A decade ago it was almost my 19th birthday. This would mark the end of my teens. I was about to begin college, leave my family and hometown, and attempt to evolve into this thing called an “adult.” All things considered, I think I’ve done well, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t at least a few things I wish I would have known. The following is a letter to the 18-year-old me. This is what I would want to tell him if I had limited space to advise him about the future:
In the next 10 years you will wrestle with two things: identity and purpose. Yes, these are essentially the same two categories of doubt that you have recently discovered, with slight alterations. Now you will ask who you are in relation to things you may not have considered: marriage, education, career, political affiliation, stance on various social issues. … While you are asking how these things form you, there will also be the big “so-what?” So what if I get a college degree (Will it pay? Will it fulfill me? Will it change the world?)? So what if I get married (Will she be beautiful? Will she be smart? Will I be good to her? Will we be compatible? Should we have kids?)? These challenges may determine how you understand your purpose in the world. For better or for worse, we often find our identity and purpose in what we believe, what we do and sometimes who we know.
So let me encourage you in this. If (when) you go to college, don’t think about the paycheck alone. Some of your friends will do this and they’ll express a lack of fulfillment. But don’t be an idiot—you will need a paycheck. If (when) you get involved in political or social issues, be balanced (not like Fox News, though) and listen to those with opposing views. You are about to become part of a society that talks less and yells more. If (when) you get married, please avoid misconceptions like “soul mates” and “checklists.” You must be prepared for commitment. That is the cornerstone of a successful, lasting relationship. No one fits so perfectly that they were the only one made for you, and humans are not merely a list of attributes. To marry is to covenant with another human to love one another and the world around you. It is not you finding someone to make you happy and wash your dirty clothing.
On Sept. 11, 2001, something terrible will happen in the United States. It will change everything from checking in at the airport to how our country prioritizes finances. Again, there will be a lot of debating. Everyone will have the solution to the world’s problems, yet no one will have real answers. It will not be the apocalypse, so please ignore end-times preachers who say it is.
People will connect less in person and more via the Internet. I know, I know, that seems weird, but it will happen. Whatever you do, don’t let your only friends be found on something called “Facebook.” Whatever you do, make sure you remember friendship is not important based on “how many,” but rather “how loving” and “how loyal.” In a world of friends-by-the-numbers, you may be surprised by how fulfilling that handful of confidants will prove to be. Also, don’t waste your time on MySpace (it will flop).
Money will come and go. Many people you think are lifelong friends in the making will do the same. You will think you’ve found “the one” and you’ll be wrong. You will not succeed at every venture you take up. Failure and loss are natural. Embrace them and learn from them.
By the way, you will marry an amazing and beautiful woman. Don’t be afraid of a girl who is smart with a strong personality. You want a partner for life, not a maid. Whatever you do, be sure that you share basic commitments. I think religion is one of them.
Speaking of religion, let me warn you of this: Your beliefs will change … drastically! Yes, you’ll still be a Christian, but make sure you ground your faith in the person of Christ who reveals the Triune God and not all your doctrinal edifices. Do not create idols of dogma that prevent you from following the Holy Spirit.
Read more Scripture. Pray more. I am not good at prayer and I think it has something to do with repetition. It is not legalistic to develop disciplines as long as you don’t confuse success with God’s favor. Be involved in a church, but don’t base your worth on that. Don’t make church a business. It’s about people.
Watch your weight. Yes, you can eat garbage now and stay the
same size, but that is going to change. Someday that pizza will not
process the same and soda will make you feel slow and apathetic. Drink
Lastly, sometimes the mantra “God is love” is overplayed. But I recommend overusing it rather than under-using it. If you begin with this premise, it will help you wade through the swamps of doubt along the journey.
Brian LePort is a Master of Theology student at Western Seminary (Portland, OR). He blogs frequently at NearEmmaus.com where he discusses topics related to biblical literature and Christian thought.