Earlier this month, I found a note I wrote when I was 20 1/2 (because those 6 extra months matter). It was a letter I wrote to my 17 year old self, how even though she felt stuck in a rut, she would grow closer to God, do amazing things, and become a stronger person. It’s a good note, and I’m glad I wrote it. At that point in my life, I needed to tell myself those things.
But that 20 1/2 year old girl, who was so optimistic about where God was taking her, would have the very same faith of which she was so proud shattered several months later, and picking up those broken pieces would be some of the hardest work she would ever do. All these years later, I’m still processing that time in my life and wondering how much I’ve really moved on from it.
So this letter is for that spunky, passionate, on-fire child of God from 8 years ago, blissfully unaware of what was to come.
I doubt she’d listen to it if I actually read it to her.
But I write it to remind myself that 20 1/2 year old me is still worthy of love and respect, and maybe if I make some peace with her, I can make peace with myself here and now.
It’s me. Well, it’s you…who is also me…only several years older. It’s wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey stuff. Not that you know what that phrase means yet.
Look at you: re-reading Captivating and remembering your younger self, preparing to study abroad in New Zealand, nervous in your new relationship with your best-friend-turned-boyfriend. But mostly, you’re proud of how far God has brought you in this life, from the dramatic, insecurity-riddled teenager you were to the more confident and bold Christian leader you are now.
It’s pretty great, isn’t it?
Part of me is envious of you: your steady faith, your simpler worldview, your significantly less hostile political environment (trust me on that, sweetheart), the fact that you’re in school studying and stressing about exams instead of bills.
Another part of me chuckles at your naivety: the super simplistic theology which you find so deep and nourishing, the mediocre taste in music, the narrow-mindedness behind which you hide your deep, beautiful mind.
After all of these years, I hate to say that part of me still finds you pathetic. And yet, I find you so lovable and charming. Our relationship is a lot more complicated now, dearie. I wish it could be different.
Then again, I wish for a lot of things when it comes to you.
I wish I could tell you the ground on which you walk will remain firm beneath your feet, even though I know it will sink so fast you are only able to grasp a small, hardly sturdy remnant in your fingertips to save you from drowning.
I wish I could tell you that you’ll look at the old journal entries and Facebook notes without feeling brainwashed and misguided. But for a long time, you will not be able to read a single verse of Scripture without skepticism or fear of becoming that person you were once so proud to be.
I wish I could tell you the fire you have for God will never extinguish, that you will never doubt your faith or regret being raised by the people who loved you into it.
But I know one day, you will rush out of the backdoor of the church without a second glance. You will become a runaway who didn’t even leave behind a note.
You will see your church family as strangers in a strange land. You will distance yourself from and completely fall out with them, because you do not understand how the people who taught you about the God of Love could turn such a cold and callous shoulder to the most vulnerable in society.
Your youth group buddies. Your mentors. All the pastors and people you once aspired to be.
You will run away from every single one of them.
Some days, you will wonder if this was the right choice to make. Other days, you will swear you should have left sooner than you did.
You will abandon the theology. You will read the old entries and favorite books and wince at the problematic and downright harmfulness of their content. Your heart will break when you read the passages used to silence you as a woman who wants so badly to be strong and bold, and the notions of “purity” which continue to be a root of so many of the struggles in your romantic relationship.
In short, you are going to lose a lot, girl. And it is going to be painful and downright awful.
(Did I mention you curse like a sailor now? Because that’s a thing. I blame the Bridgewater theater department for that one, though.)
It’s not all bad news, though, at least from this side of things.
You won’t love Captivating, John and Stasi Eldredge, or even Donald Miller like you once did. But you will love Rachel Held Evans, Glennon Doyle, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. They will disciple you in ways you never imagined. They will unsettle and disrupt you and make you confront the evil systems into which you were born. They will bring tears to your eyes and make your belly hurt from laughter.
And they will make you think. Kid, they will make your brain hurt with the questions they bring up and soothe you with new understandings of wisdom and grace.
In the midst of intense questions, you will find yourself in a community of believers who hold the holy tension of belief and doubt, who wrestle with God while engaging in the holy work of serving those on the margins. You will preach and accept that maybe, just maybe, this really is your calling, and it will scare you, but not because you’re worried you’re a woman going against the will of God.
In the midst of living on your own and struggling to pay bills, you will find yourself in seminary. You will be compassionate to those wrestling with whether they want to follow this path called The Way anymore. You will think you have it all figured out, until your Missions professor starts talking about white privilege and supremacy and your place in it, until you take CPE and find yourself bringing a fraying family together over the comatose body they hold in common in the ICU on a late Friday night, until the person you were convinced had a backward theology comforted you in a way no one else knew how. You will love the community you find, in the academic halls and the black box theater, with pastors in training and wandering thespians, and it will be an oasis for your soul.
In short, it’s gonna be tough, but you’re gonna be fine.
I know there are moments in this letter where I sound cross with and disappointed in you, but it’s because I know the pain you felt, and I do wish I could have stopped it from happening. I wish I could protect you, or bring all of this to your awareness in a gentler way.
I know you will want me to say sorry, for the questions and the trials, when you will want me to take it all back and return to the way we were, when things were simpler and happier.
But I won’t. I will not apologize for where the journey has taken us, nor will I negate it. I couldn’t do that to you.
Remember this: You will wrestle with God. Each time you walk away from the struggle, you will come away limping like Jacob.
But you will grow, and you will keep opening yourself up to the Spirit’s calling.
And you’re still the loud, passionate, firey, anxious person you’ve always been (but now you have medication and counseling to help with the anxiety. You’re welcome for that.).
Lindsay (Age 27 1/2)
PS: Be good to Bryce. He’s already been the best of friends to you, and he’s a great boyfriend, too. And a fantastic husband. He’s pretty much the greatest gift of grace you’ve received in this journey of faith and life, so hold onto that when things get real rough.