I turn 36 soon!
I’m not a teenager any more. And honestly, as much fun as my teenage years were, I’m glad of it. Because these thirty-six years have been full of a lot of learning and growing and changing that have shaped me so much as a believer. So in the spirit of this blog, I wondered what I’d tell my sixteen-year-old self about the Christian journey ahead. Here’s what I would say:
1. Enjoy living in what is basically a hotel run by people who love you: parents who do the chores and fix everything and earn the money for whatever you need, parents and buses that shuttle you around for no cost, toilets that are just…clean, without you having to take a brush to them. You think you’re grateful, already. You are not nearly grateful enough.
2. In twenty years, you will be borrowing spiritual practices from all sorts of denominations, even the ones that right now you side-eye skeptically because they are totally not like yours. It’s true, they’re not – and it’s great.
3. Right now, you can’t imagine a time of feeling disappointed in God. You will. And it is going to be a harsh, bitter, bewildering disappointment. The good news is that it’s going to be great for you, and your love for God will be truer and deeper for having experienced it and come out intact.
4. Other believers are people with flaws. They are sinner-saints. They mess up and criticize and procrastinate and obfuscate just like you do. Don’t put them on pedestals, and don’t judge them too harshly, either. You’re all in the same boat together.
5. Be wary of your self-righteousness. Loving to learn about God and growing spiritually – even if it’s at a rapid rate – doesn’t make you less prone to error, foolishness, pride, or sin than anyone else. Some of the stuff that comes out of your mouth right now is going to sound so undeveloped, immature, and reckless to you as an adult that you’re going to cringe just thinking about it.
6. The guy you love and will one day marry? The one God made for you to become one with? He’s not in your school. You won’t even know his name until college. Your world is small, kid, even though it feels large. One day it will be much, much bigger than the other kids in the hall, and your teachers, and whatever the hot topic is in the lunchroom.
7. Your concepts of “ministry,” “evangelism,” and “fellowship” are going to evolve drastically in the next couple of decades.
8. It seems like nothing really too bad can happen in the world. But some of the believers you know are going to suffer through events that are really so astonishing you wouldn’t be able to fully grasp them. Somehow, they’ll remain close to God, and you are going to learn a lot about what naked, stubborn faith looks like.
9. Enjoy the matriarchs of your childhood faith while you have them. Watch their relationship with God and try to remember what it looks like, how they are with Him. When you’re older, you’ll look back and wish you’d noticed more than you did.
10. Be happy with God as you know Him right now, and understand just how much of Him you don’t yet know, and won’t, for a long time. In twenty years, you are going to see parts of God you never imagined, learn aspects of His character you never considered, and go through experiences with Him that you never imagined. When you’re ready, He’ll show you more of who He is – and it’s going to be great. Even in the hard, disappointing, difficult times, it never stops being great. He never stops being great, and at thirty-six you will finally realize there is never an end to how much of Him you can know, and that is going to delight the hunger in you.
Sixteen-year-old me, whatever else happens, keep saying “yes” to God. Because if you do that, in twenty years, you’ll never regret that you did.