Dear 17-year-old me,
How exciting it must be! You have the world at your feet, and you’re about to embark upon what some call “the best years of your life.” Indeed, your 20s are full of opportunity, and you will exercise plenty of responsibility and learn many life lessons. Ten years on, I can confirm that you have so much to look forward to!
But stop stressing over that stereotypical American college experience. Don’t feel like you have to graduate with all the honors imaginable, or that you need to land your dream job straight out of college. In fact, stop putting pressure on yourself altogether. The stress is killing you slowly, and killing every freedom-loving cell inside of you. Having lived through these past 10 years, I have uncovered some truths that would really have helped me when I was where you are at now—paying tuition and taking online career tests.
So here I go. My top five pieces of advice I wish someone had given me when I was 17.
1. Let God Write Your Love Story
This will save you a lot of drama, plenty of tears and a heck of a lot of spare time. Perhaps popular fairy tales are to blame, but don’t feel pressured to find “the one” in order to feel complete. I know everyone has a long-term boyfriend in high school, but you don’t have to follow that trend.
Looking back, I had spent a lot of time and energy in relationships that were not God’s best for me. I took matters into my own hands and spent many years in a relationship with a guy who wasn’t right for me. Whether it was for attention, to fill that gaping hole in my heart that only Christ could fill, or to keep the feelings of rejection at bay; the truth is I didn’t trust God with my dating life. It resulted in a lot of heartache and anxiety.
You might be tempted to think that God doesn’t care about who you date, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Trust me on this one—let Him write your love story. Once I surrendered this part of my life to God, I met the most amazing man who is now my husband.
I don’t care if your guy checks all the right boxes except the faith one. I don’t care if he says all the right things out of a Hollywood romance. If he doesn’t love the things of God or isn’t running in the same direction as you are, don’t settle. Don’t settle for a relationship that isn’t God’s best for you or compromise your core values or dreams in fear of singleness. God will bring along the right person at the right time.
2. Choose Grace Over Judgment
Every single time. I know you have strong opinions on rights and wrongs, but don’t be too quick to let that alienate those around you. The Church is increasingly known for what it’s against rather than what it’s for, but this will only keep people from meeting Jesus.
Grace is what leads people to Jesus, not judgment. There will be situations in which you find yourself surrounded by people with opposing values and different upbringings, and you will be tempted to prove to them that you are right. But please choose grace. As James 2:13 reminds us, “Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”
Now hear me, I am in no way suggesting that you compromise your values; however, you will be a far greater witness of Christ if you clothe yourself in grace. There will be plenty of times where you must take a stand for your faith, but how you take a stand is the key. In its simplest form, grace might look like loving people where they are, even if their lifestyle doesn’t line up with the Gospel. Jesus demonstrated this brilliantly when he chose to eat amongst tax collectors and prostitutes.
3. Your Identity is Not What You Do, But Who You are
The world will drill into your head this recipe for success: hard work + skill = success. You will be taught that your value is derived from your worldly achievements. But you need to learn to separate your identity from your function. This means that if one day your dream job doesn’t work out (because believe me, your career won’t go according to plan), you won’t fall victim to an earth-shattering identity crisis.
By all means, work hard and go after your wildest dreams. Get good grades in your classes, apply for that prestigious internship in Washington D.C., and enroll into a master’s program overseas. None of these things are inherently bad for you. Just remember that these things may come from hard work, but they are not your identity.
If there is only one thing you take away from this, please grasp this truth: your identity is rooted in the fact that you are a child of God. A daughter of the King of Kings who loves you. Galatians 4:7 says, “So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” You don’t have to prove yourself to Him, nor do you need to hand over a copy of your updated resume to earn His affections. He simply loves you because you are His.
4. Be the Woman God Created You to Be
In the next decade, you will also be confronted with society’s narrative of what it means to be a woman—that you’re only as valuable as your dress size, clothing labels, job title and relationship status. But in our postmodernist age where everything goes, it’s absolutely vital that you take a stand for what you believe in.
You will discover that your values of purity, faithfulness, patience and kindness will be put to the test. The world will try to convince you that materialism, sexual indulgence, personal ambition and individualism are the keys to happiness. But remember, God will equip you for every battle you will fight. Maybe dressing for the wrong kind of attention or smoking is what it takes to fit in with the “in” crowd, but is it really worth losing yourself to become “cool”?
Resist the temptation to settle for less, and instead embrace who God made you to be: a woman of who was created to serve God, love your neighbor, stand up for what’s right, and leave the world a better place.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes
I know you are afraid to mess up, for fear of not being the “perfect child.” News flash! You are not, and will never be, perfect. You will make an abundance of mistakes. But if you are wise enough, you will give yourself the grace to make mistakes, and forgive yourself so you can move on from them.
Ultimately, as you discover the freedom that comes with knowing Jesus, you will realize that perfectionism is largely overrated and prevents you from fully relying on God’s faithfulness. God will use your weaknesses to reveal His power, as it says in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
Not only will your imperfections make you a stronger human being, but your experiences will give you a perspective that you can share with others who are looking for guidance as they navigate their own journeys through life.
I know you think you have it all figured out, but trust me. Instead of trying to have all the answers yourself, I’d encourage you to put your full confidence in the One who made you. Your life is a series of small, individual choices; and the choices you make will direct the path you take. Trust your Father with all of your choices—both the giant, life-altering ones and the insignificant ones.
He has already written out the answers to all your questions. He is for you and is going to take you on an incredible adventure through life.