I have always had an affinity for the Carmelites. I don't think I have shared this before, but I have vivid memories from my early childhood of speaking to a Carmelite nun who was standing on the steps of a convent. It was January and the kindly next-door neighbor had offered to take me for a walk to get me out of my mother's hair for awhile. Sister wore a mantle. I asked her if the convent was still decorated for Christmas and she told me that there were no decorations and there didn't need to be because Christ lived in the heart of the Sisters every day of the year. Some years later I asked my mother about this and she said she couldn't imagine where this took place because there was no Carmelite convent or monastery within walking distance of our house. I have since concluded that this was probably a dream that I could not distinguish from reality, but I do like the fact that it has stayed with me.
When I was in first grade, I was given a children's book about saints. You probably already know which saint drew me closest. The little book had an illustration of Carmelite nuns looking up to Heaven as a shower of roses fell on them. Someone gave me a "holy card" that had a reverse or x-ray-type image of St. Therese on one side in black and white and a little prayer to her on the other. The idea was that you would stare at the image for 30 seconds or so and then look at the wall, and it would seem as though St. Therese was appearing to you. Child's play. It occupied me for hours.
When, in my early twenties, I secretly harbored the notion of joining a contemplative order, it was the Poor Clares, not the Carmelites, that I thought about. It wasn't until years later, when I became a Catholic revert, that I again began to feel the gravitational pull of the Carmelites. It seems that during the last five years, the subject of joining the secular Carmelites won't go away. A member of our local chapter has asked me twice to consider. I keep finding invitations to join left for me in strategic places. One of the reasons I have hesitated is because I have never been able to faithfully pray Morning and Evening prayer, though I've had no such issue with Compline. Over Lent, I made a sincere effort to pray both and while I was never 100%, I managed with more regularity than I had previously. The little voice in my head keeps saying: "OK, so what's your obstacle?"
I have a job where the expectation is that I will eat, sleep and live what I do for a living, but that is not my make up. I do not wish to sound self-congratulatory, but the fact is that I happen to be very good at what I do, even though it does not define me. I have no intention of letting my occupation take over my life. I am not passionate about nursing administration. I'm passionate about Christ and I'm passionate about saving souls for Him. But the job I have now demands so much of my time and energy. Would it be fair to the Carmelites or to Christ to start down this road if this is not the right time? Would it be fair to my family to give up a job that brings us some financial security in such a shaky economy? Does it reveal an appalling lack of trust in Christ to even worry about my job when there are others out there that would allow me to devote myself to the Carmelite rule?
This is something I am going to seriously pray about and try to discern over the coming months. Perhaps some of you who have made the commitment to a tertiary order can add your thoughts. What drew you to a third order? What obstacles did you envision? What did you do to overcome those obstacles? How long did you spend discerning? How difficult is it for you to be faithful to your rule?
I would be enormously grateful if you would share.