Read

Debt and Discernment: An Unexpected Gift

Published:
February 21, 2024
February 12, 2024
Read this reflective narrative on how taking out student loans changed the course of one woman's life and led her to her true calling.

A reflective narrative by Branan Thompson.

Branan thought she had her life figured out after college. So when her perfectly laid plan fell apart before her eyes, she felt lost. This is the story of how her debt — and the obstacles in her way — became an unexpected blessing and led to much-needed healing.

Here’s something you don’t hear every day: I’m grateful for my student loans. Why? My student loan debt forced my first major adult decisions, leading me to a better life than I would have chosen for myself.

My senior year of college, I had two very clear options for my postgraduate path. One was to apply to teaching programs working at underresourced schools, where I could teach and get my master’s degree at the same time. The other was to consider whether God calling me to be a religious Sister.

I came to know the Dominican Sisters through their presence at my high school, and had on-and-off discerned entering the convent for five years. The Dominicans’ effervescent joy and life of peaceful prayer kept tugging at my heartstrings and drawing me back, no matter where else my attention momentarily turned. So, the January before graduation, I attended a retreat to, in my black-and-white understanding, decide once and for all if I was either going to enter the convent or pursue my vocation and career elsewhere.

The retreat was full of graces and wisdom, and even though I was still unsure, I ultimately felt convicted that I wanted to jump into religious life with arms wide open, trusting that God’s love would catch me even if I had discerned incorrectly.

His love did catch me, but that doesn’t mean it was a soft fall. When I asked for an application, I was told there was a major obstacle to taking a vow of poverty: my $30,000 of student loan debt. If I wanted to enter the convent, I would first have to pay off what I owed. I returned to campus heartbroken and confused, having to throw out my ruined post-college plans. Because I wanted to pay off my loans ASAP, joining a two-year teaching program someplace where I would only earn a small stipend was also out of the question. It seemed my only option, regrettably, was to move back home to live with my mom and find a job there.

I ended up taking a job in fundraising that paid well (especially for someone who had double-majored in Creative Writing and Theology), and for two years, I budgeted, lived simply, and made the highest loan payments I could afford while still having some money for fun and the occasional road trip. 

That time of working and waiting was incredibly difficult, but also full of joyful moments. I was a bridesmaid for my best friend and became the godmother of her first child. I learned how to cook and enjoyed countless Netflix shows with my mom. I was able to visit my grandma in some of her last years of life and stay with my dad out of state, mending wounds in our relationship. I spent weekends out of town with friends after spontaneously planning on Friday afternoons. During the time I thought was going to be an agonizing detour, I was able to be radically present for the most important people in my life, something I would not have been able to do as concretely if I had been in the convent or living in community while studying and teaching.

After two years of saving and paying down my loans, I was finally able to apply to the convent — only to be denied for the second time. This time, however, the Sisters had my mental health in mind rather than my financial well-being. To my surprise, they advised me to seek healing in therapy before making any big life decisions about my vocation. It wasn’t a no, they said — just a request to take some time to care for myself and work on my inner critic.

It felt like some cosmic joke: I had worked so hard, just to have my plans crash and burn again. I saw myself as an unlovable failure, which was the voice of the very inner critic that concerned the Sisters so much. I fell into a deep depression, unsure of where my life was going and thinking that my happiness was proving to be impossible. 

The fact that the Sisters’ “no” was so shocking to me only showed how blind I was to the deeper wounds, pain, and unseen mental illness driving my discernment. I had tried to outrun my wounds by entering the convent the first time, and God had used my debt to slow me down. Now, after still trying to run and show myself to be perfect and worthy of love, I was caught at an absolute standstill, forced to look directly at the hidden, hurting places within me.

Fortunately, with my newfound financial freedom, I was able to pay for really quality therapy sessions with a Catholic therapist. While I don’t believe a therapist has to be Catholic, or share the same faith as you, to provide quality care, it was something I was seeking out in a therapist at that time because of my situation. I had tried therapy for short periods before, almost always at the insistence of a friend, but thought it was for other people who were struggling with greater symptoms of mental illness. It took the Sisters’ prescribing it to realize that the things I’d been ignoring were worth my attention — and I couldn’t heal from them on my own.

