A little background: This is the first draft of a letter I plan to give to Annie and any other girl I may have when they become a teenager. As I said, I am under-qualified to write this, but I want to get down some of my thoughts about the teen years before they become too blurry. I'm sure I will edit and add to this over the years as I continue to learn and mature in faith, but you have to start somewhere.
Dear sweet daughter,
To be honest, I don't feel qualified to write this letter and maybe I'm not, but there are some things I want you to know about being a teenager while it's still clearly in my memory. Only six years separates me from my thirty-year-old self and my eighteen-year-old self, freshly graduated from high school. As a stay-at-home mommy of two I feel a little caught in the middle sometimes. There are still many childish things about me and I'm painfully aware of the immaturities that have hung on all these years. I still cringe sometimes when I hear myself say something I know I shouldn't or throw an internal fit that would put my "terrible twos" son to shame. But I also count each gray hair that sprouts on my head (I guess if I can still count them then that's a good sign). I look in the mirror each year and watch the shadows under my eyes get a little darker. I feel the weight of the worries of this adult world and wonder if it was really only four years ago that I was still a teenager myself.
I've learned some, but not even close to all the things I should from my teenage years. As I look back at my old self now the thing that reaches up and punches me in the face the most was my obsession with myself. It's not an uncommon thing to notice in people, children, but especially teens. The world tells you it is all about you. Even your teachers drill it into your brain that you need to make good grades so than you can go to college and get a degree and make lots of money to take care of yourself. Good grades are good. Going to college is great. Getting a good job is fantastic. Having enough money to provide yourself and others is quite handy as well. Clarence, the angel from It's A Wonderful Life, tells George Bailey that there is no money in heaven. "Well, it sure comes in handy down here bub", George replies. There is nothing wrong with having money, but that is not why you're going to school and doing the best you can.
School is your task that God has given you right now. We all have tasks at different times of our life and it is our duty to the Lord to complete that task as best we can. No questions asked. As parents we encourage you and enforce rules about school as servants of the Lord. We are given the task to be sure our children do what they are told to the glory of God. When you graduate high school God will have a new task for you. It may be college or missions work or sweeping the floor of a mall. Whatever task He gives you it will be perfect for His plan and you will finish it with flying colors because He gives you the strength to do so. Do not listen to the world when they tell you that your number one concern should be yourself. Do not buy into the idea that your purpose on this earth is make yourself as happy as possible. You are here to serve others and serve the Lord. That is your purpose and God will reward you with joy much deeper than what you feel when that cute boy smiles at you.
In my junior year of high school, Facebook hadn't quite exploded like it later did and MySpace.com was still the thing. It was similar in that you could make your own profile and post pictures. That year I had two good girlfriends and the three of us were inseparable for a while. One day I decided to post a picture of myself (or a "selfie") on my account. I did what most girls do - took a few pictures while making various pensive and borderline seductive faces and edited it with different effects to make myself look as pretty as possible. Once I was satisfied I made it my profile picture. I checked back later to find lots of likes and comments telling me how great I looked, including some good-looking guys from school. Although I knew my two friends had seen the picture, there wasn't a word from any of us about it the next day at school, which was not unusual. However, that next night I logged on MySpace to find two new heavily edited profile pictures from both of them as well with plenty of complimentary comments and likes. It was remarkable how quickly my self-confidence went down as I watched the number of compliments they got match, and even exceed my own. We all later admitted that we checked back at all three pictures regularly to see who had the most likes and comments. Sick, right? I formed a silent competition with my friends over looks. Not enemies; not that girl in class that all the guys like and you just can't stand it. These were my good friends and we were evaluating our own worth in the most superficial way possible. We were hoping against hope that we would be voted the prettiest and the most desirable and if we weren't, it was crushing.
I say this not to make you lose even more respect for me, but in hopes that you'll understand how easy it is to fall into this self-centered pitfall. It is all around you every day. I'm not writing this to put an end to "selfies", but I am asking that you and every other female out there be real with themselves about what they are doing when they take a picture of themselves to post to Facebook, Instagram, text to their friends, etc. Ask yourself why you are doing that. Is what you are doing bringing glory to God or glory to yourself? Are you seeking approval from others? Are you relying on your own physical beauty to give you the self-worth you're searching for? Proverbs 5:6 says, "[Folly] gives no thought to the way of life; her paths wander aimlessly, but she does not know it." Do not make the mistake of choosing to be naive and oblivious to your own selfishness. That's what fools do and you are not foolish. Make the decision to fess up and fix it. We are all prone to wander and inclined to think of ourselves first. We all need to end the day on our knees asking the Lord to forgive us for all the ways we honored ourself that day. If you can learn to do that as a teenager it will only get easier. Self-centeredness is a habit-forming drug. It feels good and it's addicting to take care of ourselves. It feels right because everyone else seems to be looking out for themselves, so why should we put them first? What's the use in serving all of these selfish people? Learn to be a light and others will see the greatness of God in you. Your friends, your teachers, your future husband will look at you with more awe than they ever had when they saw that picture of you in your new cute dress. You will be establishing a habit that is absolutely vital to have as you walk through life as a christian woman.
It is a difficult road and you will be tested at every turn. Many folks will be determined to pull you down into the mud, but your God never gives you more than You can handle. He will be your strength and will hold you through every mean comment you receive, every friend you lose, every boy that rejects you, every party you miss. He will never leave you and will praise you for your steadfast faith in Him and determination to put others before yourself. And maybe you will escape your teen years with a few less regrets than your dear old mom.
I love you, sweet girl, and am praying for you always.