Recently I was given the assignment to write down what I would say to my younger self. It’s not a novel idea to me, in fact, I’ve already done it at least once in the earlier content of this blog. What has changed for me this year is how I view that younger version of myself.
Up until this last year, I was pretty tough on Younger Me. I cringed at most of her choices in high school and college, I scorned her for making every aspect of marriage harder, for messing up again and again in parenting. I resented her for not managing her friendships better and for finding comfort in cookie dough and brownies. When I looked back, I could only see the ways that the Younger Me failed and how those failures spurred on the consequences that I had to deal with each year that my life continued. I’m always cleaning up after your messes.
When my anxiety kicked it up several notches a few years ago, followed quickly by a crumbling body, I instinctively placed the blame on Younger Me. She had the opportunities to do things right and she let us both down. Here’s how that conversation goes:
Your choices got me here.
I was doing the best I could.
Like sealing our heart with an unbreakable shield?
It was the only thing I could come up with. We’ve had a lot of people hurt us.
I’m sure there was a better way.
I was just a little kid when everything turned south. I’ve spent all of these years just trying to survive.
Is that really an excuse? Now your choices are breaking our body and mind. Why couldn’t you get your stuff together?
I was too busy taking care of the adults in my life to take care of me.
Well, you could have done better.
Thanks be to the Glory of God, He did not leave me in that place of judgement and shame. I was already at war with the pain in my physical body, and it was only making matters worse to punish my younger self. It became clear that if I wanted outer healing, I had to start with the inside first. It was an act of God’s mercy that He allowed the physical pain to corner me until I began to deal with the past. Through counseling, the love of my husband and family, the gentle words of Brennan Manning, and the Holy Spirit, the Lord has pursued me with His love and revealed the truth.
“Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed for perfection does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness and it is as though a voice were saying, ‘You are accepted. You are accepted by that which is greater than you-’” (Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel)
The Lord lovingly showed me that I have always worked too hard to do things “right” and I have always been disappointed with myself for falling short. The truth is that I had to face some hard stuff, both as a child, teenager and an adult, that often felt overwhelming and impossible to handle. Younger Me made certain choices because she was working really hard to keep us safe. She was doing the best she could. Now I’m able to extend my arms to her, give her the space and the permission to experience the hurt and anger over what she had to go through. I can join with her and grieve. I can let her know that she was never alone, she was never without Jesus.
Thank you for trying to protect us.
I really was doing all I could. I didn’t have anybody to show me how to handle what we were facing. Where were the adults who were supposed to keep us safe?
They weren’t paying attention and they should have been. It wasn’t your fault.
Then I get to tell her some spoilers about the amazing love of her future husband and the awesome children who are coming her way. I can tell her she will eventually come to believe that she is lovable, beautiful and capable of trusting love. And because of those gifts she will be capable of returning love as well. It’s going to take time though, be gentle on yourself. You carried too much for too long, but you don’t have to anymore. God is God. Let Him do it.
Our only job now is to let God love us, I can tell her. Being loved by God is both our sword and shield against the enemy. And the enemy is not me or you or our body, or even those that hurt us. Our enemy is against the powers of darkness, the father of lies.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have drawn you with loving kindness.”
Finally, I can sit down with Younger Me and we can feast with toasted sesame bagels smeared with cream cheese and topped with fresh slices of tomatoes. We can eat our bagel sandwiches and clink our glasses of fresh lemonade and feel the grains of sugar melting on our tongue. Together, we’ll celebrate that we’ve really been on the same side all along.