A Meditation for Boston


Bringing light into the darkness.

What a week

I feel like I’ve gone to bed saying that several nights running now — and yet, each morning, I woke to even more startling news headlines. Today was no exception. 

If you’re like me, you’re feeling overwhelmed by the weight of all that’s happened in the world this week, and especially in Boston. And if you’re like me, you’re wondering what to do with all those feelings.  

Today, I’d like to offer you the opportunity to connect to your mind and heart in the midst of all that’s happened — a chance for stillness, silence, and prayer (or, if you’re not someone who prays, a chance for loving-kindness). If that sounds like something you’d benefit from receiving, I invite you to create space to listen through this audio meditation I created just for you.

Enter into the meditation here:  



Note: When playing the link, you may want to pause at the beginning and let the entire audio file buffer before listening your way through.

Much love always,


Beginning the Work Again :: When It Feels Like You're Doing Nothing


Grounded. At rest. 

My return to regular life after the travels and conference experience of last week has felt pretty brutal. 

Each day since I’ve been home, around 4:30 in the afternoon, I hit a wall of exhaustion. My mind goes into that crazy-scary mind-meld place where it feels like sections of my mind go fuzzy and then shift on top of each other. (Does that ever happen to you when you’re flat-out tired?) My eyes glass over, and I feel like all I want to do right then is crawl into bed and curl under the covers, fast asleep.

Yesterday was the worst. I felt that way pretty much the whole day long.

This was confusing to me, since I’ve been home three days and have been getting a full night’s sleep each night now that I’m home. Shouldn’t the feeling of each day as I move deeper into this week be getting better, not worse? Kirk tells me it’s common for jet lag to feel worse on the second and third days, though, so hopefully that means I’m just moving through a normal process here. 

Last night I was so tired at dinner that I thought my face was going to fall right into the bowl of soup on the table in front of me. So I took Kirk’s advice and crawled into bed around 7:30. I pulled the covers around me, pushed my earbuds into my ears, then scrolled to a new favorite song, “Out of Reach” by Eustace the Dragon, and let it play on repeat for about two hours, my eyes closed in grateful rest. 

It was in that stillness that the now-familiar image of my 15-year-old self greeted me once I closed my eyes.

There she was, and I’m sorry to say that I immediately wanted to run. 

Part of the reason I wanted to run is that it felt like I was doing nothing. And that’s because the other aspect of being back home so far has been the rush-rush-rush mode of each day.

This is partly to do with the adrenaline of my conference experience — up early each morning for 7:30 a.m. breakfast meetings and then pushing through, without a break, until at least midnight each day (and until 2:30 a.m. one night, when I ducked out of the hotel to enjoy a Eustace the Dragon concert with friends!). After a long travel day on Sunday, I got home around midnight and then was up and out of bed the next morning, ready to plow into my usual work and home responsibilities again.

So, there was the conference adrenaline at work in my body.

But there was also the conference aftermath — that feeling of needing to get caught up on All The Things. A new at-home work schedule that keeps me occupied at my desk from 9 a.m. until about 5 p.m. each day now. That feeling of playing catch-up on social media. Getting reoriented to life at home. Trying (but so far failing) to resume my exercise routine. And then Boston. And Gosnell. And Texas. 

It’s been such a packed — and hard, nationally speaking — week. 

As a result, I feel all out of sorts. My daily commitment to silence, stillness, solitude, and prayer have been lost in the shuffle. I’m trying to discern a new way forward. I’m not there yet. 

And so, when I closed my eyes last night and immediately discovered the invitation to sit and be present with my 15-year-old self, I wanted to flee. It just wasn’t active enough. My body felt the need to keep going-going-going, even though I was so exhausted I could literally drop. 

It felt like doing nothing. 

And then I thought: Isn’t that the point? So often we hear that God just wants to “do nothing” with us — just enjoy hanging out and being together. I think of the formation process as one concerned with our being, rather than our doing. A lot of my personal calling to live my life in this world has to do with such counter-cultural stillness — being a repository of solitude and prayer on behalf of the world. 

In this place of re-entry, my flustered, over-hyped, adrenaline-fueled, post-conference self is seeking such at-rest equilibrium and not finding it yet. It’s hard. I expect I’ll get there again (hopefully) soon. And in the meantime, I’m reminding myself that what feels like doing nothing is actually doing something — something sacred and important.

