Dear Eric (circa 1988),
So if I have this right you are almost 16 and things are really weird for you. Sorry to tell you this, but that won’t change for a while. You will continue to try as hard as you can to fit in and be cool and do everything perfectly right and you will fail and in the end it won’t matter. In your late 20’s you will finally realize that your identity has nothing to do with you are, but rather Whose you are. More on that later.
Your spiked hair that you dyed blue was gnarly, and, like, totally awesome and you rocked your stone-washed jeans and the untied high-top Converse shoes. What I mean is that you rocked them as much as any 15 year old teenager ever could which means not so much. As badly as you want a pair of parachute pants you will never get them. That’s OK, because in a few years they will become the punchline to lots of jokes about fashion from the 1980’s along with the mullet and wearing the collar up on your polo shirt. I know you’re shocked, but it’s true! (P.S. If you could keep your favorite pair of Levi’s from your senior year that would be great. This thing called eBay comes along in the future and people pay thousands of dollars for retro jeans.)
Right now I know that you are excited and completely terrified at the same time about the changes that are taking place in your life. Your parents just enrolled you into a Christian high school for your sophomore year and it will be the first time in your life that you have ever attended a traditional school classroom. You are intimidated by the thought of meeting new kids and wonder if you will be able to keep up with your classmates. Don’t worry. You will. At least in the subjects you like. The subjects you don’t like you don’t actually put forth any effort and simply accept the minimum grade. It’s not your best attribute and honestly, you are much smarter than that and should try hard regardless of your interest.
In spite of the fears you have going into this new school environment you are also excited. Mostly about playing football and the opportunity to be around girls. Focus on the football. It’s a lot of fun and you love it. Girls? Not so much. Oh, there will be lots of girls you like and “dates” and many awkward moments that you will experience. You aren’t going to listen to me, but your teenage years will be significantly less complicated if you didn’t pour so much thought and energy into girls. Trust me. Some of them will break the little boy heart that is hiding behind your false veneer of teenage confidence.
While I’m talking about girls and school, I should probably mention something. You need to be a whole lot nicer to your sophomore English teacher. Sure, it’s funny playing a different prank on her every day; moving her bookcases, switching her desk around, and bringing a squirt gun to class with you, but I have some shocking news for you. She remembers those things and in a few years you will meet, fall in love with, and marry her little sister. Easy. Just breathe. It’s really great and you will love it.
You are about to make a lot of friends. To quote Bill and Ted, “Be excellent to each other!” Some of your friends you will keep in contact with some 25 years later. And some of them you will lose touch with in just a few years. You might be surprised to know which ones are still a part of your life today, but I’ll leave that part a surprise. One hint though. Some of them have children and their kids and your kids become great friends. Yep. Really weird.
Kids? Oh yeah. You will have three of them. You and your wife both love kids a lot and you will make great parents. Mostly, to be honest, your kids survive more because of God’s grace than the fact that either of you really know what you are doing, but you both fake it well. Your children will become one of the most sanctifying effects on your life. You need to know what that word means and should look it up. Unfortunately you won’t and it will be many, many years before you fully comprehend it.
One of the main reasons for me writing this is to talk about something that will become the most important thing to you some day. At age 15 you are entering into a school with some really crazy rules about what is right and wrong. Your parents agree with them. But teenagers have an incredible aptitude to see through hypocrisy and lies and this will cause you to question everything. In time, you and mom and dad will realize how wrong all that was, but that won’t happen until years from now. Until then, keep asking questions. Eventually, they will help you become who God wants you to be.
I’m sorry to tell you that this is only the beginning of a journey that will take ten years to reach its end. I wish I could tell you to take a different path or to not make some of the decisions that you will soon make, but I can’t do that. Here’s the straight truth. You are going to do your very best to follow the rules that your parents, your school, and your church have placed in front of you. You will maintain an image for all but your closest friends of being a “good Christian” when deep inside you know how utterly wretched you are. You will try and try and try again to live up to this standard that is held up for you to achieve. Years from now you will fail in the worst of ways and this time you won’t even try any more. This time you will give up completely and you will deny that God even exists. It’s OK. Hard to believe, but this is all good news. Eventually you will stare death in the face and want to let go of everything. At that moment God is going to step in. This is not the God you have ever heard about before. This God is full of love and mercy and grace. You don’t understand at all what those words mean yet, but He will shower all of these upon you. When He does, you will learn that there is not one rule or requirement that you ever have to keep. You will finally learn about the complete sufficiency of Jesus Christ’s death for you and that there is not one thing that you can add to what He has already done. You will become overwhelmed by His grace and will discover true peace and joy.
I wish in some ways it would come quicker for you, but I know this is exactly the path you must walk. It won’t be easy, but in the end it will be worth every step you take.
The older you.
P.S. Don’t buy the Dodge Neon or the Nissan Sentra. Trust me.
Thanks to Emily at ChattingTheSky.Com for the writing prompt on this post. She just published a book called, Graceful. Honestly, I didn’t plan on writing this until the last minute. The more I wrote the more I realized what a mess my teenage years were and how much I need to talk to my kids about. This is a good thing.