That wardrobe feeling

Recently, while researching some material about spirituality for what I hope will be my next book, I came across this piece that I wrote five years ago. I thought how relevant it is as Australian catholics are being invited to rev up for the 20/20 Plenary Council. I would be interested in your comments.

closet 3Do you know this feeling? Standing in front of an open wardrobe and deciding that everything is either too tight, out of date, too worn, too hot- or cool, just not right!

It’s a great image for spirituality as we mature in years and faith – that inner knowing that some practice, some tradition or long-held belief is not the right fit. Maybe it suited the younger you but the mature you wants something more, something that you can’t quite identify.

It reminds me of a story I copied from a website years ago:

During my adult years, I went to church for long periods of time. I still yearned for the sense of meaning and the feeling of belonging that the whisper had intimated-the mysterious presence, the felt connection to a larger reality-but the actual experience of what had been promised seemed to be absent. It did not meet my longing.

It wasn’t until my mid-forties that I mentioned my dilemma with the church to a colleague who’d once been a Dominican priest. He told me a story of a beautiful tree in the center of a garden, surrounded by a high stone wall. He likened the tree to a person searching for the sacred, and the wall, to the boundar¬ies defined by her religion. He concluded by saying:
“The tree needs to grow out of the garden. Its branches need room to expand and spread wide. They need to reach far outside the garden’s walls, for they cannot be contained by the walls’ limits. But the tree always remains rooted in the garden.”

His story helped to reconcile my hope and my grave disappointment in the religion of my childhood. I had done everything I could to stay within the garden’s walls, but letting my branches expand had become a mounting demand. Once more, I left the church but the church never left me. It remained inside like the tree’s roots in the garden, guiding me not so much morally (for my family had provided that structure), as in my human passage. Its stories and teachings gave direction in ever-deeper waters, reminding me how to navigate and integrate a life at every turn. I have been continuously fed by that heritage. Since early childhood, it has been my foundation and formed a large part of who I am. Like the tree’s branches, however, I had to seek far outside its walls before I could return and listen again-but this time, not with my ears.

Many people, but I suspect more women than men, experience a ‘But wait, there’s more’ feeling about the way they live out their faith. What to do about it as Sunday comes around once again? Sit in a pew and feel bored or even angry, change churches, give it up all together, settle for passivity – a what can I do about it approach, stay home and feel guilty?

Just like a favourite dress that has to be laid aside because it no longer fits our more mature shape, so too the way we express our faith and live out our God relationship changes over the years. I think that it’s important to trust our inner knowing that some faith practices are no longer life-giving, and may need to be laid aside with sadness, courage and a sliver of excitement.

   Judith     (

3 Replies to “That wardrobe feeling”

  1. Hello Judith


    I felt I too could have written such a beautiful description of our lives in Christ. It certainly succinctly describes my journey and that of some many of my peers. So many strong devout women could not wait for the church to embrace the inevitability of transformation and moved elsewhere thus weakening the Forrest. My sadness is felt for the “Trees “inside the wall that are to afraid to step outside the wall.

    I am sure I will enjoy your book when it is written. Thankyou for your precious insights into the human spirit and our journey. Blessings Kaye Ballantyne

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Dear Judith

    A quick response on the fly – preparing to go to central Australia 18 Aug – 5 Sept – but this was published recently by The Majjellan, then The Far East:

    Click to access TRACEY-EDSTEIN_Decluttering-Do-your-spiritual-practices-bring-you-joy_August-2019.pdf

    Great minds think alike – and I love the photo!

    I know some say “I didn’t leave the church – the church left me…” and I get it.

    I was unsuccessful in application to be a member of a writing group for Plenary Council – further rejection by the church!

    Take care, hope The Book’s progressing, Tracey

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

  3. Hi Judith
    Loved your latest piece how our view of the church changes over the years.
    I live my faith with people who are around me –
    my family getting together to celebrate my granddaughter’s 2nd birthday
    my friends calling to say hello
    a coffee with a close friend
    the women I meet at Sophia Circle who share their life
    the women who I meet at art classes where we share ideas and most importantly encourage each other as we sit around the table sketching or painting
    “the way we express our faith and live our God relationship changes over the years” (from your article)

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