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Letters to Me: Conversations with a Younger Self

November 26, 2012

The following is an excerpt from a piece I contributed to a book compiled and just released by Dan Schmidt, called, “Letters to Me: Conversations with a Younger Self,” where various authors offer advice to themselves during their formative young adult years. I thought this would be so easy and fun, but let me tell you, it was very difficult to write. Even if I had gotten the advice, I probably would have been too stubborn and self-absorbed to even listen. What would you say to your younger self? 

Dear JB,

Did you know that the phrase, “Do Not Be Afraid,” occurs in the bible 365 times? Which tells you something about what life is supposed to be like.

Taking risks is probably the only path to spiritual growth. Charting your career is a big part of that. Your work is a significant element of the spiritual growth process.

God’s kingdom is so much bigger than seminary and the mission field and church-planting, but unfortunately you were brainwashed into thinking ministry work is the only “spiritual” vocation that makes God happy. It’s a shame you have to unlearn this on your own rather than from church, but you’ll see.

God cares about your job. He’s right there in it with you, and He is thrilled to see you discovering your gifts, your talents, to see you gaining confidence in yourself.

You are useful to God’s service out there in the sweat and grind of the marketplace. So don’t keep second-guessing your decision about what kind of work you are doing. He is completely wrapped up in the business you are in right now – every call you make, every deal you close, every failure, every rejection. By some mystery, He has brought you here. You are in His grip. And you can rest in that.

Remember this: spiritual growth doesn’t necessarily happen by just showing up at Bible study every week. This job, what you’re going through right now in real life, this will teach you spiritual lessons you never would have learned in any of those high-octane fellowship retreats you used to love, with the wild fervor of worship bands and Christian solidarity and motivational speakers and walk-down-the-aisle commitments. That stuff is easy. Anyone can float on that boat. But what you’ve gotten yourself into now? This is the real deal, buddy, where your spirit skids against the asphalt.

The only way to truly mature is by putting yourself in these situations where you are afraid of screwing up, where you become imperfect and insufficient. That’s how you rise above. That’s a true expression of faith.

Life is more complicated and multifaceted and messier than anyone will ever admit. And it’s all okay. The older you get, the less you are going to find stock answers that give you an absolute black or white, like what you were fed in high school youth group.

The going can be tough, but at the same time, rich. Take a look around you, the way the sticky summer sun breaks through the windows of your tiny apartment, spraying light across the seaweed-green thrift-store couch. See the wedding photograph on the wall, the second-hand TV, the tangle of your legs with hers on the beige carpet floor. You will bask in these memories years from now.

The only thing that’s real, that’s lasting, that’s truly spiritual, is love. Sacrificial love. Everyone talks about it, but it’s quite another thing to grind it out every day without knowing how, figuring it out as you go. That’s what you do when you get up every morning to face the marketplace, walking into the jagged landscape of competition and hustle and pavement. It’s more than just “providing.” More than anything, this is an act of love.

 To read the full piece and many other great stories, you can purchase the book here. 

9 Comments leave one →
  1. November 26, 2012 6:35 am

    I enjoyed this Jim but I struggle with it all. I struggle to think what I might say to a younger me. Take more risks would definitely be part of it. I still struggle to see my work as spiritual although if I could, I believe the implications would be huge. Thanks for the mind stretch.

    • November 27, 2012 6:07 am

      Tammy, I wrote that part because at the time I struggled with being called into ministry, but decided against it and instead took another career path. I felt kind of guilty about it and that God wasn’t very happy with it, even though I didn’t feel like God wanted me to be a pastor, either. It was confusing, because I over-spiritualized these things too much instead of just being myself and seeing God in everything I was doing.

  2. November 26, 2012 2:37 pm

    Even coming from my self, i still wouldn’t have listened. It’s just plain creepy.

    • November 27, 2012 6:08 am

      I think I would have been scared. Like the people in the bible who were visited by angels. Except I would not have listened.

  3. November 26, 2012 9:46 pm

    I’d prefer to get a letter from the older me rather than try and write one for the younger stubborn one… I think that made sense? Interesting

    • November 27, 2012 6:10 am

      So a letter to an older you from an even older you? I read something recently where someone was saying that we should look back at ourselves every year or so and be embarrassed by ourselves back then due to the personal growth we’ve experienced. If you’re the same person, you’re stagnant. That’s a lot of pressure, though…

  4. November 27, 2012 2:50 am

    And its ok if you screw up because we’re all going to die anyways…might as well die trying.

  5. November 27, 2012 12:26 pm

    This was a great read, Jim. The part about risk taking and not being afraid hit me particularly hard as my family and I are heading into a pretty scary and risky stage for us.

  6. December 2, 2012 10:10 am

    Great stuff. It made me think about how seeing ourselves as God sees us is never easy, especially when we are young. It takes courage to see ourselves as 1) sinners who are 2) loved by God – and to fully comprehend the meaning of those two facts. When I regret the things of the past – viewing them as a ‘total waste’ – I deny God’s love for me both then and now – succumbing to fear.

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