Emily Wierenga invited her readers to answer this question: “Would you hang out with your younger self?” I’ve been mulling that one over for a week now. . . and here’s where I landed.
I can see you in my mind’s eye: tall and awkward, outspoken and uncertain and so worried about keeping all the rules. The ones summed up in your mom’s favorite half-joke: “Beware the unguarded moment.”
So that’s what you spent a lot of time doing, isn’t it? Staying on guard. Yet, as I recall, it came sort of naturally to you. Number one child to parents you adored, big sister to two brothers, one right behind you and one far back. You learned early to be bossy, to take charge, to direct events in your small world.
There was a circle of girl friends in high school, mostly the brainy kids, but not all. And there was the church. Oh my, yes, there was the church. As wary of leadership as you were in the school setting, you jumped in with both feet at church. You felt safe there, bounded, encouraged. The youth group was large and active, about 200 kids. And there were adults who cared about you, who invested in your formation as a Jesus-follower, and who knew how to have fun.
You went to confirmation and memorized pieces of the catechism and became a voting member of the congregation at the ripe old age of 14. And you sat in the balcony of that beautiful old Gothic brownstone, writing notes to your friends and trying hard to stifle the giggles. Yet much of the message somehow got through all that stifling and note-writing. You were blessed to hear the sweet notes of grace mixed in with the heavy bass line of rules, and, over time, that’s the tune that stayed with you the longest.
Sadly, however, you did not learn how to sing that song to yourself very well. Yeah, that nasty inner critic started a long, long time ago, amplified by the anxieties and expectations of others.
I look at pictures of you from back then and I sigh loudly. You were quite lovely, but you hadn’t a clue. Not one. All you could see were the bumps at the top of your thighs, the terribly dry skin, the bigness of your frame. Insecurities ran rampant in your spirit and you didn’t date much. Somehow the ones you liked never reciprocated and vice versa. You didn’t get your first kiss until the summer after high school graduation and you liked it. Yeah, you liked it.
Laughter you were good at. And singing. You loved being in those choirs! It got you out of the hothouse world of the brainiacs and threw you in with a group of people who thought differently about life and who were also loads of fun.
Athletics? Fuggedaboutit. I remember that you were marginally successful at badminton and bowling (yes, we had a bowling team at our high school) but everything else pretty much terrified you. There was always that fierce, gut-level fear of any round object coming at you, which pretty much pushed all kinds of team sports into the does-not-perform-well category. And performance was key.
You were a good girl. You did what was asked and expected. You were frightened to color outside the lines and you did not kick against the pricks. Occasionally, you wished you lived a more dramatic life, that you had a kick-ass conversion story to tell, an I-drank-til-I-was-blotto-every-night-until-Jesus-saved-my-soul story.
But that story is not yours. The boring story – that’s the one that belongs to you.
But, here’s the thing, honey. Your story is just fine as it is. Just fine. And yes, I would hang out with you. You were an interesting person, with a mind that was always searching and a heart that was always reaching. You didn’t do either of those things perfectly, but you gave it a mighty good shot. When I first began to think about you and the calm adolescence you enjoyed, the only adjective that sprang to mind was the one I’ve already given you: ‘boring.’ B O R I N G.
The longer I live, though, the more I know that boredom is not necessarily a bad thing.
Sometimes, the drama queens flame out. Sometimes, the rebels do themselves irreparable harm. Sometimes, the straight-arrow, follows-the-rules, never-really-rebels girl ends up with a very good story, indeed. Because grace is still grace and God’s love is most certainly still God’s love, and even the good girls need it desperately.
And then came college — a big, multi-cultural university — and that changed your life in every way I can think of. You still followed most of the rules – that piece didn’t shift until your late 30’s, and even then, it was more about busting stereotypes than breaking rules. But in college, you began to come into your own and most importantly, you began to own your own life, and to see it as God’s unique and holy gift to you. Baby steps at first, but over the next two decades, those strides became bigger and more confident.
We’re still workin’ on that inner critic, still trying to sing the melody of grace in every situation, to every person, including us. Because you, dear, sweet, innocent girl — you are a part of me, forever. Because of who you were then, I am who I am now. Not perfect — not even close — but still searching, still reaching, and still laughing. (And singing occasionally, too.)