A Strongly Worded Letter to my 20 Year Old Self

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In a shocking turn of events, I turned forty yesterday. And when a writer turns forty, he has an obligation to do one of those “letters to my younger self” articles. Those letters, however, are usually kind and gentle. My younger self needs a stern talking to. So here is my “strongly worded letter” to my twenty year old self.
I’ve got three things to say, and you will listen. I don’t know whether it will change anything. We haven’t established the rules of time travel in this particular fiction, but I’m going to try, and it’s going to sting. Let it sting. Invite the sting. The sting is your friend.
#1. Your dreams are over-rated. Stop believing in them.
No, I’m serious. You think you know what you’re about right now, but you don’t. You have created a version of yourself who you plan to parade into courtrooms and, eventually, political races. You picture him gliding before the jury, evidence in hand and soliloquies on his tongue. His words are irresistible, his logic irrefutable. He is gong to do all of the big, noble things. He will change the world. There is only one problem: that man doesn’t exist. You made him up.
I’m not saying your dreams don’t matter; just that they’re not really yours. You borrowed them. You saw other people living them out (mostly on television), and you mistook them as your own. But I assure you, you were not built for such visions. You would be a terrible lawyer, and a worse politician.
Listen: everyone will tell you to follow your dreams and let your heart guide you, but that’s nonsense. Your heart will constantly deceive you, and your dreams will change. Let them change. Some things seem so urgent now, and you’ll soon forget all about them. That’s okay. You’ll have new dreams as you get older. Better ones, I dare say. Because your heart itself will grow. Let that happen. Trust that process. Don’t take yourself so seriously.
(A quick aside here about your political obsession: It’s stupid. Politics takes up far too much real estate in your mind. It makes you anxious, and it keeps you from trusting people. You get one vote ever two years. That’s it. So stop pretending your rants carry so much weight and wisdom. They don’t. Invest your energies in learning to love your neighbor. You’re not going to gain any wisdom until you start listening to people anyway.)
#2. Beauty will save you
Ah, you hate this one, I know. You hate it because you’re so self-sufficient and assured, and this sounds like it belongs in the domain of artsy feelers. But hear me: you’re going to take some lumps soon, and those lumps are going to change you. They’re going to disorient you. You’re going to hurt like hell, and you’re going to want to dodge it all.
Don’t dodge it. Invite the pain. Invite the softening. Don’t fight it. Embrace it.
Over time, you’ll learn to tear up in books and in movies. That’s okay. That’s just you becoming a real live boy. When Mr. Fredrickson sees his wife’s additions to the adventure book, let the tears come. When Shasta finds the mountain pass and meets the lion, don’t fight it. When Lee says, “timshel,” choose to feel the weight of his words. When Orual presents her real book of accusations against the gods, pull that scene deep into your heart. Art will nourish you if you will let it. Beauty will preserve your soul. It will bring empathy–a deep softening that will benefit you and those you love. And if you need any motivation here, which I know you do, consider this: you will never be able to write anything good until you learn to cry.
#3. You need other people more than you can possibly imagine
You know that girl you’re about to marry? You don’t deserve her. The narrative of your life together will take shocking turns. You’ll have your beautiful children, but things will be different. So much different than what you planned. You will ache together. You will take turns being strong for each other. But she will take the longer turn. She will carry you, and you need to be grateful.
Seventeen years from now, something small will happen. You’re going to develop a nickel allergy, making you allergic to your wedding ring. So you’ll go without one for a few years. Then, out of the blue, a man will hear you preach, and he’ll offer to make you a new one that you can actually wear. But instead of gold, he’ll inlay it with redwood.
There’s this thing about redwood trees you will know by then: despite their immensity, their roots are shallow. Very shallow. And yet they stand and grow tall even through pounding rains and heavy winds. How do they do it? They grow in crude circles and tie their roots together. Beneath the ground, they become intertwined and inseparable.
Your new ring, then, will tell the story of your marriage. Your family. Your life. It’s a simple story: the winds came, but you did not fall. Despite your weakness, you stayed standing because she was next to you, holding on for dear life. Others held you up, too. Your daughters, your friends, your community. They are all strangers now, but they will be family someday. Tall, tall trees.
So stop believing in yourself. You’re not strong enough to warrant that kind of trust. The math doesn’t work out. You need other people. Embrace that fact. The sooner you come to terms with your own smallness and your tendency to selfishness, the sooner you can take your place in the broken circles of linking souls.
Please, don’t misunderstand me. You’ll have a wonderful marriage. You’ll have amazing children, a nice home, dear friends, and a great job. You’ll even write books like you hoped you would. You’ll discover meaning in blessing others.
I’m not saying life won’t be good; I’m saying you won’t be in control of any of it. So decide ahead of time to let go. Don’t wait. Learn to trust God. Learn what it feels like to have other people’s arms holding yours high. Then, when you turn forty and you discover how much growing up you still have to do, you can face it all with the confidence of one who knows he’s not alone.

This guest post was by author Jason Hague. Read more of his great writing at www.jasonhague.com or read chapter one of his book Aching Joy: Following God Through the Land of Unanswered Prayer.

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3 thoughts on “A Strongly Worded Letter to my 20 Year Old Self”

  1. As I face my 63rd birthday, this really hits home. The older I get, the more I realize I know nothing in comparison to all there is to know. Here I sit in my dream ministry job, after many years of preparation in God’s school. The most important thing I have learned is that without the Holy Spirit’s direction, all the education and experience is nothing. Second, without the people in my life and a desire to love and be loved by others, I am nothing.
    And yes, dreams change, many times over. A calling on your life will never look like you expected, but you are no less obligated to fulfill that in whatever way God leads. Being open to that change of direction keeps you from becoming bitter or angry with God and even sometimes the important people in your life who seemingly are standing in the way of your progress. God’s timetable is not our own.


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