I’ve read a lot of these letters from my friends to their 16 year old selves. Each one has either opened or closed with something akin to “You’re beautiful. You’re good. Don’t sell yourself short.” etc. etc. I would like to tell you the same thing: that you’re beautiful, good, wonderful, and worthy– that you’re better than you think you are–but I can’t.
I imagine that you’re reading this in August 2006. Less than a year ago ended the worst relationship of your life (positive spoiler alert: at 23 it’s still the worst relationship of your life. Be thankful.) with someone who emotionally and mentally abused you. He called you all kinds of things that you are not: fat, unattractive, untalented, unloved. He made you believe those things, and because you left that relationship believing those things you entered a string of new relationships with new guys who called you new things you are not. And you believed those things too.
But now you’ve just gotten back from a month in Europe. While away from all your family and friends, you found yourself along with a little bit of self-respect. That’s good. Hold onto that. In a couple months you are going to have an experience that will make you realize that everything you’ve heard about Jesus Christ is true. I’d like to tell you to hold onto that too, but I know you. I know how this story turns out, so I won’t waste the words.
That little seed of self respect paired with the confidence that comes with believing the Gospel is going to grow. Very soon you’re going to decide that you’re valuable and you’re going to begin to love yourself. That’s good. Hold onto that. You’re going to stop dating and spend time figuring out who you are. That’s good. Keep doing that.
Once you’ve done all that, you’re going to do something else. You won’t even know you’re doing it, but you will. Somewhere along the way you are going to think back to that worst relationship of your life and make a promise to yourself: you will never let anyone control you like that ever again. Even though it seems harmless, I would like to beg you not to make that promise… But I know you. And unfortunately, I know how this story turns out.
Now I’m going to tell you something sad; something that will shock you. Ready? Here goes.
You do not know God. You call yourself a Christian; you follow all the rules you know about; you go to church every week… But you don’t know Him. Not even a little bit. And you don’t know Jesus. If you had ever actually opened a Bible since you believed the Gospel, you might realize for yourself that you’re the plant with no root– the one that shot up and withered away. But you couldn’t know that because you know virtually nothing about true faith. Don’t worry. That won’t last forever.
When you are 17, you’re going to start to miss dating. You’re going to meet a guy you really like, who really likes you, but because he’s not a Christian and because you think it’s against the rules, you won’t date him (it is unwise to be unequally yoked, by the way, but since you’re not really a Christian either, it wouldn’t matter all that much). So instead you’re going to do something really silly. Because you’re trying to distract yourself from being sad that you can’t date who you want, you’re going to rush out and date the next nice guy you meet–and he is a really nice guy, by the way–who identifies himself as a Christian.
You don’t realize that’s what you did until a couple years later (right around the time you realize that you’ve unfaithfully harbored lingering affection for the other guy pretty much the whole time). So instead you tell yourself all kinds of things you want to believe like that it was God who brought you together and that you had an instant connection. You do foolishly (with no real evidence) believe those things, by the way. I’d like to tell you not to say these things because one day you really will meet someone that God intended you to be with and you really will know it almost instantly. Saying those things now will just take away from that when it happens… but I know you’ll say them anyway.
To your credit, you do like this guy. You even love him in a totally selfish, worldly way that isn’t true, real love at all. You also have a great group of friends that you love fiercely (Advice: cherish those people. They’re only in your life for a season and there will be times in the future you miss them so much it feels like your heart will burst).
For the next two years you will pour all your time and energy into yourself, your boyfriend, and your friends. And the more you pour into them, the less you pour into your sham of a relationship with God. Soon all you’ll have left of your “faith” is the rules you know and pretend to follow.
Remember that promise I begged you not to make to yourself? Here’s the funny thing about promises like that. They usually come back to haunt you. That nice guy you’re going to end up dating? Well, you’re not going to be very nice to him at all. Because you want to establish that you will not be controlled or treated poorly, you will go to the other extreme. You will turn into the very person who mistreated and broke you a couple years ago. You will be controlling, selfish, and mean. You will take that perfectly nice guy and try to turn him into someone you want him to be rather than letting him be himself with someone else. Because even though you’re not really right together, you’re terrified to let him go. And when it doesn’t work, you will continue futilely trying to fit the mismatched puzzle pieces together–all the while getting meaner and more controlling–until it drives you crazy.
That’s literal. You will literally be crazy for a while. You will get drunk all the time. You will cheat on and break up with your boyfriend (who by that point has become your fiance). You will desperately, drunkenly seek whatever it was you were missing in that relationship. You will date, kiss, fool around with a number of guys in the course of two or three incredibly depressed months. You will wake up after a party half clothed, in bed with two people with no idea what happened. You will be so incredibly horrible to everyone that none of them will want to be around you. You will tell terrible lies. You will push your family away. You will take a ride in a police car. You will end up spending the night in a drug rehab facility (don’t worry; it’s only because there are no beds left in the psychiatric ward where you have to be on 72 hour hold). You will hit rock bottom.
When you come out of your depression and wake from your drunken stupor, you will try to put the pieces of your life together. You’ll get back together with your fiance, you’ll try to patch up your friendships, etc, but it’ll prove impossible. The good news is that distanced from those people (not that your breakdown was their fault; you simply will need the space to clear your head) and with your life in shambles, you’ll finally give God a real opportunity to come in. During the summer of 2010, you will go back to church and begin reading the Bible for the first time ever. Positive spoiler alert: it changes your life. After many back and forth breakups, you will finally be brave enough to admit that you and your fiance do not work. You will finally know God well enough to hear Him say that no, He did not bring the two of you together. You will weep. You will repent. You will receive Grace. You will be lifted up.
God will bring a man into your life who draws you nearer to Him– someone who he will use to make you better. The puzzle pieces will fit perfectly and you will know without a doubt that this man will be your husband. That’s a whole ‘nother journey… But… Positive spoiler alert: you’re happy. Very happy.
Sixteen-Year-Old Kharis, this is your future. This is why I cannot tell you, as so many others have done, that you are beautiful, good, wonderful, or worthy. Right now, at 16, you are full of ugliness and darkness that is just waiting to be exposed. Slowly over the next four years, that darkness and ugliness is going to come out. You are just a human who is living completely disconnected from God. That means that you’re completely depraved– you just don’t know it.
But here’s the good news. God sees you and to Him– even though you’re dark and ugly inside– you are incredibly valuable. So valuable in fact that He sent his one and only Son to pay the penalty for your sin. If I could tell you anything, it would be to concentrate on that. Realize the truth behind that. Open a Bible and don’t stop reading. Learn about the transforming power of the Blood of Christ, the Holy Spirit, the good fruits of a Spirit-led life. Learn it and follow Jesus. Don’t just believe the words you’ve heard, but give Christ the Lordship he deserves and let him change you. I would seriously get on my knees and beg you to do that… but I know you. And I know that every mistake you make affects how the story turns out… So I won’t.
Here’s what I’ll say. In a few years, you will truly meet Jesus. You will accept His sacrifice and he will clothe you in righteousness. And then, even though humanity rears its ugly head and you still mess up sometimes, through Christ you will be holy and blameless before God. Even though you will always have regrets; even though you will always feel a bitter pain when you think of how you treated people and how you grieved the Lord, you will not live oppressed by shame as you might have once.You will know you are a new creation in Christ.
No, Kharis, right now you are not beautiful; you are not good; you are not wonderful or worthy… But don’t lose hope. One day you will be.
In Love and Christ