What is the invitation to what feels like “do-nothing-ness” in the formation process like for you?

Beginning the Work Again :: On Visiting the Work and Taking Breathers


Still my adult self.

Note: There won’t be new posts at Still Forming next week while I’m away at a conference. (More on this below.)

I’m noticing the importance of treating “the work” as a part of my life I visit at times designated by me. And here’s why. 

If I sit inside it all the time, gnawing at it and working on these things like a dog working a bone, totally preoccupied with sucking the marrow out of its present obsession, not only would it suck me into a huge, black, emotional, scary hole, but it would also exhaust me, and it would additionally render impossible my ability to keep doing what I do with the rest of my adult life. 

Because I am an adult functioning in the world.

I’ve done a great degree of work to become the adult I am today, and the adult I am is real and still gets to show up for the majority of my waking hours. The adult I am has been given a vocation to write and teach and lead people in this space and on the Sunday Quiet and through spiritual direction. The adult I am is in a marriage of equals. The adult I am manages a household. The adult I am runs a freelance editing business. The adult I am takes care of her body

The adult I am gets to keep living life. She doesn’t get ignored or erased or swallowed up by “the work.”

But the work must continue, too, and not be banished or repressed.

And so I visit it. I go to therapy appointments, right now once a week. I share some of the things I’m learning in those appointments with Kirk when I’m ready. I share some of them with friends during times of connection. I created a journal just for processing things related to this season, and I visit that journal when things come up and need to come out. I keep tabs on my inner world, especially when watching movies or reading books or online content that cross over the same experiences I’m processing right now, so that I know when I need to make room for feeling my response. I go to spiritual direction. 

I give this work specific places to breathe and be fully welcome. And then I keep going about my business.

It’s like these words that Jan Richardson wrote as part of a Lenten retreat she recently offered, which a friend shared with me: 

There is a time for engaging our story: for contemplating it, praying with it, doing lectio with it. There is a time for talking about our story, telling it, weaving it and unweaving and weaving anew. There is a time for reflecting and remembering. 

And there is a time for rest. 

Particularly when we are working with painful threads of our story, it can grow exhausting to be perpetually present to those threads, to be in the thick and the tangle of them. Sometimes we need to relax our hold on the threads, to lay them down for a time and trust that the Spirit will still be at work in them, and in us. Even as we seek to be present to our story—to be aware and conscious and to know who we are and how we are part of a larger story, and to be engaged with God in the creating of our own story—there may be times we need a Sabbath from our story. 

Holy absence, my spiritual director calls it. 

Not ignoring our story. Not dismissing it. But letting ourselves rest in the knowledge that sometimes there is weaving that God does only when our attention is turned elsewhere—when we give ourselves time and Sabbath and place the threads into God’s hands rather than trying to handle them all ourselves.

There’s such wisdom in her words, isn’t there? 

Speaking of taking a rest, I’ll be taking one such rest next week while attending the SDI annual conference in St. Paul, Minnesota. I’ve been invited to the conference as a guest of SDI, having been named one of their 2013 New Contemplatives. It’s an honor, truly. 

As such, I won’t be posting in this series here next week. (I will, however, continue to host the Cup of Sunday Quiet, if you’d like to sign up to receive those weekly mailings.) I’m excited to give myself the time and opportunity to live inside the profession and training I’ve received over the course of these last many years. 

How might you allow yourself intentional places to visit your own “work” right now? How might you also give yourself room to rest in such a season?

The Body Series: Some Closing Thoughts

Meet Lottie, in all her gloriousness.

Meet Lottie, in all her gloriousness.

(Yay! I did it — I got a bike!)


We’ve sure covered a lot of ground here these last six weeks, haven’t we? 

It’s been a really different experience for me, writing a series for you on a topic I’m currently learning myself. But I’ve really valued the experience of learning along with you and sharing my thoughts, questions, struggles, and experiences with you along the way. 

As this series comes to a close, I’ve been thinking it would be helpful to offer a wrap-up on the territory we’ve covered and a bit of sharing on where I’ve landed in all this, at least for the time being. I’d love to hear where you’ve landed, too, and any changes you’ve noticed in your views and treatment of your body these last six weeks. 

