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Note: When letter writers sign with their first names instead of a pseudonym or nickname, I randomly change their name for added anonymity.

I’m a male senior in high school, and one of my friends, who is a girl, is going to become a nun. I have no sexual feelings for her, but I truly think she is not meant for that lifestyle. She likes to drink and party, but still wants to become a nun. Everytime I try to tell her she is not meant for the convent, she says she feels that God is calling her. Everytime I call her a hypocrite, she doesn’t want to talk to me, and I lose the chance to talk her out of becoming a nun. Do you know any ways that me, a closet atheist, can talk her out of it becoming a nun, and in my opinion, throwing her life away in some secluded place, where I KNOW she will be miserable?

Nick

Dear Nick,

This is an opportunity for you to learn about yourself, and about how you interact with other people. Your letter reveals more about you than about your friend. I think you will benefit by looking at what is reflected in that mirror with an honest but compassionate attitude toward yourself, just as I’m going to be honest but compassionate toward you.

I’m not surprised that your friend says she doesn’t want to talk with you about this, because you’re taking the position that you know what is best for her better than she does. That is very annoying. I don’t think you would accept a friend trying that with you.

You say that you truly think that she is not meant for that lifestyle. I cannot help but wonder if you simply disapprove of that lifestyle in general. The fact that she likes to drink and party does not mean that she is “not meant for the convent” nor does that make her a “hypocrite.” She’s not a nun yet. Drinking and partying is not a deal breaker for a young person considering this kind of service. Having lived a life of perfect piety and purity is not a prerequisite. People and their lifestyle behaviors can and do change. Nuns are not born, they decide.

They also have a long time to think about it before they decide. I can’t think of a profession that has so much time and encouragement to reconsider built into its internship. Typically, to become a Catholic nun she would need to undergo six months to a year of initially testing the life, a period called a postulancy. Then she would become a novice for between one and two years. After that, she would take temporary vows lasting one to three years each, which she can continue to renew for at least three years but not more than six. Finally, after as long as nine years from her initial entry into this process, she would take her permanent, solemn vows. At every step, either she or the nuns supervising her can decide that this is not her appropriate path. The modern use of the word “nun” can also mean a religious sister, such as the Sisters of Charity. Their vows can be different, and they don’t necessarily live in secluded places such as convents. Sisters often live and work amidst society, doing charity work or ancillary work in hospitals for instance.

Nick, by saying things such as she is not meant for this, or that you KNOW she will be miserable, you seem to be professing god-like knowledge. You cannot actually know this. You have your opinion. You don’t agree, you don’t like it, and that is all perfectly okay for you to express as an opinion, but not as a certainty. You’d probably prefer that she became a teacher, pilot, nurse, businesswoman, scientist or a bus driver. If I knew her, I’d probably have such preferences too. But I could not pretend that I know what walk of life will be best for her or best for the world around her.

She’s considering a very powerful, very public commitment to her beliefs, and I’m sure that there are many people in her life besides yourself who are disapproving and trying to dissuade her. You, on the other hand are a “closet atheist.” She is putting herself out there while you are being careful. Perhaps that is wise of you, but it puts you at a distinct emotional and tactical disadvantage for debating this with her.

You’ve made your opinion clear to her. Now try trusting your friend’s ability to know her own mind better than you know it, and trusting her ability to make a careful and well-considered decision. She’ll have plenty of opportunity to change her mind, so she’s not going to become a nun impulsively.

This is similar to another letter I received about two friends, and like that one, it’s an opportunity for you to move above and beyond your preferences, and to express a caring for another person that is completely free of agenda. Such pure caring is not that common, but it does exist. You can be a shallow friend who supports her only if she does what you prefer, or a deep friend who supports her in her journey wherever it may lead. I hope you choose the latter, because we need more deep friends in the world. We need to accept each other far more than we need to conform with each other. We need to understand each other far more than we need to agree with each other.

Richard

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