Kyle was a bright and athletic college student who lived an hour and a half from me. Periodically we would get together to explore God’s purpose for his life. One day he told me a story from his childhood and a memory about his Little League baseball team. The bases were loaded, with 2 outs. Kyle was up to bat, and he struck out. He had let his team down. We discussed the story a little further, along with some other topics, and then I drove back home. On the trip back the Holy Spirit got in the passenger’s seat next to me (not literally) and said, “You missed it. A semi-truck drove through the room while Kyle shared his story, and you missed it.”
The next day I drove back the hour and a half trip to locate Kyle on campus-needless to say he was surprised to see me back again so soon. I asked him, “Kyle, that Little League story you shared was really significant, wasn’t it? And I missed it.” He said, “Yes, it was, and yes, you did.” Kyle went on to say, “As a matter of fact, my life has revolved around that one incident, and I can’t seem to shake it. Every day I ask the question ‘Do I have what it takes to make it?'”
One of the best books I revisited this year was the autobiography of C.S. Lewis, “Surprised by Joy.” Although he was 54 at the time of writing, most of the book is dedicated to his childhood. He felt that an individual’s world-view and personality is set by the age of fourteen. He writes: “. . .they are forgetting what boyhood felt like from within. Dates are not so important as people believe. I fancy that most of those who think at all have done a great deal of their thinking in the first fourteen years” .
God is at work fulfilling His purpose throughout the entire life of a disciple. He is no less present in a person’s childhood than He is in his adulthood. The Lord uses suffering in the life of a child to make him like Jesus and to fulfill God’s purpose through his life. The discipler/friend can see the working of God in a disciple’s life by exploring the suffering in his disciple’s childhood. C.S. Lewis believed that, “Children suffer not (I think) less than their elders, but differently.  He went on to say, “Why, by the way, do some writers talk as if care and worry were the special characteristics of adult life? It appears to me that there is more atra cura (dark, harsh care and concern) in an average schoolboy’s week than in a grown man’s average year” . As a discipler/friend I need to be sensitive to the pain of these memories, but I must also point my disciple to the fact that the hand of a sovereign God was at work in those childhood events and relationships.
Here are a couple lessons I have learned about listening to childhood stories:
- Be Sensitive. Childhood memories can still carry with them the sting of fear, shame, and inadequacy. While listening to a successful, balanced individual, it is easy to pass over seemingly insignificant events (like a Little League strikeout), which in reality were defining (and sometimes painful) moments in the life of the disciple.
- Do not presume which events are significant or insignificant in the life of a disciple. For example, a parent’s divorce may not carry the same weight to a child as a Little League strikeout, as strange as that may seem.
- People will intentionally skip over painful childhood experiences until they know they can trust you. (Again, he may immediately tell you about his parent’s divorce but not bring up the Little League strikeout). Over the months as the trust between you and your disciple builds, they will have the courage to share with you some of their difficult experiences.
- Ask your disciple to indicate when they are telling you something from their childhood that is important. Some stories are just memories, others were life shaping.
 C.S. Lewis. “Surprised by Joy”, (New York: Inspirational Press, 1987), page 36.
 C.S. Lewis. “Surprised by Joy”, (New York: Inspirational Press, 1987), page 12.
 C.S. Lewis. “Surprised by Joy”, (New York: Inspirational Press, 1987), page 50.