When you think back to your younger years you can, no doubt, identify the people who were most influential in your life …and also the glaring absences of significant adult input in areas you perhaps needed them most.
“Be the kind of person you needed when you were younger.”
This quote resonates with me as a way to frame our reflections to position us to be the best navigators we can be (you can read more about that here – navigating life’s rough water). As we consider what we EXPERIENCED and also what we LACKED we can be more dialled in to those things in the young people entrusted to our care – be they family, friends, students or members of our ministries.
- Someone to validate (and help me understand) my personality
I spent most of my teen and young adult life being criticised for my personality. You’re so loud! Why are you always so happy? Stand still! Stop being so dramatic and exaggerating. I came to accept that my personality was innately flawed. There was no one else like me so there must be something wrong with me. I oscillated through varying degrees of resignation and defensiveness.
If I could speak to my younger self I would tell her that her Tigger-ness is a gift. That her capacity to see and bring joy and celebration is needed in this world. That her optimism and enthusiasm bring light and life to those around her. I would tell her that she can learn about time, place and volume in order to not inflict herself upon others in negative ways. I would tell her that others aren’t like her and she needs to understand them and help them understand her.
- Someone who asked questions about who I was hoping to become
Teenagers don’t have the capacity to see very far into the future. That’s not a criticism, it’s a natural function of their forming brain. Teens are not able to perceive consequences to choices, to see value in waiting for a better option or to understand how each decision they make is shaping the person they will become.
If I could speak to my younger self I would ask her to keep describing and refining the future she sees or hopes for. Who she wants to be – family, work, faith, reputation, character, relationships. So that she would have a filter to process decisions and reactions through. Does this lead you to who you want to be? Does this shape your character and your reputation in a positive way? She may not listen to me – but that wouldn’t stop me asking!
- Someone who could help me understand myself.
When I was 11 my Dad left our family and, of course, I felt the impact. Part of my response was to be quite needy of male attention and affection and so I fought really hard to get it. I joke (with embarrassment) that I could “flirt for Australia” such was my competency at eliciting the kind of response my heart was seeking from guys.
If I could speak to my younger self I would tell her that she is enough on her own and that she will never find what her heart is really craving in the places she is looking. I would help her to not let the vulnerabilities of her heart lead her to bad choices and regret.
- Someone who identified and encouraged me into my gifts
Growing up I was blessed to have people who released me to explore my giftings and passions. I was only 15 when I led worship for the first time in our church and younger than that when I was given responsibility for the babies and toddlers ministry. I was constantly affirmed for my natural capacity to engage with kids and given leadership roles at school. I was given scope to explore my sporting abilities and also those in musical arts.
If I could speak to my younger self I would remind her how blessed she was to have those opportunities and keep encouraging her to maximise the chances to experiment and engage. I would mentor her more intentionally to learn and grow in her understanding of God’s hand on her life and His desire to use her for His Kingdom purposes.
What about you? How do you reflect on the people you had or needed when you were younger? How might that shape the way you invest in younger people in your world?