Bloganuary: Advice to Teenage Self

Today’s Bloganuary prompt is something I’m not inspired to write about. I was late to the game and nobody told me the rules, so instead, I’ll choose one of the earlier prompts.

What advice would you give to your teenage self?

In the days before the internet, social influencers were your friends, your family and your school. At least, that was the case for me. And maybe it was in reverse order: my school, my family and friends.

From the age of six to eighteen, I attended a school run by Catholic nuns.

Make no bones about it. this was a religious school. Even when the government had it nationalized, converting it from an exclusive, denominational private school into a public, non-denominational one, the sisters maintained an iron hold. They taught all the tenets and dogma of Roman Catholicism and insisted on a strict regime of order, discipline and Godfearing-ness.

In current news, there’s a scandal about Canadian residential schools and the role of the church in abuses against indigenous children.  I have nothing to say about that, except that I recognise the absolute stubbornness of the clergy who believed that what they were doing was absolutely right.

I remember my classes in catechism and religion (two different classes by the way) where I was taught the doctrines of the church and the necessity of baptism and repentance to enter heaven.

One day, Sister Josephine was explaining the ranks of the righteous going into heaven. Good Catholics were at the top of the list, followed by good Protestants, who were christians but not Catholic.  Of course, bad people went straight to hell and repentant christians went to purgatory to pay for their sins before entering the Pearly Gates.

I was feeling particularly peevish and I shot my hand up for a question.

“What about the Jews?”  I asked.

“For not believing in Christ the Saviour,” Sister Josephine said “They stay in purgatory forever.”  

“What about the Buddhists?”  I was being sly with this question. I knew that Sister Josephine’s parents came from China and were not Catholic.

She tightened her lips, squinted her eyes and tersely replied, “They go to a very special part of purgatory.”

Advice to my teenage self:   Continue to challenge and question the absolute. The voice of authority is not always right.

As you can imagine, growing up in an all-girl, all-Catholic school, personalities were profoundly influenced by the sisters.   By their teenage years, most of my classmates had at one time or other, wanted to become teachers or nuns.

I was never one of them. I spent a good deal of time tearing down the doctrines and questioning faith.  Don’t get me wrong.  I never sneered at the nuns.  I had too much respect for their dedication and humility. Misguided or not, their faith guided them to a lifetime of self-sacrifice and helping fellow human beings.

My impatience was often directed at girls my age.  Once I had a terrific argument with a girl whom I thought intelligent and incredibly gifted in the arts, drama and science.   I can’t remember the scene, only that we both walked away knowing that we hadn’t convinced the other by one iota of difference and that we were both exhausted by the effort.

Shortly after, I concluded that it didn’t really matter. My motivation for arguing was my self- assuredness in being absolutely right.  Her motivation of faith resulted in acts of kindness.  In the end, who did the greater good?

Advice to my teenage self:   The motivation for kindness should only be judged by its effect on others.  

Before I turn this question around, I apologise for broaching the topic of religion.  Politics and religion are two subjects that I’ve deliberately avoided in my blog. My rambling started with recollections from my teenage years and the role of the sisters followed them in.

What about you?   Is there any advice that you’d give your teenage self?  


      1. I don’t think I’d go so far to call it a schism except in certain regions/countries. Northern Ireland is the obvious example and the other would be Glasgow in Scotland, where a lot of Irish people settled – a mix of Catholic and Protestant, bringing their sectarian divisions with them. You can see it most strongly in the rivalry between the two football clubs there – Celtic (Catholic) and Rangers (Protestant) – which is far more extreme than similar rivalries in other parts of the country. My friend Malcolm wrote an excellent blog about that just recently:

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Sandy – I love your two pieces of advice for your teen self — and I think they equally apply to most adults! As someone who spent 13 years as a nun (1981-1994) – I appreciate your story! Anyone who spent time in a Catholic school prior to about 1975 can probably relate. I can promise I wasn’t one of those “cram it down your throat” nuns – but there were certainly plenty of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read with interest your history of being a nun before returning to a secular life. I have relatives who did the same and I always thought it unusual – as a calling and as decision to change. I think it must have been hard decision, esp after 13 years. I’m glad that you liked my story. I know that my views are not always appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

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