Part of the work of transformation is considering what in the Faithwalking community we call our “first formation.” Our first formation is made of all the meaningful experiences we lived in our childhood and early years that formed us into who we are today. In the presence of God, we become aware of and consider these meaningful experiences again, positive and negative, seeking to be present to them and to the impact they have in us today. We don’t try to fix them or change them; we simply hold them in the space between God and us. With the help of the Holy Spirit and a safe community of other fellow explorers, we eventually seek to integrate these experiences into a renewed vision of who we are in Christ. In Faithwalking we often ask, “What are the three most meaningful experiences that made you who you are today?” It is a big question that sometimes takes weeks to explore!
The common tendency we have when we do this kind of work is to focus only on the negative. And yes, there are painful and negative experiences of the past that we need to re-process with the help of God. However, there are many positive experiences we sometimes ignore or don’t remember. It is often the case that our brains stick to the negative. Have you ever wondered why – for example – you seem to be overly focused on the one or two negative comments made after a presentation when eight other people told you that you did a great job? This negative bias in our brains is very real. The consequence is that we forget or simply are not present to the positive.
What is the impact of missing the positive experiences of your first formation? What would be the impact of becoming present to them? Well, the conversation can get really complex, but let’s focus on only one positive outcome of being aware of those positive forming experiences in our lives: gratitude.
Counselors and psychologists consistently assert that gratitude has many benefits that impact our emotional and physical health. In the book Positive Psychology in Practice (2004), authors Bono, Emmons, and McCullough explore the implications of the practice of gratitude (chapter 29). They share about a study that was conducted on undergraduate students, adults with neuromuscular diseases, and clinical patients suffering from depression. The study concluded that all participants benefited from the practice of gratitude in their lives, and that “…gratitude mind-sets may help students and employees to resolve interpersonal conflicts, prisoners to rehabilitate, and people to recover from various disorders” (Wiley & Sons, 2004 p. 470). In the study all participants were simply asked to journal and reflect weekly about the different aspects that produced gratitude in their lives. How about trying that on as spiritual practice in your spiritual workout?
As a powerful example of becoming aware and grateful of those positive aspects of our first formation, read below Kate’s responses for an assignment for one of her sessions in her Faithwalking Foundations class (Module 1: Awareness through Self-Discovery). Thank you, Kate, for sharing your work with with us!
Written by Kate Landis Gallihugh
Part of my assignment this week for my Faithwalking course is to identify positive things in my upbringing that played a role in forming who I am today and spend some time in gratitude for those things. I figured I would do this publicly today as a way to express gratitude to my mom and dad who played a pivotal role in my first formation. I wrote down ten things that they modeled for me that I have continued to practice in my life, marriage and in my own family…
- Smile often- it makes you happier inside when you wear a smile outside (Just look at these smiles…this was the one thing that people always noticed about my parents).
- I learned the importance of prayer and regular church attendance. I attended youth groups and faith formation classes (at that time it was called CCD).
- How good it feels to love and serve others well. We would volunteer as a family sometimes, bake cookies for friends and neighbors, my mom and I went on a mission trip my Sophomore year of high school, and they encouraged me to volunteer my time often as I became a teenager.
- They modeled what a great marriage should look like- making intentional time for each other, demonstrating a true partnership (each having unique roles but willing to help out in any capacity), spend time growing in your marriage- they took and then were leaders in a marriage encounter class.
- My DAD taught me the importance of being timely for things… sorry mom (I think I’m a mix of the two of them on this one and am usually running in at the last second but typically on time).
- Work hard and be involved in things. Avoid being lazy. Do chores and contribute to the household.
- It is important to be active and move your body daily whenever possible. My mom is 73 and still going to Jazzercise, Pilates, and is as active as ever.
- It is important to eat healthy, balanced meals and to eat with your family whenever possible. We also began preparing balanced meals for the family when I was 12. I had one night a week where I made dinner.
- I learned the importance of making special memories with your family and making time for extended family.
- In order to have deep, meaningful friendships, you also need to make time for your friends. My parents had college friends that we would travel to see at least once a year who are like family to us. We now have several families in our lives that we love as if they were true family members
- Finally, the importance of gratitude. Thanking people with calls, notes, words of thanks. And most importantly thanking God for all of the blessings He has given.
Clearly I have so many things to thank my parents for in how they raised me. I appreciate them so much. I’m doing my best to model these core values in my own life in hopes that my boys will understand why these things are so important. I’m also working through the negative concepts I’ve acquired along the way and lies that I tell myself. This is helping me to move toward reacting to stress in a more positive way and realizing that I’m capable of changing behaviors that don’t serve me or others well. I will be addressing these with my coach this week in class. We don’t have to stay stuck in a cycle of negative habits. With the right tools and support we are truly capable of change.
Bono, G., Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2004). Gratitude in Practice and the Practice of Gratitude. In P. A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.), Positive psychology in practice (p. 464–481). John Wiley & Sons Inc.