About a year ago when my therapist kept encouraging me to journal, and I kept resisting this suggestion, I set out to figure out WHY I had such a strong aversion to journaling. After all, I’d done it regularly for most of my teenage years. It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed since I was 16, but I knew that older me could probably learn something from younger me. So, over the course of a week, I sat down each evening to re-read my old diaries and try to sort out why the thought of journaling now gave me a pit in my stomach.
The first couple of years were pretty humorous (12-year-old crushes and silly friend drama), and then pretty boring (responses to daily devotionals I was doing during my “quiet time”), and then they got very intense and very painful to read. Think about the voice in your head that berates and shames you for making a mistake, then throw in a toxic dose of religious purity culture and you have the inner voice of my teenaged self. It was no wonder that the idea of journaling made me feel uneasy as an adult. It had been a form of expressing self-loathing for years.
I learned a lot of things about myself during those nights reviewing my old journals, and I shed quite a few tears out of sadness for the way I’d thought about and written about myself. When I was done I sat down to write a letter to my 16-year-old self, messages I wish I could share with her during those years.
It is so hard to recognize you when all these years have passed between who I was and who I am now. I wish I could sit down with you and reassure you and tell you these things.
It is okay to question. God gives you room for that. God can handle it! God won’t be disappointed in you for doubting and questioning. It’s okay to not pray and not read your Bible and not go to church. You don’t need to beat yourself up over this. Life is full of seasons, faith is full of seasons. There is not one right way to live and act and believe as a person of faith.
You would be so amazed at who you are 20 years after you wrote so many of those words. You would probably judge the person you become, because you see the world in black and white. You are narrow minded, even though you had the best of intentions at the time. Oh girl, things are unfortunately not that simple. But there is FREEDOM in the questioning, in the not knowing, in the changing your mind! Otherwise your world would stay so very small.
You are uniquely you. You can be bossy (and an excellent leader), you can be outspoken (and speak up for those whose voices are marginalized!), you can be assertive (and that is not a character flaw)! You don’t need to be meek, sweet, quiet, or submissive. The world is full of powerful women who know themselves and use their voice.
Anxiety. Depression. Mood swings. Oh girl, these are HARD things to experience. Hormones are a roller coaster and you cannot control them. Anxiety and depression are not your fault. That is your brain chemistry. That is hereditary. That is so normal and so many people in your life are experiencing it too, but not talking about it! It is not a spiritual failing. All the prayers and devotionals and church retreats won’t rewire your brain to not experience anxiety and depression. You will find relief in medication, you will find answers and freedom in therapy. You will build friendships and deepen them by sharing your struggles with mental health. How much richer it has made your life. Nothing is wrong with you.
You can trust yourself. You can listen to your instincts and your body and your feelings. You will go down many different roads and learn and hurt and develop as a person. You will like who you develop into. You will accept who you are.
You are you. You are good. You are LOVED. You can love deeply. You can question, you can not know, you can change. You can stand still when you need to. You can set boundaries. You can take care of yourself first.
Everything will be more than ok. Keep going.
Here is my greatest take away from revisiting my old self (other than so much relief that I’m no longer 16!) If I can look back at my self from 20 years ago and feel so much compassion and love for that girl. 20 years from now I’ll probably look back at my 36 year old self the same way. But why should I wait 20 years to experience that self-compassion? I’m now learning to give myself the grace and compassion in the here and now, when I need it most. I need that every single day. Ten years from now, when I have teenage daughters, I want to have compassion for them as well as compassion for myself as I parent them. Self-compassion is transformative, and we don’t have to wait for it.