What would you tell your twenty-year-old self? Here’s some wisdom and grace from Sarah.
To my twenty-year-old self:
Oh, sweet girl, things are going to get better. You’re going to get through this.
I know you don’t believe it. Everything seems shattered, as you lie gasping under the weight of searing pain. You hate yourself for not being able to make it better. You don’t know life apart from shame.
Somewhere this belief that you’re intrinsically toxic has taken root. But the lie is the real poison. It’s choking your ability to give and receive love. You’re trying so hard and you never slow down: work, college, worship practice, countless hours helping at church. You’re trying to be good enough for somebody to love you.
I wish I could cup your face in my hands and tell you there is nothing wrong with you. I know you wouldn’t hear it, but I’d say it just the same. It’s agonizing and exhausting. You feel so different from everyone around you, and you’re sure that means you’re bad. You just can’t press your soul into those molds. You can’t make shadows lift by magic-word prayers.
It’s not your fault. You won’t recognize this for years. But you didn’t cause the brokenness in your life – circumstances were outside of your control, and you did the best you knew how. You can’t fit the pieces back together on your own, either.
Find help. Allow others in. Some will wound you deeply, but others will shock you with compassion. You’re terrified to ask, but it’s worth the risk. You’ll heal from the wounds. The ones who matter most will be there the longest. Even now, they believe in you more than you comprehend.
This is what you can’t see now: dark days don’t last forever. Hope is about to be born inside of you, deeper than emotion and knowledge. It will anchor you when hell cracks open. You will learn the light is coming and you can always make it through.
Life won’t look how you expect. It’s so much better. Dreams will take longer than you think and yet catch you off guard, so hold on. There are gorgeous surprises ahead: travel and freedom, deep friendships and seasons of profound peace.
You’ll learn to be kind to yourself, gentle with your pieces. Someday, you’ll look in the mirror and like what you see, not just physically, but inside. You’ll stop being ashamed of being different, of thinking and feeling deeply.
Best of all, dark days are not wasted. Out of a hideous hell, you’ll become living, breathing proof of better things. But it won’t be like nothing ever happened. Your future is inextricably linked to this painful present. Don’t be afraid.
Though the growth is slow and agonizing, you’ll look back breathless to see how far you’ve come. You’ll cry wondering tears in awe of redemption, that all the ugly has become a tree of life. You’ll look at scars on your soul and skin and whisper thanks that others find you safe.
Because redemption isn’t fixing the broken pieces and erasing the scars. Redemption takes it all, kisses and blesses it, then offers it to stop the bleeding of the world. Because you walk through darkness now, others will believe they can do the same in the future. Never take that for granted.
You’ll learn about boundaries and safety and self-care, too, but allow your heart to be safe harbor. Hope and grace will become the anthem you sing. Let others hear it. Let them come near. Bandage their wounds with words of love, and know the sacred honor of being the hands of Christ.
Don’t try to force this. It will flow organically from knowing you’re loved and wanted. This is the mystery: you must drink deeply of grace to offer it to another. You must receive kindness to extend it.
So for now, try and be patient with yourself. Treat yourself the way you want others to be treated. Be gentle and kind. Because you are deeply loved, deeply wanted, and you deeply belong.
Your almost-thirty self <3
From Sarah – I almost didn’t let you see this. It was just a simple exercise that appeared in my inbox from Ally Fallon. It was remarkably healing, but I thought it might be just for me
Then I shared it with a room of young women who have walked similar roads. I was so humbled to see it open a space for them to speak kindly to their younger selves.
There were hushed sobs as they realized the shame and anger they hold for themselves, weights lifted as they learned how compassion for themselves sounds. It was cathartic and difficult, but a sacred moment.
Fellow lovers of messy grace, I want the same for you. Can I invite you to write your own letter? Here is the only rule: be kind to yourself. Release judgement and shame. Speak as though you’re writing to a beloved younger sibling or child. You’ll be surprised what compassion does for your heart.
Nobody needs to see if you don’t want to share. But if you do, we would be honored to hear it in the private Grace Is Messy Facebook group. You can also send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or post advice for your younger self in the comments here.