Finding God in Our Past

box of old photos

If you want to embark on an interesting exercise, write the story of your life. Write it quickly, without thinking about it much. And write only for about 15 or 20 minutes. This will force you to hit the highlights only—the events that are most important to you.

Then, go back and read your story, and ask at each turn, Where was God in this event, or this conversation, or this internal experience?

The fact is, God is present to us throughout our lives, regardless of whether we recognize God at the time. God is in the person with whom you felt safe during a chaotic or violent childhood. God was in the recurring dream, in the job that taught you how to speak up for yourself, in the friendship that revealed your emotional minefields, in the accidental meeting that bloomed into a marriage or a new career.

If we believe that God exists, then we must grapple with the question of how God relates to us. Is the Divine wonderful and yet distant from us? Is God around only when we’re behaving like good people—and does God leave the scene when we’re misbehaving and showing our worst side? We’ve all known people who rewarded and punished us by staying with us or by withdrawing their presence—do we see God as relating to us in that way?

St. Ignatius Loyola—and many other spiritual pilgrims before us—discovered that God’s love and presence are constant and unchanging. No matter what we are going through, and no matter how we’re responding to what we’re going through, God is with us. And as we gradually come to believe in God’s enduring care, our view of everything will be transformed. We will be able to see our life histories as having multiple layers. There’s the experience we went through, but there’s also the interior growth of understanding, patience, wisdom, and so forth. And sometimes we go through something so difficult and painful that possibly the only “benefit” we see is the fact that we survived at all. Still, God has been with us in the enduring and the survival.

Also, we can look back on relationships and ask, How was God present in that person? We believe that people are made in God’s image, although in some people that image is more evident than in others. Even in people we don’t like there is some remnant of God’s image—are we willing to see it? If we do see God’s image in people, we can’t simply write off people as hopeless or no good.

Are you willing to see God’s history intertwined in your own?

About Vinita Hampton Wright 91 Articles
Vinita Hampton Wright has served as senior editor at Loyola Press for 16 years and recently became managing editor of the trade books department. She has written various fiction and non-fiction books, including the novel Dwelling Places with HarperOne, Days of Deepening Friendship and The Art of Spiritual Writing for Loyola Press, and most recently, The St. Teresa of Avila Prayer Book for Paraclete Press. Vinita is a student and practitioner of Ignatian spirituality, and from 2009 to 2015 she blogged at Days of Deepening Friendship. For the past few years, she has co-led small groups through the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises. She lives in Chicago with her husband, three cats, and a dog. In her “spare” time these days, she is working on her next novel.

10 Comments on Finding God in Our Past

  1. Thank you so much for the article. I have been reflecting on this very subject and thought lately.

    A word in due season!

  2. Thank you for the examples that you gave on recognizing God’s presence. Too often we are given the wonderful inspiration to look for God in all things and then the ball is dropped. What does that sound like….what does that look like…what does that feel like??? If I was a writer which I am not I would like to write a book called Let Me Give You An Example. I facilitate retreats and am a spiritual director and I find one of the most difficult questions to answer is “where is God in that?” They know God is there they just can’t name it. I say, God was in a person that made you feel safe!!!! Oh, that was God they say.

  3. I really enjoyed your article. In a way, it is a reminder to be thankful to God. The puzzle’s image that is our life becomes more and more clear each time a piece is put into place. When and if we take a look at its unfolding, we become awed by its beauty and in wonderment at how it ever fit together at all.

  4. I may have been a floundering trout, but God was there slowly reeling me back into our relationship.
    This was a very useful exercise for me. I’m always surprised (and very delighted) that you, Vinita, never fail to catch me at the right time too.
    Thanks.

  5. Thank you!!! It reminded me that God was my ‘father’ when I was a child as my own father deserted us. As a daily mass communicant in grade school and high school, God was there at mass to listen to the child and teenager that I was and the person I was becoming. GOd was my actual father in real life.

  6. I always look forward to reading your posts, VInita, as I am always left with something to ponder.
    I still miss “Days of deepening friendship”.

    • Bless you, Katy! The Days of Deepening Friendship period was a full and fruitful one, wasn’t it? But you receive a better variety of wisdom and personality on this site. So I’m glad you’re a regular visitor to Ignatian Spirituality. Peace and blessings!

  7. Thank you. I have just discovered the background of my both parents. What a joy to know their names who I have always pray for, and now I know their names. I am seeing the path of my life and thank God for always walking with me and often carried me. My past and present are showing me the gifts the Lord has given. Thank you, for this meditation and the insight of letting our past reveal the very presence of God in all our seasons.

  8. Thank you. We concentrate too much on searching in the present. Looking back provides a handy compass. You have shown a way to deeper prayer and recollection.

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