Recently a friend asked me to speak to our church’s youth group about my experience as a teenager. I started to look through old pictures and my journals, remembering me as a teen. Seeing the pictures and reading my own words in my teenager handwriting brought me back to the complicated girl trying to grow into a woman that I was twenty-some years ago. When I considered what to share, I knew it had to be more than just about me, it needed to have a take-away for the kids listening. Lately God has been speaking to me about the lies I’ve believed in my life. And reliving my teenage self revealed four of them that almost derailed what God wants to do in and through my life. Here are the four lies I found woven into my life.
I Am Alone
As a teenager I believed I was all alone in this world. I felt isolated because I was afraid if anyone really knew me, they wouldn’t like me. I carried shame from some things I did as a child which led to a profound lack of self-worth. My only real friend was my dog Cody. I worked with him and showed him in 4H from the time I was 10 until I was 16. He was an amazing listener, never judged me, and was always happy when I came home.
But as funny and sad as that is, I want to let you know today that we are not alone. There is One who understands us, because He created us. And because of His great love for us, He humbled himself to take on the form of a human to die for us. But not just to die. He came to conquer death so we could live.
Having a living, breathing relationship with the God of the Universe is more than good and bad and right and wrong. When we give our hearts to God, He makes us new. He gives us life that will go on forever, and He sets us on a path only we can walk, our divine destiny. And God will never leave you alone. Hebrews says:
You are not alone. And I want to tell you having even one person (or a dog) in the world who sees you can be enough. But don’t be satisfied with just being seen by another person. We all need friendships. Don’t waste years of your life being afraid of other people. You have to risk, put yourself out there, and be vulnerable with people in order to have deep connections and deep friendships. You may be rejected by some, but remember your identity is not dependent on what everyone thinks about you. Go back to God and ask Him to help you find the people you need. As a grown woman who can only now tell you I’ve found my people in this world, don’t waste years of your life hiding. You can’t live the life God intended for you without godly friends standing by your side, calling you out, and holding you up when you need it.
Nothing Will Ever Change
High school seemed to drag on forever for me. I hated it, well a lot of it. And I couldn’t imagine life beyond high school. I felt completely stuck. But I wasn’t stuck. And neither are you. If nothing else, time will carry you forward. You are not now who you will always be. You are not now where you will always be. Make decisions, deliberate choices to do new things, meet new people, go new places when possible. But don’t lose sight of what you already have. God is with you now. And He’s already in your tomorrow. In a world of constant change, He’s your constant. He has always been and always will be. Get to know Him so you can trust Him as you go. He has made you new. He is making you new.
I couldn’t have imagined the life I have now when I was a teenager. I know time sometimes feels like it moves very slowly. But I want to tell you that it moves faster and faster the older you get. So learn what you can and do what you can where you are now. Because you have no idea where God will take you tomorrow.
What I Do Doesn’t Matter
What you do now will affect your path for the rest of your life. When I was 16, I was recruited by a friend to go to downtown Grand Rapids with a man serving the city’s homeless population. As a sheltered, suburban teenager, it was eye-opening. It was like seeing the “other side” of life. It was faith in action, more than words, more than songs. That man was doing something that mattered. We walked all over the city, visiting with people under highway overpasses, in alleys, and all the dark, forgotten places in the city. After my mom found out where we went, I was forbidden from going again because it was too dangerous (She was probably right). But I couldn’t unsee the injustice and poverty. That one night shaped my compassion for the poor and those on the other side of society.
Partly as a result of that experience, when the opportunity came up to tutor kids in the Black Hills, I said yes. And that led to us moving to the Black Hills and serving there for nine years.
The decisions you make and the opportunities you say yes to now will shape you for the rest of your life. Don’t take it too seriously or brush it off as just something old people say. And don’t let anyone discredit you because of your age. You have the opportunity to get involved with meaningful and world-changing experiences right now. Think about what stirs your heart, what moves you, and find a way to get involved. You don’t have to wait for the perfect time. Because there will never be a perfect time. One of the earliest verses I ever memorized was Micah 6:8. It talks about what God desires from the work of our lives.
I Need to Know What Happens Next
I’m a planner. I’ve spent years of my life trying to plan it out . I’ve struggled with anxiety and panic attacks because I felt totally out of control. I’m going to drop this truth on you right now: Life is unpredictable. There will be victories and tragedies. The only constant is God. He will be with you through it all.
When I graduated from high school I had my whole life mapped out. I was going to get my Master’s Degree in physical therapy then go around the world with the Peace Corps, meet a handsome man somewhere out in the field and get married. One problem, I met the man I would marry on the first day of college. And he had no intention of joining the Peace Corps after college.
Turned out the joke was on him because as I said before, we ended up living in the Black Hills, which can be like another world at times.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about tomorrow or make plans for your future. It just means we need to take into account the big God we serve and that He has the right to alter our plans. In James it says:
Make plans. But let God be the ultimate authority on where you go and what you do. When making decisions, you won’t always get it right. So when you fail, which you will, I hope you understand that God is strong enough to redeem your wrong turns. He will use them to teach you, to grow your faith in Him, and give you compassion for others who struggle in the same way. God’s plan, with all the up’s, down’s, and sideways is better, more meaningful, more transformative, more incredible than anything I could have planned out. Get to know Him. Knowing Him will help you make better decisions. Don’t be paralyzed by fear of the future. Some choices you make will be good and others will not. But don’t miss out on what He has for you because you’re scared or because you think you can do it better. Trust me, I know how that works out. Life is much better when you live within the will of God. And you can know His will by knowing Him. And if you let Him, all those life experiences – both good and bad – will transform you into the person He created you to be.
A Prayer for Us
My greatest prayer for all of us today is that we would come to know and love God, surrendering our lives to Him. Because He is who He says He is. He loves us all and can be trusted to take us where we’re supposed to go. My hope for you is that you go into the day knowing that you are not alone, that other people struggle too, and have made mistakes. But know this. God will be with you and will never leave you.
It’s been almost 20 years since I graduated from high school. I didn’t know all the twists and turns my life would take from then until now. Trust God to give you what you need for right now. Let Him guide you in His Truth and you’ll end up right where you’re supposed to be.