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How to Support a Friend Entering Religious Life

If there’s one thing I’ve learned this past year, it’s that plans can change faster than we can blink. I could list example after example of ways my life has changed this year, but nothing has been harder to accept than the change of my best friend entering religious life.

Vocations are something I always knew existed, and something I thought I understood. I was taught there were two paths: marriage or religious life, and I was okay with that because I knew my path. However, I realized in the past few months that my knowledge and understanding of vocations was slim to none.

I’m currently a college student, and at my university, I was lucky enough to meet Rory. We were both on the cross country team and quickly bonded over our love for the faith. Fast forward seven months, and my best friend is pulling application papers out of her backpack to enter with the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist.

I wanted to write something because I noticed the lack of other people talking about this topic in a serious manner. Supporting a friend entering religious life means putting away your selfish desires and just being there for them, and that is not an easy task to accomplish.

I’ve been through it all, the sadness, the guilt about the sadness, the immense happiness; it’s all a part of the process. Being supportive of your friend starts with getting your own emotions under control. You won’t be much help to your friend if you haven’t given yourself the time you need to accept and pray about this change.

Give yourself time to process the change.

I’m a planner, and when things change, I immediately go into fix mode, but Rory’s decision to enter religious life wasn’t something that needed to be “fixed.” Still, I was struggling with a lot of different emotions. When Rory first told me she was entering religious life, the first thing that went through my mind was the fact that I wouldn’t have a roommate next year. This isn’t exactly the most selfless thing to focus on, but my mind couldn’t stop thinking about everything that would change in my life because of this.

I wanted to be supportive of her decision, but I also knew the next year would look a lot different, and I was upset about that. All these emotions turned into anger that I directed at God. I was confused why He would put this amazing friend in my life and then take her away so quickly.

The truth is, you can’t support your friend until you get your own emotions under control. So, give yourself a break, and give yourself lots of time to pray and process the change. For me, I had to accept the fact that this was something out of my control. I had to accept the fact that this situation wasn’t about me, and pray for the strength to be there for my friend.

Having someone you trust to talk it through is very helpful. On my campus, we have religious sisters, and after Rory told me the news, I got lunch with them and talked through what the next few months would look like with Rory entering. Talking with the sisters gave me a chance to work through all the emotions I was overwhelmed with, and also helped reassure me that Rory entering religious life wouldn’t mean we would lose our friendship.

This time to process and pray is so important. Once you reign in your emotions, you will be more available for your friend. While you may be sad about her decision right now, she will be needing your support and love in the upcoming months. Make sure you are ready to help her and be there for her when she needs it.

Don’t go into panic mode. Make sure you give your friend the space they need.

All those emotions you’ve been feeling ever since you heard the news, your friend has been going through those for months, if not years, and now that they’ve made a commitment to religious life, they probably have a lot on their plate.

Something I quickly learned through Rory is that vocational discernment can be a very hard road for some. The decision to enter religious life does not come without suffering, especially if this is their true vocation.

I know that after learning your friend is entering, there is an urge to try to do everything with them as quickly as possible. All those plans you had together suddenly seem more important, and you almost can hear the clock ticking away, but take a deep breath.

You do not need to make every memory with your friend in the next six months. Once they enter, they aren’t leaving your life. Will your friendship look different, absolutely, but this doesn’t mean it ends the moment she enters the convent. Try not to get overwhelmed with fitting every plan in, and simply enjoy the time you have right now.

Your friend will be needing a lot of support in the next few months. She is going to need you to calm her down when she suddenly panics and starts doubting her decision. She is going to need you to be proud of her, to listen to her, and pray for her.

She does not need you to start planning every weekend full of activities until she enters.

While you may have a lot of questions to ask her, try to give her space. She just made a huge life decision, and she’s probably going to need some time to process it as well. Make it clear she has your support and love, and let her come to you with the rest.

Again, this is when having a mentor or close friend to talk to comes in handy. I asked all my “panic questions” to the sisters that live on my campus. I remember asking things like “When can I visit her” or “How many times a year can she leave the community?” Your friend probably doesn’t even know the answers to these questions yet, so bombarding her with them will just overwhelm both of you.

Pray, research, then pray some more.

I mentioned before that all of my emotions quickly turned to anger and frustration that I aimed towards God. I was truly just upset that I had lost the control on my life I thought I possessed. It took a few weeks of prayer and time spent in adoration to realize that Rory entering wasn’t about me. God wasn’t “taking Rory away” to punish me, he was guiding her towards Heaven, and while I obviously have no idea why God put Rory in my life, I like to believe it was to show me the true beauty of friendship.

The most important thing for you to do through this whole process is to take everything to God in prayer. Let Him know how you are feeling, ask Him for guidance and understanding, and if you are able, just sit with Jesus in adoration. Take this time to deepen your relationship with Christ; you may find yourself in need of His support in the coming months.

Also, don’t be afraid to do some research of your own. Take some time to look into the order your friend is entering, and find some answers to the many questions you probably have. Is the order cloistered or active? What is the order’s apostolate? Finding answers to these questions can help you better understand what the next few years will look like for your friend and will help you fill in some of the blanks.

Once you’ve done your research, pray some more! The best way for you to support your friend is through your prayers. Say a rosary for them, or even offer up a novena for their discernment.

Give it time and respect the process.

When you first learn of a close friend entering religious life, your emotions will be fresh and it may be hard to accept the change. I promise you, with time, it gets easier. I know it sounds cliche, but it’s one of the biggest cliches for a reason. It really will get better.

In the beginning, it’s so easy to only focus on what you’re losing and it’s even easier to fall into a cycle of self pity. However, with time and lots of prayer, it becomes easier to see the beauty in the situation. Your friend is answering God’s call! She is saying yes to Jesus and becoming the person God wants her to be. It is one of the most beautiful and joyous things to witness.

So, respect the process. Let yourself be sad and a little angry, but don’t let it overwhelm and blind you. After all, you aren’t losing a friend; your friendship just became a little more unique.

It’s also important that you respect your friend’s timeline. While you may want to tell everyone the exciting news, she may not be ready. Some people discern out of communities after a year, or may not even get accepted, so she might want to wait to tell others until everything is official.

Having a close friend enter religious life can be a tough change to accept. It can easily feel overwhelming and frustrating, but putting your trust in God and His plan is the key. God has led your friend to religious life for a reason, and He wants to see her fulfill her vocation. Supporting her in this decision and trusting in God will make your friendship that much stronger.

While it may feel as though you are losing a friend, your friendship is actually becoming more holy and beautiful. Even though you will not be able to text each other each day, or get lunch together, you will have a relationship built on love for our Lord, and together you can support each other in your journey to Heaven,