I’m not sure how to start this letter – I am now thirty years old, twice your age (yikes). I know what life has in store for you over the next 15 years. I also have the gift of hindsight, and I can see how what lies ahead of you, and what now lies behind me, has a wonderful and glorious purpose.
You are a Christian – so am I. But you will fall away from your faith. Even now I grapple with why or how this happened. These days, I often give my testimony, and when I do, I always struggle to explain how I got from where you are to where I am. I almost become sheepish about it – like someone who is on their second marriage and feels that by admitting their first marriage did not last, that maybe the second one won’t either.
Thank you for giving me my fundamental knowledge of the Bible. You read your Teen Study Bible every day and check off the boxes for each book and chapter, diligently making your way through the entire Bible. You laid the foundation so that when I eventually returned to Christ, I knew what I believed. Your dedication to being in the Word is something that I envy, although now my intention in reading the Word is less about checking boxes and more about being changed.
We both love church and attend regularly. How might your trajectory have been altered if you had a community of friends at your church? My church community been instrumental in my spiritual growth (you don’t know what Facebook is yet, but once you join Park Community Church, you will have more social events than you can keep track of). They have seen me through highs and lows, peaks and valleys, and more snow than you would ever believe (hint – I don’t live in Arizona anymore). You have a lot of wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ in your future.
You eschew secular music in favor of the likes of Jars of Clay and Third Day. You tell your sister that Incubus is a satanic band and that “Drive” is about letting the devil take hold of your life. (Someday, you will appreciate the dramatic flair that is unique to teenagers). In realizing everyone’s need for grace and salvation, your urgency to make your family see this truth leads to less than loving exchanges. When I returned to Christ, I felt and continue to feel a burden that originates from how we proselytized back then – that at best, our efforts at evangelism were ineffective; at worst, that we in fact pushed our family further away from Christ because of our own self-righteousness and judgment.
I can pinpoint, dear one, an exact moment in time when your faith begins to crumble in your hands, pleading and outstretched to the Lord. You lose your best friend and alienate many others because of a boy. Your parents’ marriage disintegrates, and while your dad quickly rebuilds with someone new, your mom is devastated by it. The stress and tension within the family exacerbates an already volatile relationship with your sister. When the family should draw closer to one another to weather the storm, you instead lash out at each other and nurse your pain in your respective corners, alone. Seeking some kind of control over your life, you become preoccupied with your weight, with limiting your caloric intake, and with exercising a lot. And finally, a day comes when you go to the backyard, crouch in the gravel, and cry out to God with all of your soul. You wonder if life is worth living because all you feel is misery. And you do not hear from God. And in this moment, your faith begins to unravel.
You stop going to church. You stop reading the Bible. You think yourself foolish for ever having believed it in the first place. You seek significance and purpose and love in all of the wrong places – in friendships, in men, in booze, in accomplishments, in how you look. And you come up empty over and over again.
Eventually, you stop believing in God at all. You exchange God for lesser idols and return the gift of salvation so graciously given you. God simply seems like a transitory chapter of your youth, gone the way of playing with Barbies, being a ballerina, and wearing braces (thank God).
Oh loved one, as terrible as all of this sounds, know that God’s purpose prevails. Even as you mocked Him and ran from Him, His steadfast love pursued you. And, thirteen years from now, at the age of 28, you will return to Him. And you will come to know the love and peace and joy that for some inexplicable reason you never knew as a teenager. You will have a faith that can weather any storm, by God’s grace and mercy. Rest assured that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, and that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
Yours in the love of Christ,
Kayla (age 30)