Last week I told you about the new book by Emily Freeman called Graceful (For Young Women): Letting Go of Your Try-Hard Life. It’s the young women’s version of her book Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life. Both books are written for a particular target – one that my oldest daughter and I fit perfectly. This is a book that I wish I’d had back in the day when I was a teenager. Here is the Amazon description:
Many of us believe that we are saved by grace–but for too many, that’s the last time grace defines our life. Instead of clinging to grace, we strive for good and believe that the Christian life means hard work and a sweet disposition. As good girls, we focus on the things we can handle, our disciplined lives, and our unshakable good moods. When we fail to measure up to our own impossible standards, we hide behind our good girl masks, determined to keep our weakness a secret.
In Grace for the Good Girl, Emily Freeman invites women to let go of the try-hard life and realize that in Christ we are free to receive from him rather than constantly try to achieve for him.
As the new book is written specifically to teenagers, Emily issued the challenge to adults to write a letter to your teenage self, giving advice and guidance knowing all that you know now. I’ll play along…
My first inclination as a 41 year old woman is to tell you not to change anything in what will become your past, because everything in you’ve done or experienced, good or bad, will all culminate into the person who you are today. But then I realize that would just be silly. After all, why would you not learn from your mistakes so as not to repeat them in the future? So here’s some wisdom from your much older self…
1. Stop being so serious. Your teenage years are some of the most carefree times in your life. Seriousness does not equal piety. You can have fun and still be a good girl. You might even make a few more friends.
2. That being said, you could stand to take school a little more seriously. Not in terms of making better grades. You’re doing okay in that area. But in terms of treating school like it’s a privilege you’ve been given. Stop acting like an education is a chore to be endured rather than a gift to be appreciated. One day you will realize that over half the world doesn’t have access to the kind of education you do, and you will wish you’d cared more about the opportunities given to you.
3. Be more confident in who you are. Stop trying so hard to fit in. Instead, try a lot harder to appreciate your uniquenesses and the uniquenesses of other people. Be okay with being different.
4. Cultivate a few hobbies that you do just for the fun and relaxation of it. Stop filling your time with school, work, church, and an endless list of activities that are so darn practical, Grandma. Life does not always have to be practical. God has given us beauty and art and music and talent that may not add another dollar to the bottom line of any financial statement, but they make life enjoyable. They provide energy and excitement and depth that all the analysis in the world cannot quantify.
5. Reach out more to the people around you. You have some really great friends. You cross paths daily with people who will do big, big things in life. Some will receive fame and fortune for it, but some will walk humbly through life quietly making an impact on the world that can’t be measured. You are currently friends with people who will become missionaries in foreign lands, award-winning architects, moms who raise exceptional kids, physicians who make a tremendous impact in the medical world, teachers who will serve in some extremely impoverished and underpriveleged schools, and people who will return to your hometown and pour back into that community making it better for generations to come. Appreciate both the talent that makes a big statement in the world and the quiet humility of those who are unsung heroes.
6. Sing. Sing, sing, and sing some more. Realize that any smidge of talent God has given you in this area can be developed into something He can use for His glory. Pursue His glory in this area.
7. While you’re at it, learn to play a musical instrument. Learn to play it well.
8. Learn how to be gracious with people who are unkind. Everybody isn’t out to be mean. Some people just deal with things you can’t even begin to understand. There is a lot you don’t know yet about a cruel world. So learn how to be gentle and forgiving instead of being easily offended.
9. Sometimes you will wish you were more outgoing and extroverted. Sure, you could stand to engage with people a little more (see #5), but learn to value your introverted tendencies. While extroverts are the life of the party, you will be noticing the person who seems a bit uncomfortable and you will reach out to them. While your outgoing peers have more friends, your friendships will be deeper and more long-lived. Don’t rush to change that. At 41, you will still be friends with many of the same people you love so much at 17. When you all go to the beach together twenty years later, it will be like no time has passed. And you’ll be truly proud of the people they have become.
10. Journal. Write it all down. Of course, you’ll have to keep it under lock and key to keep your little brother from reading it, but figure out something. All the memories and experiences you think you’ll remember forever will leave you. Write it down. One day you will wish you could go back and remember your thoughts, feelings, and all the good times. You will want to remember the funny things that happen along the way, because there will be many. One day you will wet your pants laughing about the stories you are living right now. Write it down so that you can re-live the fun.
11. Learn how to say no. You’re a people-pleaser and unless you learn to say no, you are going to take on way more than you can handle. Practice it now. Repeat after me: “No, thanks. That doesn’t fit in with what I’m trying to accomplish.” “No, thank you. That’s really more than I can take on right now.” “I’ve thought about it and decided that I’ll have to pass this time.” “No, I’m not interested in settling for that when I know something better is coming.” “Thank you for the opportunity, but I feel that something better is out there for me.” You don’t have to be ungracious or unkind, but learn to say no and say it with assurance and authority. And then don’t look back.
12. You are not responsible for everybody’s happiness and well-being. I know that your middle-child-ness makes you think that you can’t be happy unless everyone around you is happy. Learn to let go of the responsibility of making other people succeed. Allow people to make their own way. If they fall, and sometimes they will, offer them a hand and help them back up. But stop feeling like it is all your fault if things go wrong and people are miserable. You are not the savior of the world. Learn to live in the grace God so freely gives you. He has freed you from shouldering responsibility He never intended for you to carry.
13. That dream you told Mrs. Hannahan’s class the day we all discussed what our futures would look like? The one where you said, “What I really want to do is go to college, marry a great guy, and spend all my time doing charity work.” That dream is exactly what your life will look like. Sort of. You’ll do less charity work than you thought you would because you’ll be tied up with a little thing called homeschooling. (I know, we never saw that coming, did we?) But you will eventually figure out your own way of doing both. And you’ll realize that even at 17 you knew what was really important in life.
(Are you tired of hearing me disclose that the above links are affiliates? Sorry, but it’s an FCC rule and I don’t really want to be in trouble with them. I guess shouldering the responsibility to make them happy is rearing its ugly head