So, some closing thoughts: 

  • For me, so much of the body journey has to do with getting in tune with the truth that I even have a body. I spend so much time inside my head and my heart that it’s easy to neglect the reality of my embodied self. I’ve found yoga to be a very helpful means of putting me in touch with my body, as it keeps me in tune with my breath and the movement of my body and the stretching of its muscles. Also, being outside is immensely helpful, as I notice the feel of breeze and sun on my skin, hear the birds and the wind as I walk or ride my bike, relish the brilliant colors of the sky and trees and flowers, and listen to the other sounds of life around me.
  • Viewing my relationship with my body as part of a formational process helps me be patient with this whole thing. When I think about my spiritual formation, I know that’s something that happens for a lifetime. It has seasons — times when God is teaching me one thing or another as a point of focus, and so I lean into those learning curves and allow them to take as long as they need to take. I can feel myself letting my relationship with my body take a similar course. I’m in a certain place with it now, learning certain things, and someday I’ll be in a different place, learning different things. This is a process that I’ll stay with for a lifetime. There’s no need to rush.
  • God’s view of the body as good and necessarily part of the human experience has helped remove some of my antagonism toward my body. I’m becoming more loving toward it. More welcoming of it. Viewing it as something God sees as a very good gift and opening myself to the discovery of what that gift means. 
  • One of the most profound ideas I’ve begun to carry as a result of this body series is the idea of carrying the body of Christ inside of me. This is something I’m going to continue to meditate upon. I think it will continue to deeply impact the way I treat my body, as it becomes a way of demonstrating my love for Jesus in practical, ongoing, daily ways. 
  • Lastly, it’s been so helpful for me to seek out physical activity that is simply fun. I think I’ve always assumed that exercise needed to look a certain way — either running or swimming or biking or fitness classes at the gym or using a treadmill or weight machines — and it didn’t matter whether you thought it was enjoyable or not. You just needed to do it. Blech. Now I’m coming to see that different forms of exercise work for different people. I’m finding that yoga and outdoor bicycling work best for me. Yoga is a perfect fit for my temperament, and outdoor bicycling is invigorating and fun and never fails to bring a huge smile to my face when I’m feeling the breeze and the sun and am coasting along in the beauty of the scenery. The best part is, I no longer have to force myself to do exercise I dread!

What have been your learning curves in this series? How have things been changing for you in your relationship with your body these last six weeks?

The Body Series: Learning to Care for the Body

Gnarled life.

What my starting point feels like.

The revelation I shared with you on Friday has been a really big one in my progress to relate to my body in a healthier, more caring way. The idea that I can view my body’s formation in a similar way to how I view my spiritual formation … well, for a girl whose life’s work is enfolded in spiritual formation, I couldn’t ask for a more fitting “click.”

I think what’s so helpful about this is the idea that I just do my part

My part has to do with what I put into my body, how I move my body around, and how I view my body. The rest is up to God and the way God made my body to function and respond to my input on its own. It really takes the pressure off, even as it hands me responsibility in the matter. 

And so today, I tried a cycling class at the gym. It was hard, but not so hard that I had collapsed by the end of it. I ate an orange and drank water. I had some whole-grain cereal with banana for breakfast. I did our meal planning, went to the grocery store, and then had another orange.

And all the while, I’ve sought to tune into my body. The different leg muscles the cycling class worked at different times, as well as my stomach muscles. The feeling of strength as I pushed a heavy cart of Costco supplies across the parking lot. The sense that I have this body, and this body has me. Again, that everything I experience in the world and that others experience of me is mediated by my body.

This quote from Stephanie Paulsell in Reclaiming the Body in Christian Spirituality says it so well: 

“Such is the mystery of the body. Sometimes we know that we are our bodies, that our capacity for life and death makes us who we are. At other times, we feel that we simply inhabit a vessel that is inadequate to contain all that we are.” 

—p. ix–x

In some ways I am my body, and in other ways, I simply have a body. Either way, this body is a necessary part of who I am and my experience of this life. It will still be with me, in similar but different form, in heaven.

God is asking me to care for this earthen vessel. 

And so the challenge is to do so. To care for my body. To learn to befriend it. To love it, even.

How are you doing in your progress to do the same?

