Opening up when it’s tough

A high degree of trust is needed for a novice to confide particular difficulties to someone who could end their vocation. Fortunately, Fr. Jim already won my trust.

Welcome to Part 14 of a weekly series on the formation journey of Josh, a first-year novice at the Marian House of Studies in Washington, D.C. Watch for a new entry every Friday.

I was sitting in the office of my novice master, Fr. Jim, across from him, both of us with coffees next to us on the table. We’d just finished a lengthy, good conversation about spirituality, and I was getting ready to bring up an important natural matter.

I wanted to discuss my new New Year’s resolution: to rest better. 

As is the case at business places, naps are not scheduled into the rhythm of the day. However, I’m a light sleeper, and, when I sleep poorly, it can make the next day very difficult.

I told Fr. Jim about a recent situation that brought this issue to my attention in a particular way. 

When Fr. Jim was gone on retreat, for a while David was with family and Michael was sick, so more work than usual fell to me and Joseph. At the same time, I noticed that I wasn’t sleeping as well, so I was coming at the days with fewer resources. I found that my prayer life and practice of virtues had slipped. 

I realized that I need to make sure I prioritize getting rest, because I have more resources to put into everything when I’m coming into the day well-rested, and I’m better at everything. I’ve started going to bed earlier, and of course I exercise, which helps. On days when I’m not cooking, I can take a little nap at 4:00 if I need it.

Power naps
However, on days when I am cooking, we have a period of work or spiritual reading in the afternoon that goes till 4:00 and then I’m cooking till the evening, so if I sleep badly the night before, I don’t have time for recovery. A quick power-nap would serve me very well if I could get one when I need it. 

“So far, I’ve only had two power-naps since I got here,” I said. “There’s a motive for anyone in formation not to show weakness, not to talk about it if they have any particular needs, for fear that it could result in negative consequences for one’s vocation.”

New people who aren’t able to cut it physically or mentally in a religious order’s ordinary lifestyle could be deemed unfit for entry to the Congregation. Therefore, new guys have an incentive to “soldier through” any difficulties without complaining, however legitimate the problems. 

Aiming for success
Father Jim immediately understood what I was saying.

“Yes,” he agreed, “and those struggles can be a range of things, psychological, spiritual or physical. Frequently, what will happen when people hide the problems they’re dealing with is either they’ll reach a breaking point where they and their vocation collapse, or they may develop resentment against the novice master and the schedule. The key is to come to understand that I’m here to help your vocation to flourish, to set you up for success.”

A high degree of trust is needed for a novice to confide particular difficulties to someone who could end their vocation, even if that person’s responsibility is to take good care of you. Fortunately, Fr. Jim already won my trust. 

“I know that you’re not telling me about this to try to get out of work,” Fr. Jim said. 

“It would be different,” he added with a grin, “if you said you need a two-hour nap every day starting at 4:00!” That is, when I would be cooking.

We both laughed.

Balance
“Yes,” I said. “I’ve been praying to develop the foundations and balance that I need to sustain my future life in the Congregation. I expect that I will sometimes have heavy workloads in future ministry, as well. Short power naps are very restorative.”
He nodded in understanding. “So, what are you thinking, 20-30 minutes?”

“Yes, 20 minutes would be great.”

Fr. Jim offered 1:00-1:30 PM as an optional nap time for community members during weekdays. If it wasn’t working for me and I wasn’t able to get to sleep until later in the afternoon, we’d revisit the subject. 

I feel like I’m more and more able to open up, trust, and let myself receive God’s various mercies, both the small ones and the bigger ones. 

Next entry: "Novices’ off-beat breakfast."
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Read Novice Josh's account of the Marians at the 2023 March for Life.
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