MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR
So here's a question, what happens when you choose a fairly unique path in life and then years later realize it's just not the right fit, just not for you? D.C. resident Grace Steckler knows she spent more than a decade in a convent, but eventually decided she wanted a different kind of life. So she left, but the convent didn't leave her. She's a wife now, a mother, a businesswoman, but inside she's still that nun. She brought along all the things she learned in her old life and is using that to build a new one. Heather Taylor brings us the story.
MS. HEATHER TAYLOR
Check in with Grace Steckler on early weekday mornings and you're likely to find her starting her day in her role as president of Saving Grace Services talking with her employees.
MS. GRACE STECKLER
There's a field reviewer, there's a manager who takes care of what the dog walkers are doing when they're out...
Saving Grace Services is the pet care, home cleaning and small home repair services company that Steckler started 12 years ago. Weekday mornings are also when you'll find her getting her three youngest children off to school.
Oh, what a great idea. You know what we need to do...
She's got the kind of busy schedule familiar to anyone juggling work and parenting, but ask Steckler about her life before marriage, children and her business, the 12 years she spent as a Catholic nun, and it's a very different story. Her days sound not only busy, but also pretty intense.
When I was in the religious life, in the convent, we had a pretty regimented life. It was sometimes up before 4:00 in the morning. We went to school. We studied religious topics. We would clean the bathrooms and scrub the steps and, you know, do all the physical work that needed to be done.
And Steckler loved it.
I used to say I could scrub bathrooms all day long, as long as I had a friend to talk to, we would sing our musical songs, we would practice hymns, we would pray, but it never felt like a drudgery.
But what made Steckler a self-described, rebellious 17-year-old decide to enter the religious life at 18?
It was just teenage angst. I think that people think for teenagers, they're able to handle changes like that a little bit better than they are. They kinda assume that they're adults already, but for me it was a difficult transition to make.
So how did Steckler know she was making the right decision?
One night I just had a spiritual experience. I felt that I was filled up with love. And the next morning I woke up and I said, oh, okay. This is clear. I need to be a nun.
So she tried it out before making a final decision.
I was going to a Catholic school and I talked to one of the nuns and she said, well, we have weekends. You could come visit and see what it's like and so I did.
And once she entered the convent, she expected to stay forever, but her feelings about the convent began to change as she neared her 30th birthday.
I was feeling increasingly dissatisfied with--with how my life was going.
Steckler thinks part of the dissatisfaction had to do with age.
The nun that was closest to me in age was 25 years older than me. And many of the nuns had been teaching for 60, 65 years. They were 88, 85 years old.
But it wasn't just the age difference. Steckler had the sense that they didn't always support her ideas.
I would lead groups to build houses with Habitat for Humanity in rural West Virginia.
The nuns were somewhat puzzled by her approach.
They would wonder why wasn't I wearing my religious habit when I was pounding the nails. Well, of course, I’m not gonna be wearing a habit. I'm gonna wear jeans and a t-shirt and a nice baseball hat on my head to cover up and I was focusing on teaching the girls, giving them this wonderful experience, showing them that they can make a difference and I felt a little bit like I didn't quite belong there anymore.
Her dissatisfaction grew.
In the evenings, the sisters would, you know, just watch television programs. One night I was thinking, oh, my, I can't imagine me in 50 years sitting here in this community room watching reruns of "Murder She Wrote." That's not the life I see for myself.
But there was also a more fundamental reason for her dissatisfaction.
In a certain way, I felt that the religious life was very abstract for me and that I was living a lot in my head and not really experiencing life the way I needed to.
So after nearly a year of dissatisfaction and reflection, the answer came to her.
And I said, okay, I need to leave the convent. It was the same experience that led me to enter the convent.
Steckler credits her years at the convent with helping her to listen for what she calls inner nudges.
It's just a matter of just being quiet. Just give yourself enough quiet time to listen for those tiny, tiny bits of inspiration.
Does she ever think about returning to the convent?
I have dreams that I still wear a habit. I'm walking through the halls that I used to walk through, but it was over for me.
Family life is part of the reason.
I could talk about God's love when I was in the convent, but now I've got, like, children hugging me. And that is what I needed to feel in my life now, was, you know, the actual concrete experience of being loved and living in a family.
And she thinks her successful business is an outgrowth of her experience in the convent.
If you are searching for the good and then I believe that you will make business decisions that will also have that sort of goal. All of that is a reflection of what I try to do with my life, how can I improve, how can I give more, how can I do better? And I think I've got that out of being in the convent.
And speaking of inner nudges, Steckler's now moving her company to the next phase, franchising her pet care business. She wants other entrepreneurs to embark on their own new beginnings. I'm Heather Taylor.
When it comes to life changes, what helps you make satisfying decisions, meditation, prayer, those inner nudges Grace mentioned? You can reach us at email@example.com or find us on Twitter. Our handle is @wamumetro. After the break, reimagining Baltimore's long befouled harbor.
It looks like grass is growing on the water, which they actually are. They have flotation devices underneath the grasses that support them.
It's coming your way on "Metro Connection," on WAMU 88.5.
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