What do you remember of your younger self? What makes you cringe, what makes you proud? Are you still the same person now as you were 10, 20, 30 years ago?
We are having a clear out at home in anticipation of our upcoming move, and I found some old diaries from when I was 16 – 20. At that age I was a mess. On the outside I looked like a high achieving straight A student, one who got 5 A grade A-levels then went to a prestigious university to study Maths. If you looked a little more carefully you might have noticed some boyfriends hanging around. You know, the sort that your parents aren’t thrilled about. It was at 16 when I discovered bad boys and got into Rock. Then a few years later, at uni, I discovered Goth and started dying my hair black. It was at uni that most of the crazy behaviour came out – although I did take a good run up during my A-level years.
I’m afraid I’m not going into details here, except to say it was (mostly) legal and no one died. A lot of it was just part of growing up, trying a few things out, making some bad decisions and not having a lot of wisdom with which to judge character. I had remembered most of it, but here’s the strange thing – with hindsight I had painted myself in a more favourable light. Like I was just going along for the laugh, like none of it was my idea, like I wasn’t really that upset about it, like I understood at the time it was just a phase. Reading my diary was quite a shock. I was so – well, so immature. I thought I was OK, that I knew what I was doing, that I understood the consequences and was happy weighing up the risks. In reality I was needy, insecure, and desperate to be loved, to appear cool, to never say no. I was also bright, kind, great fun and had some fantastic positive experiences as well as negative ones. Reading those diaries, I was ashamed of myself, and protective of that 16 year old me, and shocked and sort of proud all at the same time.
Now I am older and wiser, and I think I have leveled out a bit. I’ve definitely settled down. I know myself more, and am kinder to myself. It’s OK to be me, in fact it’s good to be me now. It doesn’t matter if some of my hobbies are not “cool”, that I enjoy watching Catherine Cookson films on TV, or that I like knitting but never have enough time for it, or that I’m an incredible bore when you let me get on the subject of my children. And these days I know I am loved. I am more secure in the love of my friends and family, my husband and children, my parents and sister. But more than that, I think a lot of self acceptance came from getting to know God. From understanding that I am deeply loved, whatever I do. That I was supposed to be who I am, that I was designed and chosen and that I don’t have to try to be someone I’m not. That instead that I should try to be the best me I can be. And that when I get it wrong and make a bad choice, God will take away my sin “as far as the East is from the West” and forget about it.
So, as I was reading those diaries, it was an eye opener to hear the stories from my own lips, all those years ago. The rose tinted glasses of hind sight came off, and I understood the younger me in a way I was not self-aware enough to do at the time. It was an interesting experience. But it will not happen again.
Those diaries, dear reader, have gone in the bin. Reading through them I knew I never wanted my children to read them. If they are anything like me (and their dad) they will have their own wild teenage years. They will make their own mistakes. And I will be on the other side of the coin, I will be the parent saying “maybe you shouldn’t…” and “be careful” and “are you sure that…”. I don’t want to add fuel to the fire by giving them ammunition phrases starting “well when you were 18 you….”.
I don’t want to edit my past, and when the time comes I do want to be open with them about the mistakes I made as well as the successes I achieved – if they’re interested! But I want to do that with the benefit of the 20+ years’ wisdom I’ve gained after the events, with the long view of how things turned out, of what happened to some of those good time friends from my youth. I want to do that with the answer of whether it was really a good idea at the time, of whether I’d make the same decision knowing then what I know now. Because one headstrong teenager advising another is not a recipe for success.
I wonder what my boys will be like as teenagers and young men. I wonder if their struggles will be different from my own? I wonder how much difference growing up in a Christian environment will make to them. I am so grateful to know God, to understand I am cherished and to understand (a little bit) what wisdom lies in his commands. To know I am accepted and forgiven and that I can bring the best from my past without being held to account for the worst.
I do not hope my boys never make mistakes. What I hope for them is that they have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. That the consequences of their mistakes are light rather than burdonsome, that they have time to reflect and apply wisdom in hindsight, that they will learn from their slip ups and ultimately understand the power of forgiveness. Knowing, really knowing that you are cherished and loved is the beginning of accepting and loving yourself, which is the beginning of true happiness, contentment, peace.
In the words of the Bible (Ephesians 3:17-19) …”I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”