The Body Series: Yes, We're Going Into the Science of It


So, here’s the next stone that emerged in my wondering whether our bodies are meant for formation, just as our souls are: the science of it.

In December, a friend posted a question on Facebook, asking for health-related recommendations. Overwhelmingly, her friends recommended an app called My Fitness Pal, which allows you to track your intake of calories each day. 

Curious, I downloaded the app and started playing with it, filling in what I’d eaten that day. 


It had been (what I thought was) a “light” day for me in the food department — just coffee and a few cookies for breakfast, a Triscuit snack for lunch, and mac and cheese with some sausage for dinner. But those foods I believed to be hardly anything pushed me about 1500 calories over what the app said my daily caloric intake goal should be.

I was pretty stunned.

Over the next few days, as I continued to log my food intake on the app, it was so interesting to learn about the distribution of calories in various foods. Foods like cucumbers, carrots, hummus, and broccoli had hardly any calories at all. Putting creamer in my coffee shot its calorie count much higher than drinking it black. Sausage, cream cheese, cookies, and Triscuits were pretty high in the calorie department. 

It felt like scales were falling off my eyes. 

I’m not scientific at all, and the whole rigamarole of calories, fats, proteins, and carbohydrates have always felt like running blindly into a wall for me. It’s just never made sense or clicked in any meaningful way for me. But here, in black and white, through an app that had pretty much every food you could think of stored inside its database, were numbers that showed me, in small and large amounts, what I was putting into my body. 

This led me on a bit of a scavenger hunt by way of Wikipedia, which I’ll tell you about tomorrow … 

The Body Series: Our Embodied Selves

Thoughts on the body I've been holding (for a body series I've been writing on my blog).

One of the first “aha” moments I had when I started diving into this body theology stuff last year was the realization that everything we experience in this life — and everything we experiene of other people — is mediated through our bodies. 

Kirk, smart man that he is, was the one who brought this idea to my attention. 

“Everything I know about you is mediated through your body,” he said.

When we were dating, him in Florida and me in California, we eventually came to know each other at a soul-deep level, but we only learned that could be the case through experiences our bodies first mediated.

We wrote emails to each other by typing letters with our fingers and reading them with our eyes. We talked on the phone by cradling cell phones in our hands and using our mouths to speak and laugh and pray and using our ears to listen. When we spent time together in person, we got to know our compatibility while using our legs to walk together, by making eye contact, by pointing out things we noticed with our hands and our voices, by holding hands. 

It was such pivotal moment for me to realize that everything we know of other people is brought about through the use of our bodies and the use of theirs. Everything we do and experience on earth happens through our embodied selves.

Have you ever thought about this before?

The Body Series: Considering Our Roots

Life abides.

One of the most helpful places to start in a series about the body is an assessment of our relationship with our own — and particularly the earliest roots of that relationship.

What are the early roots of your relationship with your body?

Here are a few of my own answers to that question, and I encourage you to share your answers (if you’d like) in the comments: 

  • Given the choice to be outside or inside, I would choose inside 100 percent of the time. While my siblings rushed to play outdoor games with the neighborhood kids, I preferred to sit in a chair in the living room with a book and read. I was not disposed toward physical activity.
  • In addition, I wasn’t very good at physical activity anyway. Three years of city softball and only hitting the ball once — not to mention getting hit in the nose with a softball during a pre-game practice — didn’t bolster my confidence in my body’s attunement to sports. I felt disqualified from anything having to do with athleticism.
  • My sister, on the other hand, was a natural-born athlete. She loved scraping her knees and making a mess, and she proudly identified as a tomboy. I, on the other hand, preferred to stay clean and tidy, and I certainly wouldn’t go for anything that might lead to scrapes or bruises. I was the bookworm; she was the athlete. Somehow those clear lines comforted me — made it easy for me to keep saying no to exertion.
  • I had a sweet tooth growing up. (I still do.) The kind of sweet tooth that would find me unable to finish my dinner but always save room for dessert. The kind of sweet tooth that had me refusing to finish my dinner, even, unless the dessert option made it worthwhile. The kind of sweet tooth that had me scooping quarters and dimes from my dad’s coin jar so I could walk to the store and buy candy after school. And since I could eat anything and still remain stick-thin, I came to believe that eating junk food in no way impacted my body.
  • What’s more, I seemed to have a different body type than most people in my family — one that followed the small-boned, no-curves pathway of my dad’s mother — which I came to believe would insulate me from body issues the whole of my life. Even though I didn’t “develop” much once I hit puberty, I felt pretty lucky to be as thin as a beanpole, wearing sizes 0, 2, and 4 all the way through college and beyond.

