Early Childhood

I should be writing Christmas cards... but I've had the impulse to write something for the tragically neglected "Secret Women's Business".


After discussion with Penney about the "10-20-30" meme I began to reflect a little more on my personal and spiritual formation... the influences of people, culture and experience on my "raw temperament" if you like.


Educational experts tell us that early childhood experiences are the most formative of all experiences. Is the world a safe place? Are people safe? How do I communicate? These earliest experiences go deepest into our psyches... but of course, chances are we will remember nothing of these experiences.


I was born into a loving family... and the "image of God" communicated to me via my parents was of power (they are big) and of love (they look after me.)


I am interested in the power of "first liturgies". "Grace" before meals in my home was: "Make us truly thankful, Oh Lord, for what we are about to receive, for Christ's sake, Amen." I think this is a prayer that is deep within me, for I am always grateful for food... and have a sense of compassion for those who are hungry.


My nighttime prayer was: "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. God bless Daddy, God bless Mummy, God bless Rosemary, John and Janet, in Jesus' name, Amen". (Rosemary and John are my elder sister and brother). In my room was a little china ornament shaped like an open book, with a picture of a child in a pious posture, and the first part of this prayer was printed upon it. Now this prayer is seemingly macabre, and I could not imagine praying this prayer with my own children. Funnily enough though, I find I have little fear of death. Somehow there is a confident expectation within me that death is to be with Christ, and that this will be a joy. Again I wonder whether that "early liturgy" did something within my soul that has stayed with me.


When I was 6-years-old I went to the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) by bus to hear Billy Graham preach. A dominant memory of the day was the discomfort of cutting a molar, and my curiosity why so many people walked down to the oval from the stands at the end of the sermon. I sat on my mother's knee that night, and she explained that the people were becoming Christians. I said I wanted to be a Christian too, and I remember praying with her to ask Jesus into my heart. It's still a warm memory for me all these years later.


I'd like to invite others to share any memories they have of early childhood experiences, and perhaps to reflect on why these memories are significant to them. I'd be interested to hear from you!


Anonymous said…
What a wonderful testimony, especially to your parents! I agree about early childhood. I think I heard between the ages of
4-7years old children are developing their identity and a foundation for their faith.

When I was a little girl I would say the same prayer as you. Only afterwards I would hide under the covers hoping that God would not come for me that night. I only went to church 3x's when I was 5years old. The creation story combined with a very unstable home distorted any message of hope. Martin Luther's story resonates with me because I had the same fear of God.

My grandparents were an oasis though. Grandpa always told stories! He was the man and I was his shadow. He could never sit still, especially in church. He needed to either work, talk to people, or do both at the same time. It's probablly where I get the, "Who are you?" and "Where do you come from?"

I would watch him at his work bench in the garage pulling copper wire out of old T.V's. Grandpa was always finding and cleaning up treasures from the dump. One day I came in and there was an old t.v tray next to his work bench. It had some tools on it, just for me. The radio would be playing classical music.

I really didn't want to work, I just wanted to watch. I loved watching people live their lives. The touching thing about it was that grandpa saw me, and he always saw people for who they were. A very simple man that could strike up a conversation with anyone. This is what got him in trouble at church. He wasn't into the whole hush hush, worship style. They even tried putting him in the quiet room where the children were kept.

I really miss him especially at Christmas. The grandparents seemed very small and old to me as a child. Chrismas Eve when we were leaving, you could hear them yelling at each other like Archie & Edith Bunker. They were running to the bedroom so they could hop on the bed and wave goodbye to us. Every year they got smaller and smaller until all you could see was a hand, because they could no longer reach the window! That memory always makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time.

Janet Woodlock said…
Wow... what wonderfully evokative stories... you are a terrific writer Penney.

Your grandparents sound wonderful. I wonder whether these days your grandfather would be put straight on to Ritalin, rather than being managed in the "cry room"! A bit of a waste of all that vibrant relational and practical energy.

As you note, the "Now I lay me down to sleep" prayer seems to plant the thought of death in a child just before sleep (apparent madness!) and I'm not surprised it inspired terror in you. I don't remember it troubling me one whit... but then I'm not very sensitive and maybe I didn't think about it much!

It's interesting that when you ask small children to draw God it's almost inevitably a man with a beard in the sky... I think our first image of God is our parents (or grandparents if close). Which is wonderful when these relationships are good... and potentially harmful if not... we may waste a lot of our adult life acting as if we'd better not put a foot wrong because we unconsciously imagine God is a control freak or prone to pathological, irrational rages. Or if our upbringing was excessively laissez-faire, we may have trouble realising God invites us to a journey of life and service... we just expect God is there to serve our own wants and whims.

The tricky thing is that most of this is unconscious!!!!
Anonymous said…
Hope you had a wonderful Christmas! Thank you for the compliment. Of course I'm not that good of a writer, I had to look up evokative. I started journaling the night of my baptisim. It became a therapy tool.

