A few months ago, I gave a chastity talk to the Nunc Coepi Youth Group, and I shared my relationship history with the teens. It was quite the roller coaster. Because my identity as a young person was not grounded in the love and mercy of Christ, I made some really bad decisions. When I wanted to feel wanted and affirmed, I sought the attention of guys who had no idea how to take care of my heart. I had all the intelligence to get me into Honors and AP classes in high school, but absolutely no common sense when it came to choosing who I would spend my time with.
See, as a teenager, I already had professional goals. I wanted to be a doctor – just like my mom. This ambition would direct every academic choice I made, and I had a clear path as to what I needed to do to get there. But regarding my vocation, I was floundering around assuming I’d get married someday while never connecting the end with the practical means to have the kind of marriage my parents had. After a while, my priorities started to change and my social life began to take over. By the time I was a senior in high school and into my first few years of college, I was struggling academically because I just didn’t care anymore.
I don’t know what I was thinking. Honestly, I don’t think I even thought that much about it. I wore my heart on my sleeve…gave it to whomever claimed would love me…and picked up the shattered pieces each time it was broken and left behind. It never occurred to me that I should save myself for the man of God who would walk into my life to give me the kind of love that was true and completely selfless.
There was unfaithfulness, carelessness, physical and emotional abuse wreaking havoc on my self-image. Practically every year there was a different boy proclaiming his undying devotion and then not long after unashamedly back pedaling on his words. The one relationship that I thought would result in marriage came to a halt because of my own discernment with the Carmelite Sisters. And Jesus Himself closed the door through a lupus diagnosis just a month after I was accepted as a candidate. As a young adult, I was so jaded that I didn’t want to get married at all.
So how in the world did I end up here…with an amazing husband and four beautiful children?
Absolutely and positively BY THE GRACE OF GOD. It’s true that He saved me from myself, but if I just made better choices I wouldn’t have wasted so much time and energy on things that emotionally drained me.
I wish I knew at 14 years old what I know now. So I write this letter to my 14-year-old self in hopes that it will reach the hearts of my own daughters and nieces someday. They say that Experience is the best teacher, but I truly believe that we don’t have to jump off a cliff to know that it would be dangerous to do so (that was the best analogy I could think of!).
Here I go…
Dear 14-year-old Self,
You are beautiful. You are loved. Your life matters so much more than you realize right now.
This is where I have to start because these are three truths that you don’t seem to believe right now. Since you do not believe them, you are walking a dangerous line right now…about to get into the first “romantic” relationship you’ve ever had. Behind your parents’ back. Yeah, I know your mom told you that you shouldn’t have a boyfriend until you graduate from college, and it sounds totally ridiculous. But this guy you want to go out with isn’t going to be your husband. He can’t even think past tomorrow, and won’t treat you as if you were going to be his future wife someday. The same will be true about the next guy. And the next guy. And the next guy.
Of course you would love to hear all the juicy details about what happens with every dating relationship you ever have, should you continue on this road…but let me just cut to the chase and tell you: The only one that ends in marriage was completely different than all the others. YOU SAVE YOUR FIRST KISS WITH HIM FOR YOUR WEDDING DAY. And that will be your idea. What makes you think up such radical measures? When you meet him at 27 years old, you finally have a good idea about who you really are. You want to know if he thinks you are beautiful on the inside. You long to meet another who would really love you with the love of Christ. And you are determined to find out if your life really matters to him. It will be worth it to wait for him. Trust me.
But let’s first take a bit of time to talk about these truths you struggle with now…
1. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL.
I know you don’t feel pretty. You don’t feel pretty because the images on the front covers of your magazines look nothing like you. You want the light hair and light eyes…the flawless skin and perfectly shaped body clothed with a stunning wardrobe. But to what end? What kind of happiness do you think it will bring you? Sure, attention is nice, but it is incredibly fleeting. Good looks do not keep relationships going. It’s a person’s inner beauty that holds true value – her virtue, compassion, and lasting joy. Being the best person you can be in everything you do gives your beauty power and strength. Your friendships will be more authentic and the foundation of your future marriage will stand on solid ground.
And guess what? It’s FREE! You don’t have to spend money becoming more beautiful on the inside. The Lord gave you a smile that lights up the room. He blessed you with a generous heart so full of love. And if you ask Him, He can still pour more grace upon you to be a young woman who inspires and leads others to become the best people they can be. That, my dear, can help change the world.
