I keep thinking about what I would say to my younger self, particularly my 18/19 year old self on the cusp of college and adulthood and figuring out faith for the first time on my own. But I've stopped myself from writing, because it feels like something that "needs" to be timely-- on the precipice of a birthday or significant milestone, and while I'm approaching 30, I still have several more months in my 20s. And then I looked at the calendar, and realized today is 6 months exactly from my 30th birthday, and thought, it's now or 6 months from now, if I'm looking for timeliness.
This letter is longer than I originally anticipated, so I think it'll be a series of sorts, leading up to my 30th birthday.
To my 18 1/2 year old self,
I am writing you this letter, on my 29th and a 1/2 birthday, that you may "remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living" (Psalm 27:13). This next decade will fly by quickly and give you whiplash at moments, heartbreak at others, but know this: The Lord is good, and His mercies endure forever. And your life is included in that "forever".
On Regret and Shame and Worth
Right now, you are anxiously awaiting college acceptance letters. You're trying to act unperturbed, but you're checking the mail everyday with anticipation and anxiety. And the truth is, you're going to be utterly crushed by what comes. It's your first real, irreversible rejection, and it's going to hurt so badly. You're going to wrestle with worthiness, and it's going to take you a while to recover. You'll replay those application essays over and again in your head, and wish you had spent more time on them, be wrecked by the thought that you should have applied to more schools, and believe that your future is irrevocably ruined. You're going to feel shame in a way you've never experienced before, and you're going to wonder if it will ever go away.
In the regret and the shame and the lack of worth, know this to be true in the deepest part of yourself; say it and pray it and memorize it until it imprints on your heart:
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." I will all the more gladly exult in my weakness, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
On Dating and Heartbreak and Marriage
The other thing that preoccupies a lot of your mind right now is boys and relationships. You always imagined, knew even, that you'd meet your future spouse in college and be whisked off your feet into marital bliss. First off: you aren't going to the right college if you're looking for a Ring by Spring, and I think deep down you know that, but it still doesn't stop you from wanting it. Dating in college will not look like anything you envisioned, and you'll be consistently disappointed that reality doesn't match your childhood dreams. As much as you can, try to live in the present, and not the "what-if" of the future. The future is where you feel most comfortable, but if you dwell there too much, there is a tipping point to where you don't appreciate the right now. God will use your singleness to sanctify you, and His persistence in pursuing is more precious than any man's pursuit will ever be.
You will continue to want marriage, and you'll wrestle with worth again in believing the lie that being single means being a lesser or incomplete person. You'll have your first few real relationships, and one of them will absolutely wreck you when it ends-- because you placed your faith in a man, and not in God. You let your worth rest on becoming someone's girlfriend and potential future spouse, and when that doesn't happen, you'll feel lost. You'll think there's no way you could be more sad than those initial college rejection letters, and yet this tears apart your heart in an entirely new and excruciating way that takes a lot of therapy and years and prayers to get over. In hindsight, I can't tell you I wish this never happened to you. God uses it for His glory and for your good, but girl, it is hard. Give it to the Lord sooner than you (really) do; let go of the white-knuckle grip of controlling your own future, and learn to trust God with the unknown and the difficult and the painful things.
And another thing-- you definitely were not ready to be married out of college. You thought you were, and God can work all things for His good, but you were not cut out to be a child bride. Find gratitude and not distress in the fact that you graduate without a ring. The longing for marriage will not leave you-- at 29 and 1/2, you still desire this-- but don't let it define you. Let go of (most of) all those books you read on relationship from age 13-21. Please, stop believing that God is unhappy with you for something and that if you were a "better" Christian, you'd have a husband. Works-righteousness will be difficult for you to let go, but oh-so-freeing when you first see its chains around you. And read Paige Benton Brown's article sooner than later. Your increasingly-reformed heart will find comfort and truth in her words:
I long to be married. My younger sister got married two months ago. She now has an adoring husband, a beautiful home, a whirlpool bathtub, and all-new Corningware. Is God being any less good to me than he is to her? The answer is a resounding NO. God will not be less good to me because God cannot be less good to me. It is a cosmic impossibility for God to shortchange any of his children.
This is pretty long as it is, so for now, we'll stop. But remember this: God wants to be the definer of your worth, and the longer it takes you to realize this (hello, 29 year old self), the more days and years you'll miss out on the freedom that it brings. Let go sooner, if you can.