As everyone is heading back to school and starting new journeys, it made me reflect on some of my earlier school years. I thought about what I would have told my younger self, and what might be helpful for my younger readers to hear. Here is a letter to my younger self, as well as two wonderful letters by Mariam Mankarios from Staten Island, NY (@mariam_mankarios) and Marc Eskander from Sydney, Australia (cohost of @Therighteousman_ Podcast)
Dear Younger Me,
I know you draw up big plans, possess incredibly high hopes, and have audacious dreams. But I’m here to tell you that God surpasses them all. Although it won’t be an easy ride, don’t worry because joy will come in the morning (Psalm 30:5). I know telling you not to worry is telling you to go against every familiar fiber of who you are at the moment. You carry around worry like an explorer carries around a compass, allowing it to determine your every step. But you gotta fight that. Worry does nothing good for you, and you don’t gain anything from it. Read, recite and memorize Matthew 6:25-34, until you can fully embrace trusting God.
Set your eyes on Him, at all times, because once you don’t you’ll become a magnet to avoidable mistakes. Oh the mistakes you’ll make, and the sins you’ll fall into. Too many to count, but remember that God’s mercy is endless as long as you’re still breathing on this earth. Forgive yourself and forgive others.
Read His word over and over again. Immerse yourself in great books. Listen to enlightening podcasts (I know that's not a thing yet, but it’s truly a gift of the future). Don’t stop having life-giving conversations. Find good friends, cling to great mentors, listen to your parents, and keep your father of confession close. Those are people God has put in your life to help you and guide you, and trust me, you need them.
Keep your head high, and work hard in your studies. Don’t look around at what everyone else is doing, just focus on your end goal and what you need to do to get there. And do it loyally and with integrity. You’ll take lots of twists and turns on a path that you thought was straightforward, but it will always work out in the end, because God’s hand is in it. Count every trial as a blessing, and always be grateful, you are yet to discover the power of your thoughts.
Dear Younger Me,
You’re so brave.
You may not feel that way right now but you’re such a strong individual. Besides the bullying you have to deal with on a daily basis, and all the other struggles you’re going through at this moment in your life, you’re still tackling life day by day. THAT in itself is bravery. No matter how awful this feels, it will make you stronger and you will learn from it if you let it. Remember the bully’s actions are more about them than you! People who bully often have their own issues they’re dealing with. This doesn’t excuse their behavior. Bullying of any form is unacceptable. They’re just trying to find a way of dealing with their own insecurities and emotions. Or maybe they’re just genuinely mean individuals. Instead of walking away from them, show them that you still love them and care for them. When they say something mean to you, say “I know you’re going through a hard time right now and I just want you to know that I’m here for you.” That can make a world of a difference. Even if it doesn’t, they will walk away knowing that someone loves them and cares for them. However, you should never be afraid to get help.
When I was your age, if I reached out to someone when I desperately needed it when I was being bullied I wouldn’t be suffering as much as I am today. Bullying can eventually lead to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, etc. Research shows that those being bullied are at a higher risk of having mental health problems. Reach out for help. Don’t be afraid. The words that bullies have said to me still replay in my head over and over again until this day. Kids at my school have told me that I was ugly, I should die, if I died they would spit on my coffin, I was heavy, and that boys wouldn’t like me, etc. Over time, the emotional pain had built up inside of me which led to an emergency. As hard as it is to speak up, don’t let yourself get to that point. I’m here to remind you that what they have said about you is not even close to the truth. You’re a child of Christ. You’re loved. You’re valued. You’re worthy. You’re enough. THAT’s the truth.
You’re not weak. You’re not a burden. Your feelings are valid, never question how you’re feeling. Pray for those who are bullying you. God will intervene in the lives of the most bitter, hardened, and evil hearts to change them into the likeness of Christ for the building of God’s kingdom. Remember that God will and always will have your back.
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44-45)
Lots of Love,
Dear Younger Me,
Your teenage years and early 20s will be full of constant mistakes. You hang out with the wrong friends, prioritise the wrong things, and mistreat the people closest to you. The worst part is, you'll be blissfully unaware of all your failings. You'll grow to regret not doing more to experience God's mercy. Your youth is the time where you can be so receptive to God's voice and experience what the hype is all about, and I wish you had done that more. It will seem to get harder the older you get. However, you'll see God turn around all these mistakes in unspeakable ways. There is a purpose to every cross you carry. Every mistake you've made and every experience you've gone through can be used for good if they are crucified with Christ and resurrected with Him.
Don't sweat the small stuff, no one fully understands themselves as a teenager, or even as a young adult. Don't stress too much about your mistakes and failings. Focus on healthy friendships, and improving yourself day by day. Most importantly, "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth."(Ecclesiastes 12:1) Remember His endless love and forgiveness. Start cultivating a real relationship with Him and watch the new person you'll become.