Forming a Healthy Disciple. Part 4 – THE EARLY YEARS
A Good Beginning: Ongoing Formation in the First Years. I’ve been writing about the topic of “transitions.” Specifically I have concentrated on transitions and vocations. This would include married life, priesthood, religious and consecrated life. Vocations are lived out over time. They move through different phases. As we transition from one phase to another, there are challenges and blessings. These transitions offer us opportunities to be “formed” in our relationship to Christ and our relationships to other important people around us. Formation is about asking – and finding answers to – the “big questions” “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “What should I be doing”). Formation is also about molding our life in a way that we not surviving or moseying along. Formation is about living life in such a way that we are thriving.
During the past few weeks, I have been providing general, foundations about “formation.” I would like to dive into specific periods and phases that we encounter through our lives. This week I would especially like to talk about beginnings. For some of you, this will hopefully be valuable. I’ll be writing about your current situation. For others, part of what is presented might still be relevant, even if this phase in your life was years ago. There might be unresolved tasks and issues from a previous time. The following words might be an invitation from the Lord to enter into a delayed “formation” with new eyes and hope.
Beginnings involve such events as the first five years after graduation from college/university; the first five years of your first job; the first five years of marriage, priesthood or religious life; the first five years after moving out of your parent’s home. These first years are very important. They set a pace for the years that stretch ahead. They also lay a foundation for the future. They provide a point of reference across a lifetime of growth in your relationship with Christ. It also indicates a direction in your ministry to others.
The “Event” – Marriage, priesthood, religious life, moving away from home, one’s first job, contain significant events and experiences. Some have to do with departure. Others with arrivals. Still others with inner movements.
Departures – and arrivals like the ones listed above – can be highly anticipated moments. They signal a significant leave-taking. Important relationships may continue but in an altered way. Patterns that marked your life during the time of preparation, and even before, are inexorably changed and closed.
Arrivals also become important during this time. An arrival in a new community, home, parish, house, and neighborhood requires settling into new living arrangements. You arrive into a new set of daily tasks. You arrive amid a new set of established co-workers. You arrive in a new community with a new position or role as priest, husband/wife, religious sister or a single person with a new job.
These transitional events also contain inner experiences. If a sacrament or religious ceremony was involved (such as marriage, consecration or ordination), you come established in a new way of being. This new configuration means that your relationship to Jesus Christ, to the Church, and to those directly involved with your vocation are now totally altered.
This new way of being does not automatically translate into a new sense of self, a new psychological and spiritual identity. This “newness” needs to be recognized, understood – and consciously appropriated. The internalization and appropriation of what has happened through the reception of a sacrament (or consecration) is a task that lies ahead. This will take time.
Tasks and Challenges – New tasks face the new employee, mom/dad, husband/wife, priest/religious sister. Some tasks are practical. They have to do with the basic functioning of what is seen as “your job.” Tasks concerning the appropriation of your new identity are less visible. Yet they are critical and urgent because they are so foundational. (See my earlier post concerning the interplay of formation and identity) People will refer to you, for the first time in your life, as wife/husband, mom/dad, “Father/Sister.” If that seems weird to you, you’re normal. These are new titles attached to new identities that, even a short time ago, you didn’t have. The process of appropriating a new identity unfolds in your interior life. It unfolds in your external, visible vocation. Finally, it unfolds in your ministry and the way you minister to others.
During this time, you will be challenged to learn how to stay centered in what matters. The heart of your vocation, mission, and ministry to others are key. This lies at the core of “formation.” This means, for example, holding fast to a rhythm and pattern of prayer in daily life. This means being aware of what is happening around you and inside you.
As a starting point, consider the following Formation Questions: Can you “name” the beginning event? How was the preparation time? Was it long enough? How prepared do you feel for this new phase in your life? What kind of spiritual/religious preparation was involved? What do you hope for? What do you want? What concerns and fears do you have? Take these to prayer. Talk to the Lord about these. Tell Him the answers to the above questions.