Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What It Means to be in Initial Formation

Next week, I will write about the different stages of Initial Formation for the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity. This week, I am writing about the process of formation itself. defines formation as follows:

for·ma·tion   /fɔrˈmeɪʃən/ [fawr-mey-shuhn]

1. the act or process of forming or the state of being formed: the formation of ice.
2. the manner in which a thing is formed; disposition of parts; formal structure or arrangement.

Formation, by its very nature, is not an easy process. Just take the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly:

It's all about change and growth. This is at the heart of initial formation in a religious community. (It is called initial formation, because formation is a lifelong process!)

One thing that has helped me in my initial formation process is knowing Maslow's Four Stages of Learning, also known as the Conscious Competence Theory. I was required to memorize these stages for a public speaking class. (Thanks, Dave, for requiring this!) It has helped me to be patient with myself, especially in the Conscious Incompetence stage!

Maslow's 4 Stages of Learning/The Conscious Competence Theory:
1. Unconscious Incompetence: The individual is not aware that s/he is doing something wrong or that s/he needs to improve in an area.
Example: Sam is not aware that he mumbles when he talks.

2. Conscious Incompetence: The individual recognizes that s/he is doing something wrong but it is either a bad habit or s/he does not know how to improve.
Example: Sam's friend has told him that he mumbles when he talks. Now that he is aware of it, he wants to make a change. He catches himself mumbling again, and tells himself he needs to stop it.

3. Conscious Competence: The individual is improving/doing something right but has to concentrate to do it.
Example: When Sam talks, he focuses on opening his mouth more and ennunciating his words.
4. Unconscious Competence: The individual is able to do something right without even thinking about it. The skill has become second nature.
Example: Sam no longer mumbles and doesn't even have to think about it.

As I mentioned above, Conscious Incompetence can be the most frustrating stage. In St. Paul's letter to the Romans, he expresses this feeling:

"What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate."
-Romans 7:15, NAB

It also can be frustrating because you know that you are changing, but the change is not observable to other people. This calls for patience on both sides. Using the scenario with Sam, imagine that he is with his friend, and he starts mumbling again. Sam is working on not mumbling, but his friend cannot read Sam's mind. He might not know that Sam is trying to improve. In this situation, Sam and his friend both need to be patient with each other. Sam needs to be patient with his friend's lack of superpowers, and his friend needs to be patient with Sam's learning process. In addition, Sam needs to be patient with himself, knowing that seldom do people change as quickly as they want to. However, as long as one wants to change, provided that it is physically possible, one can change.

Here are a couple good songs on this topic:
Do People Bloom by Ezra Holbrook
Changes IV by Cat Stevens

And a reflection by a friend in seminary:
Try, and keep trying and keep trying, and try again.

Fortunately for me, I am a "no-vice!" ;-)

The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

--Reinhold Niebuhr

In other news, I was able to borrow The King's Speech from Silver Lake College's library, and we watched it with a bunch of our fellow Sisters. It was an excellent movie! Just incredible.


  1. Sister Monica, you've done a beautiful (and very accurate) job at depicting textually and visually what formation is about. It's obvious to me that you are getting the most of your formation journey -- as you should -- so that you can embrace professed life with full freedom, knowledge and surrender. Enjoy and treasure your formation journey, especially your time in Novitiate, for it is an experience that only comes once!

  2. Wonderful post, Sister! This especially rang true for me: It also can be frustrating because you know that you are changing, but the change is not observable to other people. I've found that when I've acted in a certain way for so long, people have come to expect it, and so they're not likely to notice that it's not happening as frequently because they are conditioned to notice only when I do the expected behavior, not when I don't do it. At least that's my take on it right now.

    The beauty is that the God who effects the secret and hidden change within us is the same God who sees the secret most recesses of our hearts, who sees the hidden changes happening in us, even when we don't see them ourselves.

    Anyway, one novice to another, just wanted to say hi and thanks for sharing. I found your blog on the Catholic Blogs directory. I'll keep you in my daily prayers :)

  3. Thanks Michael (Br. Michael?), for your comment. It is so true God can see changes in us before we can! It is also true that some people have difficulty accepting changes in others...I experience that too, and in those times I have to remind myself that this too shall pass, and then I work to "prove them wrong" through my actions.

    Thanks so much for reading! I saw on your profile that you are an Augustinian...wonderful! :) I will also keep you in my daily prayers. Thank you for yours.

  4. Yes, Br. Michael :) My first profession will be on August 13 - we're a one year novitiate. Thanks for the prayers!

  5. What a simply profound way to explain initial formation and all spiritual formation. As a spiritual director, I validate your observations and explanations. I ask God's blessing on your growing and on all who undertake a spiritual journey!

  6. Thanks for the affirmation, Sister Anne Marie!