Dear Younger Me …
How often I’ve wanted to sit down with my earlier self over a cup of coffee and a freshly baked muffin (because muffins make everything better) and tell her what I know now, how things turned out, what was really was important … and what wasn’t. Back in 2012, I contributed to a book called Letters to Me: Conversations with a Younger Self. Each essay contains the authors’ message to a 20-something version of ourselves. At the time, the thing I most wanted to tell an earlier version of me was to not regret a decision to change jobs. My younger self had rebounded from the transition like she usually did. I think the letter revealed that I actually was living with far too much regret still as a 42-year-old.
“I don’t make as many decisions that I regret,” I wrote to myself, “But I regret not making as many decisions, not grabbing life and wringing it out until it stops dripping. This brave eye for the future that you have going for you won’t last. I could use some of it now.”
This hint of nostalgia makes me wish my younger self had written a letter to me now. As popular as letters to younger selves have been, I found quite a few online resources for writing these missives to futures selves. While I have dozens of journals that serve that function in some capacity, reading them feels more like a peek into the past rather than really hearing from myself, to have the younger self coaching me and encouraging me.
In her article “Writing Letters to Your Future Self: Love Who You’ll Become,” author and personal development coach Jeanine Cerundolo says, “For me, the biggest lesson in receiving the letter was the idea of ‘allowing’—allowing myself to be whoever I am, allowing myself to relinquish my plans for who I ‘should become,’ allowing myself to simply ‘show up,’ and for that to be enough, more than enough.”
It’s not always easy to face who we’ve become, especially if it’s so different than what we had planned. At the same time, looking back often comes with regret and frustration that it took us so long to come so far. “Allowing” is a big lesson to learn as we grow and change over the years, but it’s not an easy lesson.
I’ve been thinking about this idea of a conversation between our past, present, and future selves when it comes to our faith and how it’s changed … and changed us … over the years. What I knew and understood about God, the Bible, redemption, and even church when I became at Christian at age 13 could have fit in a single blog post. My conversion left me on fire for Jesus, but it wasn’t rooted in much beyond a simple understanding of sin, the cross, and heaven.
Now, decades later, all that I know about God, the Bible, redemption, and church, not to mention dozens of other theological issues and Biblical concepts, wouldn’t fit on a flash drive. And it’s not just an accumulation or development of belief. I actually believe different things. Some of what I once believed I no longer think is true … or maybe more accurately, what I once believe fully I now hold as mystery. And what once felt only probably now feels completely true without a doubt. Can I really say that my faith is the same, then?
And it’s hardly enough to think only of my 13-year-old self and my 46-year-old self. At each age and every stage of life, I’ve brought along my faith to assess, synthesize, and integrate the new knowledge and experiences. So far, nothing that’s been lobbed at my relationship with Jesus has had the force to break it. Maybe that’s because not only have I been each age in my past, but as Madeleine L’Engle says, “I am still every age that I have been.”
“Because I was once a child, I am always a child,” she continues in A Circle of Quiet, “Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still part of me, and always will be. Because I was once a rebellious student, there is and always will be in me the student crying out for reform. This does not mean that I ought to be trapped or enclosed in any of these ages, the perpetual student, the delayed adolescent, the childish adult, but that they are in me to be drawn on; to forget is a form of suicide; my past is part of what makes the present Madeleine and must not be denied or rejected or forgotten.”
Retaining our past selves within us … acknowledging the places and people we’ve been and how they’ve shaped who we are now … helps us allow ourselves to be whomever we become, as Jeanine Cerundolo said. But more than that, it allows us to continue to be witnesses of the transforming power of the Gospel.
I’ve always found it ironic that the Apostle Paul says he is “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,” just a few verses after he recalls all the ways he used to believe differently and value different things. As much as anyone, you could say that the Apostle Paul’s faith underwent some major changes in the course of his life. Clearly Paul hadn’t forgotten what he used to believe; it was part of him now. But he had, in a sense, forgotten it as a matter of faith.
“All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained,” Paul wrote in Philippians 3:15.
Those old truths no longer defined him. He had moved on. And it was the progress, not regret, that he wanted to focus on.
This month’s theme is called “A Change of Heart,” and we’re going to be talking about all the ways that what we believe changes, grows, and varies over the years. I want us to move beyond regret but also pride, or the sense that we’ve finally arrived, not only so we can deal more kindly with ourselves, but also so we can be people who accept that others are on the same journey. We’ll talk about making a biblical inquiry to help you grow and develop your beliefs, if and when you should take a stand on issues that really matter, and the importance of remaining humble and open to what God may be teaching us. If our faith has changed so far, who’s to say it won’t change again?