Guest Post: Things That Happen to a Young Woman Discerning Religious Life (if your experience is anything like mine)

–      It’s bad timing for discernment because you’re in a relationship. Or just out of one. Or headed toward one. Or have been single too long to be objective about all this anyway.

–      Your knees shake while telling your parents that you are discerning, even as you fake nonchalance: “You know, I just thought I should keep all the options open.”

–      While considering the sacrifices of religious life, you include “freedom to look totally fantastic now and then.” (Hey, the giving up of flattering clothes is real.)

–      You get incensed at the guy who dumped you because now every vocation director will think you’re just coping—poorly—with rejection. Meantime you find that, unfortunately, being in discernment does not cause your heart to break any less painfully.

–      In the midst of the habit-or-no-habit question, you grow increasingly jealous of the Roman collar and its perfect combination of functionality, recognizability, and unobtrusiveness.

–      You add Elizabeth Johnson to your reading list. If every single community has a devotion to Mary, as is apparently the case, then you better damn well find a Marian theology you can get behind.

–      You are sorely tempted to use the phrase “I’m discerning” to get out of dating a guy even though you know full well that’s not why you’re turning him down.

–      Women in orders with declining numbers tell you with certainty that something new is coming to religious life but are totally unable to give you even the slimmest sense of what that something might be.

–      You recognize that praying hard and thinking hard aren’t the same thing, and despair. You’re so much better at thinking hard.

–      One third of the time you think entering religious life would be the dumbest decision you could make. One third of the time you think it would be the most awesome decision you could make. And one third of the time you remember that it’s actually the Holy Spirit who’s in charge.


I’m going to be honest here. My year-plus of discernment has generally been more frustrating than rewarding. It’s just hard. But underneath the struggle has been a considerable gift. The process of discerning has forced me out of my usual pattern of thought, belief, and habit—out of my old self.

As the scattershot list above implies, there are too many new questions and experiences for me to encounter them all and remain unchanged. So I’ve changed. My prayer and reflection are taking place through a new and bigger lens, and I feel deeply grateful for that—so much so that I’m ultimately deeply grateful for discernment itself.

Discernment is hard. God is good.


Sara Knutson received her Master of Divinity from Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. She currently works as a retreat director at TYME OUT Youth Ministry and Retreat Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and is beginning an outdoors retreat program this summer.


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