What I learned as a novice
Image: One of the blessings of my novitiate was learning to let myself be loved by God first.
WHAT ORIGINALLY drew me to religious life was the opportunity to serve others in a religious context, since I already had been involved in the church serving in various ways and participating in various groups. But once I entered the novitiate (a period of preparation in becoming a member of a religious order), I learned that during the novitiate year, one was not allowed to participate in any ministry.
Imagine my surprise! I had been accustomed to joining parish groups and sometimes helping others through charitable organizations, and now that the novitiate was beginning, suddenly I couldn’t do that anymore. I was shocked by this prohibition, which seemed absurd to me.
With the passing months, however, I understood the wisdom behind this rule that had made me so uncomfortable. Thanks to my novice master, I could see that the prohibition made me uncomfortable for a reason. But only after entering into the rhythm of my new life could I look within and discover that reason. Before novitiate, I had been completely occupied with my career. In the novitiate, by contrast, even though the day was characterized by a rigorous schedule, many periods of time were available for prayer and solitude. The tranquility facilitated introspection and a deeper self understanding.
I heard a saying once that comes from the aboriginal people of Australia that says it’s good to stop running and sit down once in a while so that your spirit can catch up with you. For me, the novitiate was a time to stop running, to sit and allow my soul to catch up with me.
It wasn’t easy. It is not easy to confront those things we’ve been running from, without even realizing it. But little by little I went inward and began to realize that my eagerness to serve others was rooted in an inner emptiness. By the grace of God I became aware that, at a subconscious level, I believed that if I helped others I would be accepted by them and by God. We all have a deep need to be accepted, after all, and one way or another we seek to satisfy this need.
One of the blessings of my novitiate was learning to let myself be loved by God first, to be accepted by God without trying to earn his love with good works. I realized that while I was trying to earn drops of acceptance by serving others, in the silence of my heart I found that God was ready to offer me an ocean of acceptance. Now that I have the privilege to serve in ministry, I do it with happiness knowing that God already has accepted me completely as his child in Christ.
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