Not just any plan

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"I left the religious order after such an agonizing time. The priests were either old men who lived like it was the 1960s or were young men who wished it was still the 1960s. I was so conflicted that I just couldn't live that life anymore."

It was a poignant conversation. "I'm sorry to hear this," I sympathize. "My experience of religious life isn't at all like that. Yes, our members are definitely getting older, but that's life. I've never felt that our sisters were stuck in the pre-Vatican II days. We were never a flaming liberal order from those early days of changing habits, but we weren't lagging, either. It's all been centered around call, response, and faithfulness to charism."

He nodded in understanding. "In so many ways, I feel like I do have a priestly vocation. My attempt to fulfill that just didn't work out. That was a few years ago, and I've struggled so much before then and since then. So I carry around with me a certain emptiness that I'm not fulfilling my purpose in life. I feel so conflicted still to this day."

"I believe there's a plan of God for each of our lives," I said. "Perhaps this sense of emptiness is part of the plan for you. We don't know what's going on or why and can't explain it, but it's not for nothing. I believe we come out the other side much better and much stronger for all that consternation."

"That's fine for you to say," he replied. "You're set. You've been a nun all your life. You've never wanted anything else. You always knew what you wanted. I haven't been blessed in that same way."

"Maybe not," I sympathize. "But there's still the plan for you. And I say the plan and not a plan. It won't be any old plan. It will be the right plan for you. We each just have to believe that."

[Nancy Linenkugel is a Sylvania Franciscan sister and chair of the department of Health Services Administration at Xavier University, Cincinnati.]