“You aren’t going to try and persuade me not to go as well, are you, Mum?” asked Felicity.
I thought for a moment. I didn’t really want Felicity to leave home. But I have always tried to teach my children that we have to do what we feel God is asking of us. What we want to do is of no importance. So I sighed and said, “No, you can go.”
Felicity’s face lit up.
“When will you be leaving?” I asked.
“Mother Prioress wants me to return to the convent as soon as possible, maybe a couple of weeks.”
Two weeks? I would only have my eldest daughter for two more weeks before she entered an enclosed order as a postulant.
Mothers get together and we chat about the possibility of our daughters becoming nuns. We pray that our children will have vocations. Perhaps God might call one of our children. What an honour that would be. Imagine saying, “My daughter’s off to the convent!” I had thought I’d be excited, and filled with joy. What I didn’t expect to feel was grief.
I had many thoughts during that last couple of weeks with Felicity…
“We might never kneel in the same pew as a family, all of us together, ever again.” I cried.
“I might never sit in the kitchen sipping coffee and chatting with my eldest daughter ever again.” I cried.
“Felicity might never kneel down and say her morning prayers with us ever again.” The tears appeared once more.
Our last morning together arrived too soon. We ate breakfast. We chatted. We tried to smile and act as if it were just another normal day. Then it was time to say goodbye. Andy grabbed Felicity’s bag and headed for the car. I hugged my daughter and I tried not to think, “This might be the last time I ever hug her in this house.” I looked at her face and the tears started slipping from my eyes.
“Mum!” she said with concern, and hugged me close once again. And then she was gone. She was gone from our home, gone from our family.
Six months later Felicity became a novice and I had to draw back even further from my daughter. She really was no longer mine. I was no longer her mother.
“What responsibilities does Felicity have towards her parents?” I asked Mother Prioress.
“Felicity will always have an obligation to pray for you. But I am now her mother,” she replied.
I had truly given my daughter away. Someone else was responsible for her. I could no longer express any opinions or concerns, make any suggestions, ask any questions, lavish any care or love upon her... I grieved.
Felicity eventually came home from the convent. She had been willing to give her life to God as a religious but it seemed that is not what He wanted after all.
“Not many girls are willing to withdraw from the world and become nuns,” Felicity cried. “I was willing. I really tried but God didn’t want me.” She just didn’t understand.
In many ways I don’t understand either. All that sacrifice and heartbreak and Felicity ended up coming home. It wasn’t only the two years in the convent. The effects of that experience were far longer lasting and reaching. It just wasn’t possible for Felicity to step back into the world and resume her place in our family, as if she’d never left. I had given up my role as her mother and I didn’t automatically get it back just because Felicity walked back through our front door and into our home again. It took us many years to regain our relationship.
One day when we were visiting Felicity in the convent, Mother Prioress looked at my other four girls and said, “They are all so beautiful! I want them all!”
I imagine them all following in Felicity’s footsteps and I turn cold. Could I lose another child to the convent? Even if they came home eventually, could I risk losing the very special relationship I have with each one? And my heart shouts, “No!”
I do not want any of my other daughters to become nuns. That is the truth of it. I don’t want to hug any of them goodbye, knowing it could be the last act I perform as their true mother. I do not want any of them to be hurt as Felicity was. I want to wrap my arms around them and keep them save with me.
So what would I do if one of the girls came to me and said, “I think God is calling me to the convent, Mum”?
I think back to Felicity’s initial question: “You aren’t going to try and persuade me not to go as well, are you, Mum?” Our children face so much criticism and opposition from those who do not understand:
“She’s only young.”
“Why would she want to give up her life like that?”
“It’s a waste of a life.”
“She’d be better off using her talents in the world.”
How can a mother also oppose a daughter who is only trying to do what she feels God is asking of her? No, I couldn’t have stopped Felicity from entering the convent. And I can’t stop any of my other daughters either.
For how can we teach our children they must follow the will of God, if we aren’t also willing to accept God’s will? And how can we say we love God above all, if we aren't willing to give Him everything? Our children belong to Him. They are not really ours at all.
So I will let my children go if that is what God wants.
But I am sitting here wondering if these are only brave words. I know I would cry. I know I would grieve. I know it would be so very painful.
However, I do know that God's plans are always perfect. And God turns sorrow to joy if we are willing to accept what He wants:
Thou hast turned for me my mourning into joy: thou hast cut my sackcloth, and hast compassed me with gladness.
I hold onto these thoughts and because I am so very weak I pray, as I do each day, "Help me Lord to accept Your will."
Weak... yes, sometimes I feel so very weak.