A Letter to My Teenage Self

{so i’m more like 19 here. and taking a break from writing a paper at 1am. but close enough.}

Dear 16-year-old me,

You’re almost 17, and I know you feel like a hot mess of emotions right now, but your little brother died less than 3 months ago, and it’s okay to not be okay and to let yourself grieve. There are so many people around you who love you … who are committed to keeping up with you and praying you through. When they offer to take you out or offer an ear to just listen, they mean it. It’s okay to take them up on their offers.

Don’t be afraid to say you hurt. It’s okay to need people, to lean on others, to be weak. You don’t have to have all the answers, and no one expects you to have it all together.

And while your parents are grieving, too, remember that they love you something fierce, and no matter what some other people have told you, they don’t need you to be strong for them. They don’t always know how to help you grieve, but they can handle the truth. You can tell them how you really feel … and Mom really doesn’t mind going out and talking over cheesecake sometimes if that makes it easier.

I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but eventually you will settle into a new “normal”.

Your best friend of 6 years just moved to another state, and I know that makes it hard to trust people and let people in (something that’s always been hard for you anyway), but that other girl who was your childhood best friend? She’s not going to give up on you or go anywhere. In about a year, she’ll give you a ride to a party and then will surprise you with a CD because you just happened to mention how much you loved one of its songs. Your friendship may rebuild slowly, and you may not even realize it’s happening sometimes, but after college, you’ll be roommates and your relationship will feel more like being sisters than just friends.

So don’t be afraid to invest yourself fully in friendships. You may never be the one with a huge circle of friends, but the few close friendships you do have and maintain will be deeply meaningful.

You like the responsibility of having a job and doing your job well. And yes, it is awesome that your maturity and hard work are not only noticed, but appreciated and affirmed. But don’t forget to just be a teenager. You’re only 16. Your savings account doesn’t matter as much as you think (though it will come in handy once you have that apartment in college).

There will be plenty of time to grow up and work later. And trust me, I know you think being an adult in the “real world” with a “real job” will be so much better, and you’d like to just get there already, but you really will have days where you wish you could just go back to the TCBY years.

In the midst of working hard, don’t let work define who you are. Your work does not equal your identity. Learn that now.

And school. Girl, what is the rush? Leaving public school to return to home school after 9th grade was a great choice, and I realize overloading on classes may seem like an acceptable way to cope with grief and the disconnect you feel with other teenagers, but for heaven’s sake, slow down!

You don’t have to get out of the house as fast as you think you do, so take full advantage of all those community college English and Literature classes that you love so much. And then when you get to the end of undergrad and are really just ready to be done with school, would you at least consider staying for an extra semester to take those religion classes you’re crazy interested in? Just for the record, five years later, you’ll still wish you took at least a couple more classes with your favorite religion professor.

And while we’re on the topic of work and school, let’s talk perfectionism for just a minute. The pressure does not rest on you to do things perfectly or to be perfect. Contrary to what you sometimes believe, the weight of the world is not on your shoulders. You do not have to get everything right all the time. I hereby give you full permission to make a mistake (even a big one), to fail, to falter, to be unsure.

This will be a struggle that you will continue to deal with for years, but I want you to know now that the answer to this struggle is absolute trust in and dependence on our perfect Savior – let Him be perfect and rest in Him. Beginning to see life from an eternal perspective will serve you well in this.

And just for the record, when you do make a mistake (and you will) or when you are crippled by fear and anxiety over the thought of making a mistake your Dad will say (over and over again), “I know it doesn’t feel like it now, but this really won’t matter a year from now or even six months from now.”

I know you hate to admit that he’s right, but he is absolutely right.

A piece of advice? Be active. Seriously. Learn to love exercise, not because of the way it makes you look, but because of how good it makes you feel. Fortunately, although you do think about and care about the way you look, your perspective on your own self-worth and value even now are being firmly rooted in Christ. You are well on your way to understanding that true beauty begins in your heart and is based on your status in Christ rather than on outward appearance. Stand firm in this, even when you go through brief seasons that tempt you to view yourself differently.

You tell your friends that you’re okay not dating right now. And you really mean it. Young relationships don’t always make a lot of sense to you because they seem to lack purpose. Even at 16, you care a lot (sometimes too much) about doing things with purpose. I kind of hate to break it to you, but in 10 years, you’ll still be single (you won’t even have been in a relationship yet). It won’t always be easy for you, but being comfortable just being you and clinging to the Lord as a teenager will form a solid foundation for being confident in your singleness because you will continue to be confident in the Lord.

More than anything, you have a growing and deepening love for Scripture. Don’t let that passion wane. It will only grow stronger. Ask the hard theological questions. Although it may intimidate some, your Bible Study teachers are willing to engage your questions and help you understand as much as they can. As a natural progression to this passion and craving for knowledge of Scripture, you will even spend some time in seminary.

But take every opportunity to study God’s Word now and to know it well. It will equip you far greater than any other book you will read. And let’s be honest, you read a lot.

It may take a lifetime to understand how the Lord will use this passion for His Word for His glory. You have an interest in and heart for serving through missions, and that interest is just going to get a lot messier before you have any clarity. You will even specifically study how we discern where God is calling us to serve. But seeking Him is never wrong. Never stop trusting Him through the uncertainties and the mess. Never stop seeking Him with all that you have.

You’re a “words of affirmation” girl. That’s your love language now and it’s not going anywhere. Just be aware that sometimes, the words you hear won’t be affirming. But you do have a choice to believe them or not. You won’t be able to turn off all of the negative words and voices around you, but don’t let them tell you that you’re inadequate, incompetent, or not enough.

In times when you’re tempted to believe those lies, be ready to respond by constantly filling your heart and mind with the only words that matter … HIS words.

Know His Word, study it, memorize it, internalize it, trust it. When there’s no one else to preach it to you, preach it to yourself. Often.

Fix your eyes on Jesus Christ. Always.

Much Love,

26-year-old Emily


This letter is part of a link-up hosted by Emily Freeman in honor of her new book, Graceful, for teenage girls. I rarely recommend a book that I haven’t read yet, but since I have read this book’s counterpart for women, Grace for the Good Girl, I am completely confident in recommending this book to the teenage girls in your life. This message of grace and letting go is so incredibly freeing, and I know my 16-year-old self would have benefited from it greatly.

7 thoughts on “A Letter to My Teenage Self

  1. Leslie Gallimore

    Beautiful!! What you wrote and who you are! I’m proud to be your mom! BTW, I still like cheesecake–

  2. altarofheaven

    This is so awesome and touching Emily! Thank you for sharing. It’s nice to ‘meet’ a lover of His Word…God has big plans for you all those years of hiding His Word in your heart…looking forward to hearing about it 😉

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