Not believing myself athletic, not enjoying athletics, eating whatever I wanted without consequence, and believing my body type to be immune from weight gain set me up for this: a whacked-out view of my embodied self. As I shared in a post last year on my personal blog, I truly believed my body to be an object that was supposed to serve me — to make me look good and not flinch at anything I gave it to consume. 

It’s a lot to undo, and it’s led to a ton of body confusion in recent years. 

What are the roots of your body image?

Still Points in the Day: All Is Prayer


A friend shared a video with me yesterday about prayer as a state of consciousness — the idea that we can hold a posture, inwardly and outwardly, that is prayer, no matter what we are doing. 

It made me think of the series we explored here recently called “Prayer Can Be.”

Prayer can be verbal, yes.

But it can also be silence, and dance, and drawing, and tears, and exercise, and preparing a meal, and so many other things in life. 

Just as I was sharing yesterday, in reference to the writings of Brother Lawrence and Jean-Pierre de Caussade, practicing the presence of God and attending to the sacrament of the present moment can create in us an ability to be still and prayerful inside ourselves while going about the mundane details of life. 

In that sense, still points are with us all day long. 

I’d encourage you to watch the 3-minute video my friend shared with me. Perhaps it will serve as a still point for you, as it was for me. 

Still Points in the Day: Routine Activities


As I was getting ready for work this morning, I noticed a still point happening underneath the surface of my around-the-house bustling.

Washing the dishes. 

Making the coffee. 

Drying my hair. 

Putting on make-up. 

I started thinking how often this happens for me.

I can be washing the dishes in the kitchen sink after dinner, sudsing up each dish and then rinsing it clean with hot water, and in my mind and heart I’m thinking of someone or a situation. Praying over it. Meditating upon it. 

Or I’m going through the motions of my getting-ready routine — brushing through my curls, applying lotions and moisturizers to my face and skin, picking out my shoes for the day — and underneath those automatic activities, I’m thinking about the day ahead, holding concerns in my heart, thinking through decisions. 

Brother Lawrence spoke of making each activity a prayer. Jean-Pierre de Caussade wrote of the sacrament of the present moment. Both of these men were speaking of mindfulness — being present to what you are doing as you are doing it, allowing that activity to become an intentional channel for prayer — and I’m very much in favor of that practice as a means of prayer. 

But sometimes automatic activities and routines we’ve sustained for so long we could do them blind become hospitable moments for deeper thought. It’s like someone who prefers to draw or take notes or play solitaire while listening to a lecture because the use of their hands keeps one part of their brain happy while freeing up the other part of their brain to listen better. 

Routine activities are like that for me sometimes. They can be gateways for deeper meditations of the heart. 

Do you ever experience this?

Still Points in the Day: Listening to Another

Landslide of glory.

I had a chance to meet a friend for happy hour last night. We’re relatively new friends, and there’s a lot about each other’s lives and histories that we have yet to learn. So we sat outside in the perfect evening clime, drank some wine, shared some food, and talked. 

It was a chance for me to listen — openly, attentively, deeply, acceptingly. To receive and hold her heart and story. To see God so plainly there. To acknowledge truth with her — the hard parts and the grace-filled parts. To share what I could see in her sharing.

Holding space with another person is such an opportunity for stillness in the present moment. To be fully there, welcoming what comes. To gaze with the gaze of God, the one who does not look away or flinch but nods, acknowledges, responds, and loves. Always.

How have you experienced listening as a still point?

Pieces of Formation: Heightened Emotions


Yesterday we considered experiences that brought us peace. Today, let’s consider the more heightened emotions — anger, sadness, ecstasy. 

For me, anger emerged in instances of justice. Or, rather, injustice. Being blamed for something I couldn’t have controlled. Being scolded for a certain behavior while my classmate was allowed to continue doing it. These kinds of things made me feel that things weren’t right, weren’t fair, and should have happened differently. 

What about you? 

When it comes to the more heightened emotions of life, where did you experience them as you were growing up?

