Writing to the self you were a few days, months, or years ago can be a really helpful reflecting exercise because it allows you to find the places where God has made meaning out of those things that didn’t seem to have any. It’s also really helpful because you get a chance to look at yourself through a new lens—a lens of someone who knows more and sees more. When writing this letter, one of the first things that came to mind was how little I knew back then. This is very humbling. It’s important to be humbled; it’s important to recognize yourself as merely human. Something else I noticed writing this letter was how much my perspectives had changed. It didn’t take me long to realize that all the bad things I had gone through then had proved to actually be really good—or perhaps it is better to say that God brought good out of them. I believe that things that are bad or good are simply that, and God’s not secretly causing us pain for some greater good. But I also believe that one of the best things about being a Christian is realizing God doesn’t waste anything, that he is constantly forming and creating out of the brokenness and chaos that makes up so much of our lives.
If you are looking to write a letter to your younger self, the easiest place to start is by thinking about tough decisions you had to make in your life. Not those decisions about what you ate for breakfast or what TV show you were going to watch, but the decisions that you agonized over, the ones you may have made pro and con lists for, or the ones where you looked for an answer from every person you interacted with and from every possible perspective.
Start there. Then think of where you have come from that decision. If you’re anything like me, some of those decisions were for better and some were for worse. Think about what you wished you knew making that decision and speak to that.
Again, this exercise is all about finding God’s grace in your life and is not about regret or over-idealizing. It can be a helpful way to look back, so that you can discern a way forward. Remember to thank God and pray afterward.
Some other good places to start:
Think of a hugely impactful season of your life? Why was it impactful? And what do you wish you would have done differently or enjoyed more of?
Try out different lengths of time.
If you’re a Christian, think about when you first became a Christian. If not, think of a moment when you decided to prescribe to whatever worldview you hold.
If you end up writing multiple letters, think of really good times and really bad times. Try to have both.
Here is my letter written to my younger self as an example. Hopefully you find this example, and this practice, a helpful way to 'dust for the fingerprints of God' in your life and in your story so far.
Letter to My Younger Self
Dear 18-year-old Trevor,
I know you feel conflicted about not pursuing a college where you can go and play football.
For a while, you’ve loved almost nothing else besides sports and the world of athletics. Giving up your dream of becoming a pro athlete for the sake of pursuing your education and a simpler lifestyle is okay; in fact I think it’s what you need.
For years you have buried your selfhood under an attempt to gain significance via sports. Afraid of a lot of the questions about your identity, you decided to just keep your head down and keep working toward your goal. In a lot of ways this has been very beneficial. For the most part, you stayed out of trouble in high school, and the lessons of hard work and perseverance will stay with you all your life. Maybe in some alternate reality, a future self will write you thanking you for dropping everything to continue playing football in college. But I’m not him. I’m thankful that you did give up football because I think I’m a lot healthier as a person and much closer to God because you did.
What do I mean by that? It’s not that sports are bad. I actually still miss sports a lot; I was just talking to a friend about that. But what happened after losing the varsity sports lifestyle is that I had to work on skills I wasn’t quite as good at. Skills like conversation, like learning to have deeper friendships, and most of all, I had to deal with all the issues that sports pushed down for me—issues like insecurity, anger, and depression.
Don’t be scared; it’s not that bad. Because I have allowed myself to confront and exist with those issues, I’m far better at caring about others. I’m a far better husband and friend.
Most of my greatest gifts have come from all the emotional and spiritual turmoil that you will go through in the next few years.
I didn’t actually think God existed until I hit rock bottom enough to ask him the real questions. You will learn so much about how miraculous and truly difficult being human is, and it will allow you to sit with others in all types of life situations and offer them a non-judgmental listening ear and a voice that cares more about them and offers hope. You are truly very blessed. And you never would have experienced any of this without being freed up of the space that sports took up for you.
So I guess, the only advice I can offer you is to keep going and keep your head up. Embrace community; doing this alone won’t go well for you. Keep being honest with yourself and asking the tough questions; it will pay off someday. Always want the best for others in your life. Also, as a side note, you won’t end up staying in the sports world, not even as a strength and conditioning coach (teaser: you will drop all of that to delve into the life of the spirit and writing. Imagine that—after all those books you sparknoted in high school!) Anyway, the future looks pretty bright for you, though the next few years will be a mix of the best and worst things you’ve ever experienced. Enjoy it. It goes by fast.
Trevor grew up in a small desert town in Southern California and graduated from Vanguard University in 2013. He moved to Portland, Oregon in 2014 where he currently lives with his beautiful wife, Ashlee, and enjoys of reading, writing, city-life, hiking, and investing in close friendships. Trevor is passionate about bringing the Church to the world and crossing the great divide between Christians and non-Christians that usually leaves both sides scratching their heads. He currently works at a small, Portland-based Christian university named Multnomah University as a Social Media and PR Specialist. He has spent some time in a couple different seminaries but is now getting his master's of English at Portland State University.