With only a week left until I’m twenty, I think that maybe it’s about time that I wrote this to you. Maybe twenty seems old to you and I’ll admit that I’ve never imagined myself at this age. I think that I was sixteen for so long that I kinda got stuck there which meant seventeen was a relief when it came but I’m not entirely sure where eighteen went and chunks of nineteen remain unaccounted for too.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the last seven years look very different from this end and although they’ve been truly good years and I’ve been blessed with godly friends and mentors, there are a few things I wish I’d been told sooner. I’d probably have rolled my eyes and you’ll probably do the same but I want to tell you anyway while I still remember.
7. GROWING UP ISN’T THAT SCARY
It doesn’t have to make you boring either. My friends and I still get up to all sorts of mischief (and there’s more planned…)
On the whole (excepting some pretty extreme circumstances) growing up isn’t actually scary. It’s like growing taller — it’s so gradual that you don’t really notice. It’s really not so bad. If there’s anything to say about growing up it’s this: don’t be in a hurry but please do get there. One of the most annoying things in the world are middle-aged infants.
It can be difficult but the best things in life are a challenge. You’ll be fine. Which leads to
6. JUST QUIT WITH THE ANGST!
By all means feel down, that’s perfectly ok. Bad things and sad things are part of a fallen world but don’t wallow in it. It’s highly likely that you’re not as misunderstood as you think you are.
It’s also pretty likely that you’re not going to know what to do with your life just yet. That’s ok too but don’t use it as an excuse to dress in black and waste your time listening to Slipknot. Of course you’ll have bad days but everyone does. It’s good to feel things but don’t become wrapped up in yourself about it all. Life goes on. Except that:
5. PEOPLE DIE
For some people they need to realise that they are going to die but that was never an issue for me. What I never twigged was that other people die. Apparently the sheer force of your love can’t keep people breathing. I hope you never learn this lesson, especially if those you love aren’t saved. Or it was a messy relationship. Or it was drawn out and sporadically dramatic. Or you never really find out what actually happened. . .
Didn’t mean to go there. Basically death isn’t natural but it’s part of the fallen world we live in so don’t waste your days because they are numbered. And don’t waste other people’s days either. Remember:
4. YOUR FRIENDS MATTER
They really do. Both for the reason stated above and because of the influence that they have on you. I used to hang around with a guy who was a bit petulant and a touch on the crude side and had a tendency to be rather mean and then claim he was joking. Whenever I spent time with him, even in a group, I came away feeling somehow worn and sick in my soul. One day I woke up and realised that one-sided friendships are no friendship at all. Sadly in the meantime I’d managed to offend him and it has remained only semi-resolved since resulting in little contact. Don’t be that friend and don’t have them either. Not close to you.
Be careful who you let grow close. You will become like them. The friends I now hold dearest are those who are like a cup of cool water to my soul and I pray I’m even half the friend to them. I wish I’d learned this sooner so hear me now: treasure these ones. Treasure your parents too, one day they may become your friends:
3. YOUR PARENTS DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING BUT THEY KNOW MORE THAN YOU THINK
I can actually hear the mental eye-rolling but just see this one through. It’s important. Your parents may annoy and frustrate and embarrass you but you can bet your bottom dollar that they feel the same way about you too sometimes.
I remember knowing everything at sixteen. I can see how arrogant that was now that I actually do know everything ;) When I came back from Borneo, I was convinced that my parents didn’t have a clue about what I’d been through. It wasn’t until later that it occurred to me that mum, when she was in Uganda, had also had to stand by helplessly and watch as death unfolded. And dad, in the gulf, knew the sound of gunshots over the mountain at night and the haunting prayer cries that shroud the twilight hills. You’re not as misunderstood as you think. Your parents will surprise you.
So your parents know a whole lot more than you think and deep down, you’re always going to need them so care for that relationship if you can. But:
2. EXPECTATIONS DON’T DEFINE YOU
High or low ones. I’ve never been good at the game. My grandparents had high (but unspoken) expectations of us. I’ve no idea quite what they were but I’m absolutely certain that we’ve let them down.
In both my high schools people had me pinned as a doctor/lawyer or at least I’d be something. Again I’ve let them down. I just want to be a translator and raise a family. And I’ve learned that that’s ok.
It’s hard to push against expectations, particularly high ones and particularly if they’re from people you love. Set yourself high goals but let them be your goals. It’s soul crushing to live under the weight of someone else’s dreams for you. Save yourself the torment. Do what you love.
The other side of the coin is please don’t live down to low expectations. Expectations of teenagers now are pitifully low. I mean, look at these guys: here, here, and here. Too young is a lie you’ll hear your whole life until you’re old and then you’ll be too old for anything. It is possible to come out of the other side of teenage still sober, more mature, and still full of passion to change the word. Don’t live down to expectations. It’s more fun not to and besides you’ve got the energy and drive now so do things now.
I dare you.
For starters try this:
1. FEAR GOD, WORK HARD
(That’s a David Livingstone quote by the way) You’ve got to repent and believe or everything else is thoroughly pointless. These are some of the best years in which to grow and develop your relationship with God. Despite what you think, you actually have lots of spare time and your mind is naturally bright and inquisitive. Don’t game it away. I’m not slagging fun but spend at least some of your time and energy growing in your faith and you will see the benefits for years to come. Make it a priority and you won’t regret it.
Read your bible. Pray. Pray hard. Ask questions and go looking for the answers. Spend time with godly people. Your faith (contrary to what the minister told me at twelve) is not a passing phase. Nor is it an add-on to your life. Don’t ever get over it.
‘What good am I if I do not give all I am?’
So there you are. That’s it as briefly as possible. But I hope if any of this sticks, it is this:
Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly. You have only one candle of life to burn: burn it well.