Friday, January 22, 2016

Don't worry: Letters to myself

Most of the advice I'd give my younger self in hindsight begins with, Don't worry. 

Photo by bekasinne

A note for a self-confident third-grader:

Don't worry. Yes, a mom down the street said fourth grade was hard. So I understand why you asked your mom if she would home school you next year if it's all too much for you.

But you are more than capable of the challenge, dear one. And you won't be alone--you'll be taking on long division with the help of all your friends. And with the help of your parents, who believe in you. You know that, don't you? They believe in you, and they will believe in you if you get a B, and they will believe in you if you decide, one day, to quit piano or soccer or even church, and that believing in you will cover over a multitude of hurt.

So you see, there's nothing to fear.

A note for a ninth grader learning to fail:

Don't worry. Oh dear Katie, what a year it's been--your first bitter tastes of failure, your first experiences of un-belonging. I know how badly you wanted to be in the musical. The exhilaration of being on stage in middle school--you loved it perhaps even more than anything you'd ever done. But you will get the chance to be on stage again, and you will love other things even more than this.

And it doesn't end there--I know what disappointment you feel at not making the chamber choir. The first time you heard them sing, you knew you'd been waiting all your life to get into that group. But wait another year, it's okay. The trade-off will be deep, life-long friendships and the chance to lead your own singing group and the kinds of experiences that will stay with you for life.

And yes, dear awkward soul, you are fifteen and you have braces and frizzy hair and your sense of humor hasn't blossomed, and yet you still long for their approval. It feels utterly humiliating to stand at your locker by yourself in the morning before class, pretending to be occupied, as all the groups of laughing blondes wander by. But oh, if only you knew the depth of the empathy and compassion growing up in you right now. For the rest of your life you will always notice the girl standing on the wall, you will always feel the pain of the lonely. And though you couldn't possibly imagine it now, you will always stay in touch with the close friends you will make in these halls.

A note for a college sophomore, amidst the collapse of all her certainties:

Don't worry. Don't worry about going to a "third-world" country or about your first relationship or about not having a five-year plan. I know, dear Katie, that these things are not really what you're scared of. The truth is you're scared that something within you is changing. You're scared that you're losing all that has been your foundation--your God, your habits, your identity.

Listen: you are not losing anything that won't be replaced one hundred fold. 

You will lose some convictions, some people, some of yourself. It will hurt. It is okay to mourn. But here's the thing: God is not going to leave you. In fact, in all of this you will find God in a different and more beautiful way than ever before, a way that opens up possibilities you never dreamed of.

A note for a twenty-something planner without a plan:

Don't worry. You simply don't have to have it all figured out now. Oh, how funny it is to think of you and your dear roommate staying up late trading worries. Yours is career--shouldn't a twenty-four year old have a plan by now?!--and hers is relationship--shouldn't a twenty-four year old have met the right man by now?!

The answer, of course, is no. In six years you still won't have it figured out, but you will have realized that the journey has taught you more than a plan could ever have done. When you get to graduate school, eventually, you will be so glad you didn't know yet what you wanted and studied English in college. You will be so glad you didn't know yet what you wanted and joined Americorps and encountered the gritty beautiful slow-paced DC and learned the hard way how to work on a team. You will be so glad you had those late nights trading worries with people who will be forever friends.

A note for today.

Don't worry. First of all, you're doing great. In fact, can you stop doing great for a moment and enjoy life a little? You may not know exactly what's coming with balancing two careers and a marriage and the hope of children and community and so much more--let tomorrow worry about itself. Aren't you having fun? You love studying languages and writing sermons and giving hugs in the handshake line at church to the women whose pain has been told you over coffee.

Sure, you are in this place of leaving behind the freedoms of young adulthood. Sure, you are re-figuring your friendships and practices and hobbies. Sure, you are grieving what it means to settle somewhere, which is also not to settle somewhere else. Sure, you are realizing that to embrace church and prison work is also not to embrace farming and piano-teaching and other dreams you once had. And you are always, always afraid of failing at the things you for which you are responsible.

But look back on it all, dearest Katie. Have you really ever had a failure you didn't learn from? Have you ever really been alone in your questions? Have your musings and wandering uncertainties ever really led you somewhere where blessing was not to be found?

In hindsight the memory is always clear, that you have been accompanied in all your paths, whether you attuned yourself or not, by the Spirit of the living God.

So read backwards. The memory is now. Just sit and watch the snow awhile.

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