If You Leave and If You Stay2
November 8, 2013 by lucieromarin
So…you committed to an apostolate, a liturgical subculture or a prayer-group for a number of years, and you realise now that you’re physically exhausted, that your relationship with God has turned into a relationship with activity, that your health or profession has been compromised, and, worst of all, the vocation that was supposed to manifest itself through this activity never did so. You know that something has to change. For the first time, you ask yourself what the consequences of leaving might be, and the consequences of remaining. Well, here are a few thoughts, which I hope you’ll find helpful:
1. Holiday. My first suggestion is this – whatever you do, don’t make any long-term decisions without first going on a holiday. My reasons for believing this are outlined here. Seriously, it works wonders.
If you leave:
2. Make sure you know the difference between your group and the entire Church. Obviously, this can be difficult if you’ve belonged to a group that trained its members to believe that they were the only real representatives of Catholicism, but the distinction is real all the same. The sacraments are 2,000 years old. Your community was founded in 1989. They’re not the same. Realising that you’ve spent too much time in the hot and dusty attic of a house doesn’t mean you have to leave the house altogether. Check out the library and the gardens first.
3. Be realistic about how quickly your life can change for the better. Don’t panic if it doesn’t happen overnight – the idea that a good deed or a good decision should produce immediate and abundant fruit is a byproduct of ultrasupernaturalism, not reality. It might be tough for a while, but it will get better.
4. Don’t sneer. If you spent a lot of time pitying the benighted souls who were not part of your community, and you now spend your time pitying the benighted souls who remain in that community, you’re actually just the same supercilious person you always were. All you’ve done is change which group of people you sneer at. That means that, where it matters most – i.e. in your character – you haven’t changed at all.
5. Be honest about the good. This is especially important if you’re inclined to hold yourself in contempt. Even if the only good that came of it was the recipe for rock cakes that Nonna Nanna gave you, there was something there that made being there worthwhile. Acknowledging that good saves you from becoming patronising and judgmental. It also means that you can take that good with you. You weren’t gullible; you were generous.
If you stay:
1. Be realistic about the things that are never going to change. Nowhere is perfect. Long-term happiness anywhere requires honesty about which imperfections you’re going to have to live with and whether or not you can live with them. Once you’ve worked out what those imperfections are, you can save yourself years of wasted energy fighting them.
1.5. Also, be willing to be honest with others about those imperfections. You’re not the only one who’s noticed them, and others have been hurt by them. You don’t have to grovel, and you have the right to disagree with people who you think exaggerate their own case, but even so – be honest.
2. Be realistic about the speed at which other things will change. You have to think in decades, not weeks. If you can do this, you’ll not only pace yourself better – thereby avoiding other incidences of burnout! – but you’ll experience the joy of looking around you, saying, “Wow!”**
3. Keep the lessons of your holiday in mind. Make sure you get some kind of recreation or personal renewal-time each year – even if it’s only a day out watching lace-makers at work.
4. Be grateful for the good. Just think, now, you get to immerse yourself in it for as long as you live. It’s a treasure.
**unless you are a member of a religious or priestly community, in which case your work can be taken from you at a moment’s notice, and your ‘wow’ moments will come to an abrupt end. So, it’s even more important that you don’t make your work your identity than it is for lay people.
The bit about thinking in decades made me wonder suddenly – what happens if you have the ‘roadkill’ experience much later in life? Does that happen much, do you know, and if so, do you think it is a different, or similar, experience for someone, say, in their sixties or beyond? The writing I’ve read on the internet by people who are questioning their previous assumptions – whether from within or without – their former communities seems mostly to come from people between mid-20s and mid-40s (as far as one can tell). Obviously blogging is a bit of a generational thing… but… well, do you know anything about older people in this position?
That’s a good question…I don’t think that the ‘roadkill’ experience – as explored in this blog – happens in a much older person, because someone in his or her sixties or seventies now was raised with a completely different kind of vocation discernment, a different demographic (no great inexplicable masses of single people to make sense of) and a different kind of lay apostolate – one not so conducive to burnout.
(I suspect that the ‘roadkill’ of that generation were flattened by different experiences – either pre-Conciliar Jansenism or post-Conciliar liturgical changes. I know of one convert who left the Church after the changes, unable to believe that the religion she’d converted to had suddenly removed the rites and doctrines that had first drawn her in. Only after she came to realise that they hadn’t actually been removed, did she return. Alice Thomas Ellis expressed a similar feeling in one of her columns.)
I do sometimes wonder if the obedient modernists (i.e. those who only went that way because they felt they had to) of the nineteen-eighties will become a kind of roadkill in their sixties and seventies. When you throw away your traditions, and then your religious order dies out, and you see a traditional religious order flourishing next door, do you feel relieved (oh, thank goodness, it’s not all over) or angry (because that could have been your order if you hadn’t trusted those people who told you that modernism was the way of the future) or threatened (because you still believe in modernism), or confused (why isn’t your experiment working? They promised it would work), or do you just try not to ask questions? I don’t know.