It never occurred to me that my grandfather could have had some kind of disorder. But that is interesting. Grandma had Multiplschlorsis (MS). In her day they didn't know much about it, so it was embarrassing for her. She would fall down and stumble alot. Some people believed she had a drinking problem.

I completely agree with our first image of God being of our parents. My father was my idol and my god. I followed him everywhere, even tried to shave just like him. When I was 4years old he woke up and found me in the kitchen. I had just spilled some milk. All I saw was this fist coming at me, next thing I knew I had a bloody nose. Dad was hung over and when he saw what he had done he was devasted. He layed me down with a wash cloth over my nose and I held him while he cried.

This is very important in my own identity. What it taught me was that somehow I had done something wrong to God. I hurt him and because I did I made him cry. My feelings never mattered. It also scared my dad and he would avoid me. Giving me gifts all the time but never getting close. When the parents divorced, dad abandoned us and left me in charge. By this time I was maybe 5 years old. It's what I call the Messiah Complex.

I always helped others out to the point of craziness. There was a huge kick me sign on my back that I had put there. Even as a small child adults would share their burdens with me. I was in control of my corner of the world. A coward who couldn't love, but would beat you up if you stepped on my turf.

We spend a lot of time in the church with teenagers. By the time children reach that age they are already carbon copies of their parents. Not that there isn't hope. But I really believe the formative years, the foundation begins so much sooner. That should be our focus.
P.s Sorry it's longwinded.
Janet Woodlock said…
I don't think good writing has anything much to do with a massive vocabulary... in fact, I get annoyed with books where I have to keep stopping to look up the dictionary... it stops one getting swept away in the story. Good writing (for me!) is more about heart... more about provoking feeling... more about drawing you deeply in to another person's (or an imaginary) world.

I wasn't trying to suggest there was anything "wrong" with your grandpa... just gently wondering whether today he'd be slapped with an ADD / ADHD label and medicated. One of my older friends was diagnosed with ADD in her 60's after her grandson was diagnosed... in some ways she found it an immense relief to take Ritalin and to be able to think more sharply. She then decided to attempt to manage it with dietry supplements, as she was concerned about side-effects.

I'm personally of the view the whole issue is "over-medicalised" and I particularly dislike the idea of it being called a disorder... I'd rather see it as one of the factors that contributes to the glorious diversity of human beings... some people are very high energy... some are extremely laid back (and we don't normally medicate them to "normalise" their activity levels!)

I'm not a fascist on this... it is a real condition (not imaginary!) and I'm sympathetic to the idea medication is needed by some children so they are able to do some "traditional" learning at school. The cynic im me suspects a combination of careful diet (avoiding additives and salicitates, good nutrition in general), really good behaviour management, and running "high energy" kids ragged with sport and climbing trees and riding bikes and swimming and running and play might go a long way to doing the same job for SOME children... but that's all much harder of course than a pill twice a day.

"Left me in charge"... what an unimaginable burden to place on a 5-year-old. I'd guess your dad said this to make you feel special... deeply ill-informed but probably well-meaning.

I'm sure your grandparents made a HUGE difference... a bit of stability in a crazy world. You sound like you've emerged functional out of all that madness by the grace of God and some kindness along the way. God can keep smoothing out our kinks as we journey on in discipleship, and discover the depth of love and acceptance we have through Christ Jesus. God can also somehow use our past to be a means of grace to others.

But as you say... so much better to start young and minimize dysfunction in the first place! Churches are belatedly discovering children's and families' ministries as incredibly significant.

I'm going away for a few days, so I apologise if I take a while to respond to any new comments.

Thanks for trusting me/us with so much of your story Penney.
Anonymous said…
That's funny what you said about stopping to look up words. I actually find it fun. My first spiritual mentor was a tough cookie. She would use big words and I began making a game of looking them up. Especially at work. I use to think an epihany was a brainfart. That one brought a lot of joy and laughter at work.

The reason I found the fact that my grandfather could have had a physical problem interesting is because it's exactly what happened to grandma. It never occurred to me it could be physical, just like it never occurred to the church about grandma. Yet, in my own frustration I was angry at how they could treat her that way. Another word's I had egg on my face and you helped me see that.

My grandma used to say,"Isn't He Just Wonderful?!" I say,"AMEN"
Janet Woodlock said…
Well... Jesus was on the money when he said "Do not judge". How can we possibly ever know the unique biochemistry of another's brain, or the childhood experiences that have shaped them, or the temperament they were born with, or the other influences that have shaped their lives? It is good to look on others with "soft eyes"... to be patient and understanding... even if at times we need to be self-protective. (I speak as someone who carries scars from weak boundaries!)

I had a conversation this week with someone who has many people in her life who seem to feel they can tell her what to do... and was struck by the gift that non-judgmental listening can be.

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