What You Can Learn About God from Your Childhood

I realized that instead of appreciating that God made me wonderfully curious, creative, and artistic, I have spent most of my adulthood looking back on my younger self—naming myself—as “that weird little girl” I used to be.

By Aubrey Sampson, adapted from her new book Known.

I recently walked through a spiritual practice related to childhood, inspired by C. S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy. In this practice, a person is invited to spend some time considering and praying over his or her childhood and the ways God may have been reaching out or showing up. (This can be a triggering exercise for some who had a traumatic childhood, so it’s important to make sure you feel safe to practice it.) When you feel ready, ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate moments from childhood where God was actively engaged with you. Do not allow condemnation or disapproval to speak to you. Just spend some time listening to God’s loving voice as you consider the following experiences from childhood and/or adolescence:

three boys running on field
  • any meaningful experiences in nature (peace, awe, wonder, etc.)
  • moments of connection or affirmation (with a parent or mentor)
  • memories of being alone but not feeling alone
  • experiences of being under the muse of creativity
  • peak moments of joy in life events2 As I walked though this exercise, the Holy Spirit brought three specific childhood memories to mind.
  • In California, at age five, I climbed to the top of my swing set and yelled up to the sky: “Hey you! Anybody there? Are you out there? Can you hear me?”
  • In Georgia, at age eight, I played under a weeping willow tree in my backyard every morning before school, imagining that I was an elven princess, lost in the woods and frightened, waiting for someone to rescue me.
  • In Oklahoma, at age eleven, I discovered a graveyard near my house, filled with centuries-old graves. I would pack a peanut butter and honey sandwich and have a picnic by my favorite one, a newer headstone among the ancients— the gravesite of a teenage boy whose stone was marked with this Shakespearian line:

When he shall die,

Take him and cut him out in little stars,

And he will make the face of heaven so fine

That all the world will be in love with night

And pay no attention to the garish sun.

  • I would eat my sandwich and sit on that grave and recite the epitaph aloud. I returned regularly to this gravestone because something about these words spoke to me (though I had to ask my mom what garish meant—“gaudy,” she said). One question preoccupied me: Could someone’s face actually shine so beautifully that it would cause the lovely sun to seem gaudy?
silhouette of children's running on hill

I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to know someone like that.

The Surprised by Joy reflective exercise brought up a slew of mixed emotions. The wonderful truth it revealed is that in every state where we settled anew, I was always unknowingly searching for Someone outside of myself. Either that or that same Someone was searching for me.

But I also found myself feeling sort of vulnerable about these memories. Even though these aren’t negative experiences, they seem oddly morbid. I mean, who sits at a grave by herself eating lunch? Who yells at an unknown being? Who pretends to be alone and afraid?

As I looked back on these instances in my childhood, I realized that instead of appreciating that God made me wonderfully curious, creative, and artistic, I have spent most of my adulthood looking back on my younger self—naming myself—as “that weird little girl” I used to be.

But now, as I am piecing these memories together with the Holy Spirit, I am starting to realize something healing and hopeful: God intentionally gave me a wildly alive imagination so that he could connect with me in my youth. My creativity and curiosity are beautiful, holy things, drawing me to God; they are part of how God has named me. That said, there’s another raw thing that the spiritual practice brought up. Almost directly after coming to Christ, I came up against sexual assault more than once. And over the years that followed, I have faced the tragic loss of loved ones, a personal battle with chronic illness, and mistakes and heartaches that accompany adolescence and adulthood. I have even sometimes wondered if my nearness to the tragedy of Mount Saint Helens shaped me, named me—as if, because I was there when it erupted, I was marked by its ash. And yet, in the midst of all of these warring wonderings, I cannot shake this one thought: If I can find God active in my childhood, that means God has always been working, has always been with me, even in my most difficult days.

Known by Aubrey Sampson

Who am I? Does God see me? Does God love me? What is my purpose?

So much is tied up in our longing to know who we are: our worth, whether we’re loved, what we’re meant to do with our lives. But there’s a powerful truth that settles every question: God has named us, and the names he has spoken over us settle every question and pain we have experienced in our search for identity.

Names help us know that we belong and to whom we belong. Names carry authority and power. But we also carry other names—painful, damaging names that we have spoken over ourselves or that others have branded on us. Too often, in times of low self-worth, grief, or failure, we exchange our God-given identity for those false names.

When we believe God’s names for us, we will discover a life lived with purpose and passion. Are you ready to accept God’s invitation to silence the inner voice that keeps you from living freely, joyfully, and confidently?

A lot is at stake in understanding the sacred truth of who you are. The names you believe about yourself impact how you live, how you love, and how you move and bear witness to the gospel.

Hear this: God has true names that he speaks over you and wants you to hear above the false banter.

Known invites you to understand and embrace what it means to be created and named in the image of God. In the process, it will ignite a passion to speak life-giving names over others, to bless them through the power of the Name that is above every other.

With vulnerability and humor, Aubrey Sampson shows you what it means to be powerfully and personally made and named in the image of God. Everything changes when you believe this incredible truth: You are known by God.

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