Awhile back, I read a question I just couldn’t get out of my mind.
Writing on DaySpring’s (in)courage blog, Renee Swope of Proverbs 31 Ministries was talking about getting to know other people by sharing our stories. Her closing list of “story-prompts” included this:
“If you could go back 10 years, and tell your 10-years-younger self something, what wisdom or advice would you share?”
After much thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that, at this point in my life, telling my 10-years-younger self anything would be like giving advice to a caterpillar.
“Honey, things are about to get very dark for you. Very dark, and cramped too. You’ll probably have a hard time breathing from time to time. And this is going to last for what seems like forever. But when it’s over, it will be worth every second. Trust me.”
“Uh, OK, thanks for that,” the caterpillar might say, with absolutely no way to comprehend the metamorphosis that is about to rock her entire world.
I can relate, but it took me awhile to figure out why.
A few years ago, my daughter was struggling with math. Looking back, it wasn’t just math in general. It was the fact that the school had introduced new math curriculum with all kinds of wonky ways to do things, and, really, fourth grade isn’t the best time for that. It was the fact that we had moved recently and she was at a new school, which basically amounts to a whole new life for a nine-year-old girl.
It was the fact that her dad had been working out of town since January, and it was now September, and that was a very long time for her to be without her father at home full-time. It was the fact that her mother was nearing the end of a long journey through perimenopause, only at the time she didn’t know it.
In the midst of all that, math was a challenge. But in fifth grade, my daughter’s teacher told me something profound. Kids sometimes struggle mightily with a particular concept one year, she explained, and then the next year, it suddenly all makes sense to them. That’s because developmentally, they weren’t ready to learn it one year, but the next year, they are.
My daughter wasn’t doomed to an unproductive life because she didn’t comprehend fourth-grade math. She simply wasn’t developmentally able to understand some of the concepts just yet.
It’s like that in adult life, too, which might be why I’m having so much trouble with the 10-years-younger question.
A decade ago, I’d worked for several years as a journalist. I had written two books. I’d experienced infertility and become a mother via international adoption. I thought I pretty much had it all together.
I had no idea.
Was my attitude rooted in ignorance? Arrogance? Naïveté? Perhaps, but maybe it was also something else.
Maybe that’s just how life works.
Maybe something happens—when you turn 40, when you come out of a lengthy season in the wilderness, when your kids hit double digits or some other age that was pivotal in your own life, when most of the people in the obituaries are now younger than your own parents—that triggers some kind of processing reflex in your brain.
You see things differently. You see things that you couldn’t have seen before. It’s all just … different.
In the aftermath of infertility, I was so sure that the things I had learned, I had learned completely. Worry? Done with it. Trusting God? Check. Comparing myself and my situation to other people? Over it.
Turns out, I hadn’t quite completed my education. Not even close.
My beliefs about God haven’t changed, not really. They’ve grown, expanded, been molded by the deserts and valleys I’ve walked through since then. But they’re still basically the same.
I’m different, however. Because of those deserts and valleys, I know some things about myself that I didn’t know before. I didn’t realize how self-centered I was back then. I didn’t realize how little of what was going on around me I actually noticed. I especially didn’t know how much I didn’t know—about God, about life, about how to comfort and care for people.
I’m not wiser than I once thought I was. I know much less than I knew a decade ago, and I’m pretty sure that in 10 years, I will know even less than I do now.
But I am learning to keep my mouth shut.
So what would I tell my 10-years-younger self, or any other 10-years-younger friends? Not much, actually. I have no profound statements or Tweet-worthy proclamations to offer.
Rather, I would do what my older friends often did for me, and still do. I would listen. I would laugh with them. I would tell them they are doing a good job, and to hang in there. I would tell them I am proud of them and cite specific examples. I would tell them I remember what it’s like, and how hard it is.
Things change as we move along life’s path. Circumstances change, bodies change, hearts change. When we look back, we will see certain things differently than we do now. That’s how life works, whether we expect it or not.
But God does not change. No matter what happens—in me or around me—He, alone, is enough.
Now that I think about it, that’s what I’d tell my 10-years-younger self.