When I was in high school, I had a teacher who asked us to write a letter to our future selves in ten years. Who would we be? Where would be live? Marriage? Family? Career? What would be me most important to us and how would we find space in our lives for the things we claimed to cherish and value?
Then, he mailed those letters to us, ten years later. There was significant eye rolling, as you might imagine, when I opened mine. All the hard won wisdom of a sheltered, privileged 18 year old white girl, dreaming her dreams.
What would it feel like, now, to write a letter to my younger self, instead?
What would I want that girl to know? How could I help her sidestep some mistakes or see the world or her faith with different eyes?
Richard Rohr, beloved priest and contemplative, talks about faith as containers. What we know of and how we experience God in the early days of our faith, fit into certain, smallish containers. But as we grow, so does our understanding of who God is. Suddenly those old containers can no longer hold what they once held, and is now spilling over the sides. We need a larger vessel. We can’t pour new wine into old wineskin, Jesus says.
If we are still holding the same small container we started with, we’re not doing it right. Or maybe just not even doing it.
When I wrote this letter…this song….to that younger girl, I wrote it with compassion. You can’t know what you don’t know yet. She did not mean to be smug or entitled. She did not know that the Jesus of the Gospels would call her into moments and relationships and understanding that looked very unlike the safe and sanitized experience of her Sunday mornings.
I wanted to tell her too, that not everything in those old containers needs to be poured out on to the ground. There is beauty and simplicity she should retain from that early understanding of God.
But I wanted to tell her much more than that.
I wish she could see how big and beautiful God’s table is. I wish she knew then, that nobody gets to make the guest list, because it’s not our table. And that everyone, without exception has a seat, or none of us do. I wish she understood that the American dream and all it’s trappings, will be just that…a dream. That Jesus is dreaming different dreams for her, and is uninterested in keeping track or keeping score or keeping up with anyone or anything else.
I want to tell her that her privilege will be a liability to her understanding of Jesus, and that that liability will become the gift of new understanding and healing conversations. That her self-righteousness will be a handicap, and then a beautiful relief, when she learns how to finally drop those stones.
I want to tell her not to trust anyone who claims to have formulas or simple explanations about sacred texts that are worthy of deep examination in her own soul. I want to hug her and tell her that those years she couldn’t bring herself to sit in a church again, were as important as the years she couldn’t imagine leaving.
I’d like to set her eyes outside the city gates, where vulnerable and broken and hungry people are desperate to experience a Love they keep hearing rumors about, but can’t seem to confirm. I’d point her to the margins. I’d tell her to abandon the idea that choosing Jesus will ever be safe and comfortable and to be wary of any container that claims to hold the answers.
And finally, I would tell her she’ll do it all wrong one million times, (and still is)…and that there is so much grace for the long road. Grace for every mistake and weakness. Grace for hypocrisy and shame. I would tell her how much Jesus loves her, not for her potential or progress, but exactly as she is.
How about you? What would you tell your younger self?
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