What you make of your childhood makes you, I believe. Memories act as markers for our lives, and our first ones often reveal a lot about how we see the world. One of my first vivid memories involves a small house I lived in at the age of three or four. We lived in Colorado at the time and as my parents attended graduate school, were quite poor. I would walk up and down the block and once knocked on a neighbor’s door to see if she had any children. I remember her house as pink and her hair as brown laced with silver. She had no children and clearly lived alone.
Looking past her, I saw an immaculate house with an enormous doll collection. She noticed my interest and let me in to see. She was quite stern about my not touching any of the hundreds of dolls that lined her walls. All of them were of the porcelain variety with old fashioned dresses and long, wavy hair. I do not remember staying long or visiting more than that once. But I do remember the feeling of being surrounded by toys, beautiful toys. I didn’t covet hers, though I could not figure out why an adult would have so many dolls.
And if my memories serve, I felt both utter lack and a desire to give those dolls to all the lonely little girls like me, who had no beautiful ones of their own.
In that moment of my childhood, I see already the tendency to turn my emotions outward, to compensate the world, imagining everyone else to feel lack as I did at that moment.
I was three and already a misguided empath.
Years later, I read The Birth Order Book, by Dr. Kevin Leman. In it he suggests that we ask our potential mates about their first memories because they reveal so much about their perceptions of the world around them. Instead, however, I suggest that instead of disqualifying potential mates based on their first memories (though in some cases, that might be good advice), we learn to decipher our own metaphors. As you look through your first selection of memories in an attempt to learn about who you are with reference to who you were then, keep in mind these suggestions about how to interpret your own memories:
- What is the setting of your childhood? I remember endless sidewalks. I wandered far and wide when I was a child. Of course, times were a bit different then. Early years held sunny days, but from the ages four to six, during which I was ill often and lonely, clouds haunt the sky. In truth, I am a bit of a wanderer, rarely settling down in one place for more than a few years. My outlook is sometimes sunny and sometimes I struggle with a more depressive viewpoint
- Who is with you and is it good? My earliest friend was a young Asian boy. I loved him dearly. Later, I realized that my first boyfriend was also Asian and that I have always had close Asian friends. I imprinted young and still to this day have friends from many cultures. I used this as a writing exercise once, and a student began writing of his early memories in an abandoned playground. He could remember no friends, though he must have had some playmates. However, his loneliness had followed him into adulthood. He still felt as alone as he did on that playground.
- What emotions do you feel? I am always surprised by the strength of my childhood emotions. Even so, it took me some time to understand how deeply my own children felt at the various events in their lives. If you have far more sad or angry emotional memories than happy ones, it could be that resolving those can help alleviate the current sadness and anger. A friend of mine continually relates her painful memories of a childhood with a difficult father. As I watch her wrestle with self-worth now, I find myself praying for the little girl she once was.
Ok, so I remember. Now what?
If you find yourself with a file folder filled with happy memories, give praise to God. You have a gift that you will pass on to future generations. If you have a sheaf of not so good memories, don’t despair. The brain is plastic, and those neural pathways you formed can be rerouted through a variety of methods. For me, rerouting those deeply cut grooves in my mind requires diligence and grace. I ask Jesus regularly to walk with me on the endless sidewalks of my childhood. He has been so gracious to provide insight and companionship to my lonely little heart.
The sidewalks remain, but Jesus, who was and is, and is to come, walks them by my side.
I know now what I didn’t know then. I am never alone. The lover of my soul, at three, at five, at forty-eight walks with me down every road. Now when I remember those sidewalks, I always see Him there with me, and the clouds, too, have given way to the sun.
Invite Him in to the youngest places in your heart. He was and is already there in truth. It is up to you to discover His heart for your childhood. It’s not too late!
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty. Revelation 1:8