Could you give up everything to follow your calling? That’s the question on Lifetime’s new reality television series The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns where five women in their 20s enter the walls of a convent. For six weeks, the young women have to give up everything—boyfriends, jobs, hobbies, family—in order to discern whether they feel called to be religious sisters.
It’s a compelling premise. These women retreat from the modern world as we know it, making the choice to live a life completely foreign to them. But the lessons they learn aren't exclusive to entering a convent. Whether you’re a single 20-something in the big city or a mom of two in the rural Midwest, you can learn a thing or two from The Sisterhood.
01. Makeup is not what makes you beautiful.
In the series premiere, the girls are asked to remove all of their makeup. Naturally, drama ensues. And the discomfort factor is much greater, as the women know they’re on national television. But as one of the religious sisters explains, going barefaced will help the young women learn to focus on their interior beauty and the transformation of their hearts.
This certainly isn’t to suggest that the rest of us should eschew makeup as well—there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look your best! But it’s a striking reminder to put makeup—and general concerns with how we look—in its proper place. Certainly in today’s world of photoshopped advertising and narrow standards of beauty devised by the media, it’s no wonder that many women feel inadequate. One can almost hear Colbie Caillat’s recent song “Try” play through the scene, singing as she does a similarly positive message: “You don’t have to try so hard” to be beautiful. You don’t need to change the way you are to meet someone else’s standard. You are beautiful as a whole person—not only when you’re made up to the nines.
02. Unplugging helps you discover who you are.
In another moment of tension, the young women are asked to hand in their cell phones, causing many to worry about losing their constant contact with friends and family. In our world of constant communication, social networking, and infinite information at our fingertips, it’s easy to forget the value of silence.
Especially if you’re addicted to your cellphone, finding silence isn't easy. But cutting the cord—even just for a little bit—adds up over time. In fact, a study from Kent University researchers indicates that those who use cell phones with greater frequency report lower levels of happiness and higher levels of anxiety. Further, researchers from the University of Gothenberg found that those who use computers four or more hours a day report high levels of stress, anxiety, and sleeping disorders.
One need not enter religious life to find silence, of course. We all would benefit from taking a few minutes each day to step away from the noise and busy-ness of the world. Endless to-do lists won’t bring you joy or rest. Nor will scrolling through your news feed or Instagram. They go on to infinity but never seem to satisfy. In the end, what’s most valuable is to learn how to be comfortable with yourself.
As comedian Louis CK once hilariously described, how else can we hear the silent tuggings of our heart? Only by unplugging ourselves can we discover who we really are.
03. Happiness doesn’t come without sacrifice.
Perhaps the most striking lesson from The Sisterhood is on the reality of joy and sacrifice. What makes us happy? Is it our clothes? Jobs? Being in a relationship? Deep down, we know true happiness does not come from our possessions or status. Material goods can provide us with pleasure and contentment, sure, but they don’t add up to lasting joy.
As we see on the show, the sisters give up everything in their lives to serve the elderly and the poor in their community, and the joy radiating from their faces is palpable. One doesn’t have to become religious to experience this happiness, but it does require some element of self-giving.
When we take a moment out of our busy day to listen to a friend who is going through a breakup, help an elderly neighbor shovel the sidewalk, or volunteer to mentor kids in our community, we step outside of ourselves and focus on the needs of someone else. This is what ultimately leads to a better understanding of life and happiness.
Whether the young women in the show choose to stay at the convent or leave, they are undoubtedly learning lessons that will change their lives forever. If we allow ourselves to learn these same life lessons, we who feel called to other paths in life will be better off as well.