Pieces of Formation: School Life

Let's learn a bit.

What was learning like for you while growing up? Was it something you loved? Something you dreaded? Something that felt like wrestling with a huge and slimy sea creature? 

I know someone who slumped through school, garnering Cs and Ds at regular intervals, but it turns out he’s a genius. The traditional school setting and pace bored him. He didn’t see the point, and he needed much greater challenge. It wasn’t until a sixth-grade teacher saw him for who he was and gave him room to be himself and get creative that he began to gather a greater sense of self and confidence when it came to learning. 

I’ve already shared with you that athletics were a bust for me and that I learned to read at quite a young age. The schoolroom and books became a haven. I loved to excel at my studies, and I was the kind of kid who felt (mostly) safe in a classroom, sitting at a desk with my notebook and school supplies, learning from the teacher at the front of the room. 

Since this was the place I excelled, it eventually became quite tied to my identity. I thought being solid in academics meant I ought to be in an academic setting the rest of my life. I eventually made plans for doctoral studies and expected to live my days in the halls of universities as a professor.

It’s all I thought I was good at: books. 

It turns out there’s more to me than that. Part of my container analysis had to do with examining this part of my life, then deconstructing, then reconstructing my identity as it concerned these things. 

What about you? What was your school life like? How did it affect the way you came to see yourself?

Pieces of Formation: Your Family Credo

I just love her.

Just some cuteness for you.

Yesterday we talked about the individual roles we’ve played in our families and how they affect the people we became. Today, let’s talk about the family creeds that existed while we were growing up (and may still exist today).

These can vary widely from family to family. Some examples would be:

  • We don’t talk about our feelings.
  • We always talk about our feelings.
  • When we’re angry or sad, we don’t show it. 
  • When we’re angry, everyone knows it.
  • When we’re sad, it’s someone else’s job to make it better. 
  • People aren’t welcome in our home.
  • Everyone is welcome in our home.
  • Anyone who is “different” isn’t okay.
  • We learn so much from other people and ideas. 
  • It’s not okay to make mistakes.
  • Mistakes are how we learn.

What kind of credo — voiced or unvoiced — was at work in your family unit?

Pieces of Formation: Your Role in the Family

Lone bird.

I was the peacemaker in my family, and I was the listener. 

No matter who was fighting with whom — siblings, parents, siblings with parents — I seemed to be the one who not only got along with everyone but also had a way of making and preserving peace. I could help those who were fighting feel seen, heard, and understood. I could be a safe place to go. I often served as a go-between. 

And I knew how to hold the stories. My parents trusted me with theirs, and I often felt I knew my siblings better than they knew me. I just had an ability to listen. 

For a long time, after I went through my original process of looking at my container, I resented both of these roles I played in my family. Why should I have been the peacemaker? Why should I have held the stories? I carried anger, resentment, and sadness about these roles for a number of years in my adult life. 

But then, about three years ago, it changed. 

I came to see that beyond playing the roles of peacemaker and listener in my family, I am a peacemaker and listener. These are part of my nature. They are charisms God has given me.

Part of the reason I held those roles in my family is because they’re akin to my nature. 

Today, I love that being a peacemaker and listener are who I am. These gifts make up a large part of what I do with my life today, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

But it doesn’t work out that way for everyone. Some of us played roles in our families that were assigned to us and had nothing to do with who we really are or were. Some of us took up roles because we thought we wanted them, only to learn later that we didn’t. 

What role did you play in your family? How did it impact who you became?

Pieces of Formation: Activities and Commitments


I played city softball for three years with my younger sister, and it was pretty much a disastrous experience for me — one around which I felt much shame for many years. In three years of playing, I only hit the ball once. 


Part of the reason I kept playing was because of that secret hope, every time I stepped into the batter’s box, that this would be the time my bat would connect with the ball, this would be the time all those admonitions to “keep my eye on the ball” would make a difference, this would be the time everyone on the bench and in the stands would be surprised. 

But another — even bigger — reason I kept playing every year was because of the annual fundraising competition. It turned out that what I lacked in athletic ability, I made up for in salesmanship. In spades. Three years in a row, my sister and I won the grand cash prize for the most candy bar sales in the entire league.

I was so proud of that accomplishment. 

