It’s a spin on the old question: If you could go back and meet someone famous, who would it be? My version is this: If you could go back and meet that person as a child, what would they be like? You see, it’s one thing to experience someone as an adult, where they are largely fully-formed in values and beliefs. Most adults you meet today are pretty confident in what they believe. But where they did they start out? What was life like when they were beginning to become who they eventually would be?
There are numerous people I’d like to meet in their childhood. One of those is C.S. Lewis. Though he is known for his many works that deal with faith, I think anyone who knew the youthful Lewis would have been surprised to see where he ended up. Lewis’s mom died when he was young. His father then sent him off to boarding school, which was not a pleasant experience. As he became a teenager, he began questioning his faith — and then decided to give it up altogether.
Lewis went on to fight on the front in World War 1, which cemented his conviction that God was a fallacy. On the front, he wrote a poem that included these words:
Come let us curse our master, ere we die, for all hopes in endless ruins lie.
The good is dead, let us curse God most high.
Poetry can sometimes be ambiguous, but not that line! Lewis leaves no uncertainty or doubt about where he stood as a young man: we live in a godless universe.
So, it’s striking that such a man would later go on to write these words, describing another writer (perhaps not too different from his younger self):
Poor boob! – he thought his mind was his own! Never his own until he makes it Christ’s: up till then merely a result of heredity, environment, and the state of his digestion. I become mine only when I gave myself to Another.
Certainly Lewis’s childhood impacted him, but it didn’t contain him. In that, he is an example for all of us, for certainly all of us have had childhood experiences that have shaped us in ways we can’t undo. Some rise above them; some struggle all their lives to do that. Others seem barely aware that their youth continues to show up in their adult life, everyday.
All of this is a reminder: Be gentle with those whose childhood you know something about — and extra gracious with those whose background you know nothing about. There’s a very good chance voices of the past are speaking in them, and through them, in ways you can’t hear. And for those you really struggle with, pray. Pray for them. Pray for you with them. Have healthy boundaries, yes, but be sure to show grace. One way to do this is by following the example of Amy Grant, who says: When I have trouble praying for someone, I keep going back until I can picture them in their little teeth.
We were all children once, dependent on others and shaped by forces outside of our control. That past keeps showing up in them, just as surely as yours keeps showing up in you. What kind of world would this be if we kept this in mind?