2. YOU ARE LOVED.
Unconditionally. Do you know what that means? No matter what you have done…no matter how unworthy you feel…no matter what faults you may carry, Someone loves you. And this Someone has created you out of love in this particular time and place to be surrounded by His love. There are certain relationships in your life where you may not necessarily feel loved, so it’s hard to accept this truth. I get it. But some people who love you very much, for one reason or another, just have a hard time saying it. And others who walk into your life will tell you they love you just so they can use you. It’s important that you know what is real and what is not. See, true love is self-sacrificing. Look at the crucifix. That’s love. Watch how hard your parents work just so you can live comfortably and have everything you need. That’s love. Teachers and mentors who invest in you and share their wisdom with you. That’s love.
“But I want to hear it!” cries your broken soul.
I do, too. So let me tell you a secret. If you sit silently in front of the Tabernacle – or better yet, in Eucharistic Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament where you’re looking at Jesus and He’s looking at you – you’ll hear Him say it. Over and over and over again.
“I love you. I love you. I love you.” No matter what you have done.
3. YOUR LIFE MATTERS.
In a society where “Whatever”, “Who cares?”, and “It doesn’t matter” are thrown around in daily conversation, it’s tough for passion to develop into anything more than passing fads. People gravitate towards superficial pop culture and religiously follow rising trends like sails in the wind. So you feel like a big nobody because you’re not on TV or singing on the radio. Your face isn’t recognizable and no one’s hunting you down for your autograph. You dream about living a future filled with success, independence, and fame…but in the corner of your moonlit bedroom, The Lord places His blessing upon you with a Plan much bigger than you could ever imagine.
Instead of showering you with success, He equips you for faithfulness. Instead of granting you independence, He forms you to be completely dependent on Him through whom you can do all things. Instead of making you famous, He keeps you humble so that you can be an empty vessel for the Holy Spirit to transform the lives around you.
Every day of your life matters.
If you are faithful to the little things, God knows you will be able to handle the amazing mission He made you to fulfill. It’s in the ordinary life that He molds the most influential saints. Think of the story of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. As you do the smallest of tasks with great love, The Lord prepares you to be extraordinary. Washing dishes, folding laundry, cleaning your room, doing your homework, studying for tests. All of your responsibilities foster patience, perseverance, and humility – virtues that you will need to live this life well.
In all honesty, there are days when I don’t want to do anything. However, keep in mind that I’m 38 years old. Not only do I have to take care of myself, I need to wash five other people’s dishes, fold their laundry, and keep our living space clean (although I do have a husband who helps out a lot!). I’ve got responsibilities I don’t really enjoy doing, but things need to get done…otherwise our lives would be a disaster. If I didn’t feel like paying bills and decided to spend every weekend at the mall, we wouldn’t have a roof over our heads and food on our table. So in a sense, we all battle the temptation to laziness to some degree. There’s nothing wrong with getting rest when we’re tired or hanging out with friends in our free time. But it’s also important to know that when we don’t pull our weight at home, it makes someone else’s load heavier. And if we neglect our schoolwork or job duties, it affects any chances of moving on to a great university or a more fulfilling career.
What does this have to do with relationships? A LOT. There’s so much more to life than that cute boy who wants to ask you to Winter Formal. Or the flirty guy in Spanish class who you’re starting to crush on. And that potential boyfriend you are about to give yourself to? Let him wait. This is the perfect time for you to get to know The One who infinitely loves you and let Him show you how blessed you really are.
The world doesn’t need you to be popular, pretty, or the lucky girlfriend of a hot guy. It desperately needs you to be LOVE…
In His Most Sacred Heart,
Your Older Self
Now this is when I talk to you the reader heart-to-heart. You don’t need to know exactly what’s going to happen in your future. Don’t even try to plan it so rigidly where there’s no longer any room for God to work. And for your own sake, PLEASE don’t visit a fortune teller or anything of the like to get consolation about where you’ll be 20 years from now (that would be spiritually dangerous!). If my 38-year-old self could really time travel back to talk to my stubborn 14-year-old self, she probably wouldn’t believe her…but I hope you do after reading this letter.
All you need to know is that your Creator is going to move mountains for you. He loves surprising us with the most amazing gifts Heaven can give because the “impossible” is what he does best. The Lord is going to use every situation and circumstance for good, provided that you want Him to. Trust in His purpose for your life and rest secure in His arms. Seek Him when you are lonely; praise Him in the storm. In good times, thank Him and always place Him first in your life. You’ll find that when you let God be God, He will fill your life with miracles, big and small.
Because He breathed love and life I to you, He knows exactly what will bring your heart the most joy and peace.
Be ready to receive…