respond with integrity and joy!

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  2. Sr Sallie Latkaovich says:

    Thanks for “sharing the state of your heart” about your choice of religious life. Your reflections are stirring and wonderful.

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  3. Sandra Melanson says:

    Sarah, thank you for such a meaningful reflection. So many phrases struck me but especially
    ” love with abandon”. Such a call and response.

    Like

  4. Linda Warren says:

    Sarah
    Thank you for sharing your journey with us. And for choosing love. Your inspiration invites me to do the same. Peace & blessings

    Like

  5. Marie Benzing says:

    Sarah, dear! Once again you speak your truth with profound love and clarity. It is a gift to share in your journey as you live into the many answers.
    So proud of you!!

    Like

  6. Bernie Gazda says:

    I share your enjoyment of a good cup of coffee…..your words are both practical and profound….I stumbled over “allowing myself to be inconvenienced” and I was moved by your repetition of the phrase: “inheritance of love”. Your picture was a visual expression of the meaning of your words…..beautiful….Bernie

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  7. Theresa Pitruzzello says:

    Dear Sarah,
    Thank you for sharing your reasons for deciding to live the mystery of a call to religious life, and especially your commitment to daily living the vows in community. I know that I am my best self in community, not in spite of but probably because of the inconveniences!

    As you beautifully illustrate, our lives are not only the inconvenience of not having everything as I think I want it, including the work of negotiating how we load the dishwasher or which vase is acceptable in the living room, but also the support and joy in sharing meals and prayer together, sharing the happenings from our ministries and other events of the day. I find that it is in these formal and informal ways that we share our hearts and God’s love. This call to religious life in community has been and continues to be a support to me over these years.

    I have a dream that some day we will consider community and ministry on equal footing, and I pray that we as a congregation in large and small communities may continue to “make space in our hearts and our lives” for each dear neighbor, including community members and those in our ministries and neighborhoods.
    Take care, my Sister.
    Theresa

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  8. Sarah Simmons says:

    Theresa, Thank you so much for your kind words and your expansion on the interconnectedness of community and ministry. I find great energy in continuing to bring both community life, personal prayer life, and ministry into greater collaboration with one another because each informs and gives life to the other!
    I am grateful for your words and our shared life together!
    Sarah

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  9. Mary Porod says:

    Sr. Sarah –
    Thank you for sharing your journey. I appreciate the reminder that our vocation, whatever it may be, can be found not in the grand but in simple things done with great love, and in community. And I can totally relate to the joys of a good cup of coffee!!! Take care! Mary

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