My friend George is the young adult pastor at our church. A few weeks ago he asked me to come and share some wisdom with the group. This particular talk was a part of a series George had called “Higher Ground”. The focus of the talk was to answer the following question. “What would you tell your 18,22,25 and 29 year-old selves?”
As I delved into the farthest reaches of 40+ years of memory, I found the exercise pretty daunting. Do I look up a bunch of scriptures? Do I tell them all my mistakes and simply say “DON’T DO THAT!” ? Should I get philosophical and write some skillfully, crafted one-liners akin to fortune cookie script? The possibilities were endless. Three different times I felt like calling George and canceling. Why was something so simple, becoming such a big ordeal?
Before I began to write, I began to pray. I thought of scriptures here and there, but I also knew that the wisdom I was now transporting to the past was steeped with the presence of God, whom had been leading me for almost 20 years now. There was about 25 young people that showed up to hear the talk, but there were also some who’s schedules didn’t allow them to attend. For them and anyone else who wants to hear it, here is the the bulk of what I shared with the group.
What would I tell my 18 year-old self?
1) Nobody owes you anything. Show some gratitude. Appreciate the sacrifice of others.
2) Be a sightseeing adventurer rather than a racecar driver-Take time to enjoy life. It is not a race to the end or a checklist to be filled out.
3) Prayer works. Don’t ever give up on crying out to God. Just because you don’t hear from Him, doesn’t mean he’s not working on your behalf.
4) Don’t look for your identity in other people.
5) Jesus will be the last man standing with you: day after day, month after month and year after year. God showed me my life as if it were a series of rooms. Jesus was visible in the corner of every room.
6) Remember that anger, fear and sadness are emotions, not lifestyles.
7) Listen to everyone, but do your own research. Don’t be led astray by intellectual impostors.
8) Mistakes are inevitable. Let them teach you, not define you. Take legal risks.
9) The pain of trying and failing hurts far less than the pain of regret on your deathbed.
10) The best time to fix a problem is after the first occurrence and long before you start telling people, “It’s just the way I am.”
11) Pain is like “toxic waste”. Bury it, and it’ll poison your heart. Process and dispose of it properly and it poses no threat to your future.
12) Satan is real and he won’t rest until you are dead.
13) The sooner you realize that the weight of the world isn’t your responsibility, the better off you will be.
What would I tell my 22 year-old self?
1) Savor every moment of every day. “First times” happen only once. That which is kept safe is preserved. That which is given away in haste, can never be retrieved.
2) Don’t drink or do drugs, but if you decide to drink or do drugs, make sure you can trust everyone around you.
3) Your parents have known you longer than your oldest college friend. They changed your diapers and wiped your butt. Remember their love and devotion.
4) Whenever you get angry with your parents, remind yourself that before they were your parents, they were people with hopes, dreams and disappointments, too.
5) Celebrate your freedom to do whatever you want, but take a moment to first contemplate the consequences of the consistent misuse of that freedom.
6) Stop trying so hard to be someone you are not. It is ruining your ability to enjoy the life God wants to give you.
7) Stand up for yourself
8) God is for you not against you
9) What you sew today, you will harvest 5-10 years from now. Be careful what you plant.
10) There’s a fine line between Hero and Idol, Mentor and Manipulator.
What would I tell my 25 year-old self?
1) Call yourself what you want. You have always been and will always be a child of God. (For the longest time, I proclaimed to be a gay Christian).
2) Having hurt and pain doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human.
3) Even the toughest, smartest, prettiest person is nothing without Jesus.
4) Don’t give your heart and your body away so easily.
5) Save your money or spend it on something you will still own in ten years.
6) Stop running from God. Let Him make sense of your life or you are going to lose a lot of time.
7) Commit to things. Life will be difficult. If you run away when things get tough, you won’t learn how to cope with difficulty and disappointment.
8) Not everyone who appears to have it together really has it together.
9) Think carefully about each door you open. Like pandora’s box, you have no control over what comes through that door and into your life. You only control the opening and closing the door.
10) Celebrate who God created you to be, rather than settling for who the world wants you to be
What would I tell a 29 year old me?
1) You may think that you have finally arrived, but you have a lot to learn.
2) Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
3) Don’t hold on to offenses, it stifles growth and can alter the course of your life.
4) Don’t let your sensitivity be used as a weapon against you.
5) This may seem like the adventure of a lifetime, but wait’ll you see what God has prepared for you. (1 Cor. 2:9 9 But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man. The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
6) God can be trusted. He is in control. If you Trust Him and let Him, he’ll lead you.
7) Don’t shy away from uncomfortable conversations that could lead to freedom from years of misunderstanding.
8) Good friendships don’t just pop up overnight. They take work, dedication and are constructed over time.
9) Pursue the truth no matter how uncomfortable it is. Assumption allows satan to manipulate you with lies and lead you astray.
10) Let your faith in God be stable and solid. Let your faith in people be flexible and fluid. I always got that backwards.
11) The most well rounded person has one ear attuned to those younger than themselves and other focused on the wisdom of his elders.
And my last and most important piece of advice is to overdose on bible reading. Read the bible early and often, much like the frequency a SCUBA diver equalizes his ears with the water pressure. Early and often! Read the word of God. Get scripture into your heart and mind. Give the Holy Spirit something to bring to your remembrance when you need it most. Scripture was what Jesus used against satan when he came to tempt him. Scripture is powerful and alive and useful for teaching and rebuking.