Monastic Strategies: When We Feel Like Turning Back

Monastic Strategies: When We Feel Like Turning Back February 7, 2019

When We Feel Like Turning Back

There are times when it seems like we have run into a brick wall and we feel like turning back.

All of us have felt this way at one time or another. We may be trying to work with someone who makes our life miserable. It may be a project or a job which refuses to work the way we want it to work. There may be unreasonable expectations of other people, or of our own.

Sometimes we just get tired and feel ready to give up, like turning back is our only choice.

There are times when we need to take time and reflect on what brought us to where we are, how we got here. It may help to remember what and who inspired us to set out in this direction in the first place.

Some of us have been taught we need to persevere, to reinforce our efforts and keep pushing. We have been told even brick walls cannot hold us back if we keep trying.

There are times when we need to rest, to pause and do something else which will help us feel refreshed. We may need a vacation or a retreat or a weekend away.

Sometimes our feeling like turning back comes from something more significant than being tired.

I believe we discern the paths we take. There are people who appear to fall into careers which are just right for them. Some of them seem to trust their fate to whatever happens around them.

Even people who allow circumstances to make their decisions for them get to a point where they feel like turning back.

What do we do when we get to the point where we feel like turning back?

When Monks Feel Like Turning Back

People do not join monastic communities over night.

There is a contemplative process of discernment to determine whether someone will start a monastic path. People follow monastic practices and reflect on whether they are called to monastic life.

The path of discerning a call to monastic life can be, like the life itself, challenging and enlightening. Men and women who walk the path of discernment struggle to find themselves within the process.

Individual people discern their places in monastic life. Monastic communities discern the calling of those seeking to join them.

It is important for the process to raise as many questions and insights as possible. Each person who enters monastic life makes promises which are intended to last the rest of their lives. One of the promises, in fact, is a vow of stability, a commitment to a particular community.

During the deliberative discernment process, and the life which it begins, people feel like turning back. The significance of the commitments of monastic life can overwhelm people.

The way people choose monastic life, and are chosen for it, is intended to help them make commitments.

While people may experience powerful expectations, there are opportunities for turning back.

It is in the best interests of monastic communities to give people ways to turn back. The underlying strength of the community grows from how each member understands their calling.

Even monks who have made commitments to enter monastic life still have ways of turning back. Decisions to turn back and leave monastic life are not about being discouraged or needing rest.

Turning back from monastic life is a question of whether or not it is a person’s purpose. It is not a matter of their discomfort or boredom.

Monks have made commitments which can make turning back more complicated.

Deciding Whether We Are Turning Back

How do we decide whether we are turning back or continuing our journey? What discernment do we experience?

Most of us do not depend on a formal discernment process. While we may try to meet other people’s expectations, each of us has our own way to decide what we will do.

Some of us begin by measuring the obstacles we face. If we have hit a brick wall we want to know how high it is and whether there are any doors or windows.

Understanding what is blocking our path can be helpful, but is probably not our primary concern. What inspires us is more important than the obstacle with which we struggle.

I have known people who focused their attention on their challenges. They often magnified the obstacles in ways which discouraged them from struggling further.

When we pay too much attention to our obstacles we can make them appear larger than they are.

The people who inspire me often remind me what sparked my commitment in the first place. They help me remember why I started this journey and why I want to continue.

Inspiration helps me find new ways to keep going in spite of obstacles.

When Turning Back Feels Right

It is important for us to know ourselves well when we are discerning whether we are turning back.

We do not want to decide to turn back when we are feeling tired or discouraged. Our choices need to be based on what we believe we can do. There may be ways for us to continue even when we feel like turning back.

Turning back will almost always feel easier. When we want to feel better turning back will probably be our easiest choice.

The key for us is approaching our discernment like monks.

We may not be asking what we are called to do. The question for us is what we will want to have done in the long run. Our choice is not a matter of what will make us more comfortable faster or sooner.

Where would we like our choices to take us in the next five years? What choices could we have made differently five years ago?

Will turning back help us become who we want to be?

When will we feel like turning back today?

How will we decide what to do when we feel like turning back this week?

[Image by wwarby]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is, and his email address is

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