Side by side, these two realities sat: shame and pride. They taught me much about myself, for good and ill. 

What activities and commitments were part of your growing-up life? How did they impact you?

Pieces of Formation: Childhood Friendships

Farmhouse and life.

Flannery O’Connor famously once said, “Anybody who has survived childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days,” and I find this to be so true, especially when it comes to the work of spiritual formation.

Those are the years we took in so much sensory data about life, and what we took in — without our realizing it was even happening — formed and formed and formed us into the people we eventually became.

And so we’re going to continue peeling back the layers of childhood a bit this week, starting with childhood friendships. 

When I look back at my childhood friendships, I notice two main things. 

First, I tended to form one or two really good friendships rather than a lot of them, and this holds true still today. And second, my experiences with group friendships weren’t very positive. 

As connected as these two observations appear on the surface, and there is certainly some connection, they don’t form a perfect one-to-one correspondence. One reason I formed just a couple close friendships rather than many is simply because I’m a very high introvert. Large social gatherings aren’t my preference when it comes to making connections. I’d rather go deep than wide. 

This reality of who I am holds true today, both in my friendships and in the work I do. My life’s work is helping others go to the deep places, and I am best oriented to do that in one-to-one settings.

Concerning group friendships, I think a lot of my negative experiences had to do with the reality of what happens when you gather 7-10 girls in a room. Chaos happens. Backbiting happens. Jealousy happens. Gossip happens. Allegiances happen.

That’s never been my cup of tea. 

We can learn a lot from our childhood friendships. They teach us about ourselves — our preferred way of being in the world and with others — and they teach us how we learned to relate to the world around us, and what we came to believe. 

How did your childhood friendships form you?

Pieces of Formation: Significant Experiences

Shadow work.

When I was in first grade, a girl knocked me backward (metaphorically) with her cruelty, and I careened with shock.

When I was in second grade, a boy cornered me in an isolated area of the playing field at recess and ordered some of his friends to hold my arms behind my body and another one to lift up my dress. 

When I was in third grade, two girls a grade higher than me sneered at my family’s dilapidated station wagon the moment I ducked out of the car and stepped onto the curb outside the school office. 

When I was in fourth grade, my parents sat us down at the kitchen table to tell us they were separating.

Each experience took me by surprise.

I didn’t see them coming. 

And so, I learned to be watchful. 

Guarded. Alert. Untrusting. Prepared with extra contingency plans. Convinced that the world was an unsafe, cruel, cold place, and it was my job to protect myself against it.

It’s no surprise to you, I’m sure, for me to say that significant experiences form us. 

What significant experiences formed you?

Pieces of Formation: Significant Conversations


I learned to read when I was 3 years old.

And not just the rudimentary kind of reading. My mother tells the story that I asked my preschool teacher if I could read a particular book to the class and she — mistakenly — thought I wanted her to read it. When she eventually understood I wanted to read it myself, she thought I had simply memorized it. She was then amazed to discover I could read any book she pulled off the shelf. 

When it came time for kindergarten two years later, my parents wondered: Did I really need to go? So I took a test to determine if I could skip kindergarten and go straight into first grade. 

I remember the day of decision so clearly.

My mother came home from work, and I was playing in the garage. The light shone through the open garage door as she crouched next to me where I played. They’d gotten the results from the test, she said, and I had passed. What did I want to do? 

It took me aback to learn the decision was to be my own.

And so I asked questions. What would I miss if I didn’t go to kindergarten? Fingerpainting. Some fun. And learning to read. But I already know how to read. Yes, my mother said. What would happen if I went to first grade? I’d learn new things, she said. But I would be a year younger than everyone else, and that would be true throughout the rest of my life at school. 

It was a significant conversation.

I learned that my parents entrusted me with major decisions that affected my life. At 5 years old, that was quite something to take in. What trust and respect they had for me and my life. But it was a little scary, too. What did I know at 5 years old would be best for me? What if I chose “wrong”? 

In case you’re curious, I decided to skip kindergarten, and I’ve never once regretted that decision. But I think of that day often — how significant it was to my life. I carried that “younger by a year” decision with me throughout my school career. It was always there, underneath the surface, my being just behind my peers in age, development, and experiences.

What significant conversations of your upbringing shaped your life? What did those conversations teach you about yourself and about others?