I spent a lot of time in prayer while I did the work in therapy of acknowledging my inner critic and family-of-origin wounds, realizing that they ran my life and my relationship with God. I allowed God to reintroduce himself to me as a Father who loved me as I was, not for what I tried to do for him. Yes, he had drawn my heart toward the beauty of religious life, but it was so that those trusted spiritual mothers could lead me to therapy, which opened up new ways to love and trust myself, others, and God. 

In the midst of this renewal, I took a lower-paying but much more fulfilling youth ministry job at my home parish. I met teens who taught me more than I taught them and colleagues who became lifelong friends. One of these colleagues facilitated the best meeting of all: introducing me to the man who would become my husband. 

My husband was and is an unexpected gift, someone I have only been able to love because my journey in discernment and therapy taught me how to love myself. If I had ignored my debt and discernment and followed my own path, I could have been anywhere else in the country rather than standing with an open heart beside my friend in a Baltimore pub that night — a few feet away from meeting the man I would marry.

What seemed like a burden ruining my plans was actually the tool God used to lead me to my vocation and a life better than any I could have imagined for myself. Debt does place limitations on us, but those limitations might just end up being the arrows leading us to something greater and a freedom we hardly dare to hope for.  

Creators:
Branan Thompson
Published:
February 21, 2024
February 12, 2024
On a related note...
Don’t Forget the Power of Ethical Shopping This Christmas Season

Don’t Forget the Power of Ethical Shopping This Christmas Season

Sophie Caldecott

Voices of Synod 2018 | Brian Rhude

Voices of Synod 2018 | Brian Rhude

Grotto

My Side Hustles Helped Me Pay Off Debt — and Pursue My Passion

My Side Hustles Helped Me Pay Off Debt — and Pursue My Passion

Patricia Valderrama

3 Festive Cocktails for Your Easter Celebration

3 Festive Cocktails for Your Easter Celebration

Ken Hallenius

3 Lessons from Two Saints Being Canonized Today

3 Lessons from Two Saints Being Canonized Today

Mike Jordan Laskey

Watch This Nun's ESPY-Nominated Curveball

Watch This Nun's ESPY-Nominated Curveball

Grotto Shares

Breaking Bad (Habits)

Breaking Bad (Habits)

Ben Wilson

4 Tips for Top-Notch Networking

4 Tips for Top-Notch Networking

Molly Cruitt

Chasing a Dream to Work in Music

Chasing a Dream to Work in Music

Grotto

Should We Believe Kanye's Conversion Is Authentic?

Should We Believe Kanye's Conversion Is Authentic?

Emily Mae Mentock

Preparing Young Actors to Change the World

Preparing Young Actors to Change the World

Grotto

Your 2022 Chicago Gift Guide

Your 2022 Chicago Gift Guide

Jennon Bell Hoffmann

Where to Find Hope During a COVID Christmas

Where to Find Hope During a COVID Christmas

Theresa Sullivan

5 Strategies for Dealing with Debt in Your 20s and 30s

5 Strategies for Dealing with Debt in Your 20s and 30s

Bethany Meola

How Self-Denial Transforms the Bachelor Life

How Self-Denial Transforms the Bachelor Life

Isaac Huss

St. Mark Spotify Playlist | #GrottoMusic

St. Mark Spotify Playlist | #GrottoMusic

Grotto

The Cannonball That Created a Saint — and Changed Catholicism

The Cannonball That Created a Saint — and Changed Catholicism

Mike Jordan Laskey

Halloween Traditions from Catholicism

Halloween Traditions from Catholicism

Grotto

Christmas Eve Reflection

Christmas Eve Reflection

Grotto

How Do You Buy a Used Car?

How Do You Buy a Used Car?

Grotto

newsletter

We’d sure love to be pals.

Like what you see? Make it easy on yourself and we’ll meet you right in your inbox next time.