Formation Happens on Two Levels


I’ve been reading a little book by David Benner called The Gift of Being Yourself — a very profound and rich little book, I might add — and it has me thinking a lot these days about the self and how it is formed. 

This morning, for instance, I got to thinking about that moment when I was 19 that I’ve mentioned here before when it felt like scales fell from my eyes and I realized everything about myself, my life, and my faith was quite different than I’d always thought it was. In that moment, I began a more conscious understanding of and participation in my formation as a person on two distinct levels. 

The first part of that process was learning how I’d been formed over the course of my life in conscious and unconscious ways. Who had I become, and why? 

This level of formation is happening all throughout our lives whether we know it or not. We’ve talked about this previously, too, but in each moment of our lives, depending on what we choose to do, how we choose to respond, how we spend our time, and even the feelings and thoughts we have in response to different situations, our personhood is being formed. 

Ultimately, this first level of formation has to do with beliefs we form around the experiences we have.

It’s a kind of formation we dictate and control — whether we’re aware we’re doing it or not — based on the kind of person we want to be or the quality of life we want to have. It is most often concerned with self-preservation and self-advancement.

But there’s a second level of formation, and our awareness of this second level emerges like a process of recovery. 

Think of it like cleaning a window that has been coated with thick paint that’s been there for years. We take a rag and pail of solution to it, and slowly, slowly the window becomes clear. We eventually can see the window as it was originally created to be seen, rather than the years of paint coated over it. 

This second level of formation is like that. It is a process of discovering the person we really are that was determined about us by God before we were born. It is the person God intends for us to be and knows us to be at our core, and it is the person God is steadily desiring to bring more and more to the surface. 

I say it is like a process of recovery because who we are at our deepest core level, as created and determined by God, already exists in the fullness of God’s awareness but not the fullness of our own. Our lifetime with God in Christ is meant to be an ongoing process of recovery of the person God made us to be.

In reading this, do you have any sense of connection to either level of formation at work in your life? What has been your understanding of the process of formation that happens in us over a lifetime? What is your response to knowing these two types of formation exist?