March 12, 2019

Dear Younger Me: Extending Grace & Hope for Your Past, Present & Future

If you could write to your younger self, what would you say? What do you know now that you wish your younger self had known? And when you hear that inner narrative to your younger self, is it one of self-deprecation, shame, and contempt, or is it nurturing, compassionate, kind, and undergirded with empathy? Answering these 3 questions would be a good indicator of where you are at with your emotional wellness.

To embrace any life season, including but not exclusive to the season of singleness, I believe it is optimal for us to first reconcile our past with ourselves which helps us individuate.

I have a favourite song called "Dear Younger Me by MercyMe." As a songwriter, I admire the uniqueness and depth of the song. The lyrics reach into my soul's journey as they take a compassionate look back at the choices and challenges of a younger self while encouraging the present self. The song explores the choices and decisions we made then with what we knew to do then rather than the context of what we'd know to do today. This plays beautifully with the quote from Maya Angelou that I used in my previous blog. When this happens (that is, a gentle flow in theme as I create, write, and learn), I know to pay attention.

Lately, I'm able to look back at my own life from a higher viewpoint. And it looks like something is really coming together from the piles of patchworks and bits and pieces of material that has been my lived experiences. Before my viewpoint was low, obscured, and disjointed. All I could see was a mess of odds and ends of clashing colours and patterns of fabrics, like quilting squares started that didn't seem to connect with the others. And all I could feel was the cutting and ripping of the threads of the fabric while the needles and pins barely held me together... Now I think I'm becoming a beautiful quilt!

So if I were to write a Dear Younger Me letter, it would include the promise that I was going to come together one day - even though it didn't feel like it when life felt unlivable, joyless, even hopeless.

Can you see your quilt yet or are you still in the pins and needles and holding it together stage?

Permit me to take the Dear Younger Me theme even further. Let's take it into our future and imagine what we are saying to today's self which will be our younger selves in 3 months, 3 years, or 3 decades. Let's plan to write, "Well-done kiddo! You did what you knew to do with the support, resources, and skills you had then!"

As I tune in to my lived experiences, I experience the melodies in my mind like an 80s mixed tape. My songs (and in my case quite literally) are raw and dramatic and big ballads of trial and triumph, love and depression, sorrow and joy. In my case, as a singer/songwriter, I've literally sung out of those experiences and feelings. And now I say, "Well-done kiddo! Your life songs were to be shared and are now part of the patchwork of the beautiful quilt that is your life!" I might even say, "Keep going kiddo! Imagine what your quilt is going to look like 30 years from now!"

As I have progressed into the ability to extend compassion and kindness - even empathy to self (something I had an abundance of for others but lacked in extending to myself) - I think the exercise of writing to our younger selves is quite a great concept. Journalling love letters to ourselves could be such a healing experience! This exercise can help us grieve losses, help us heal from past hurt, and make healthy endings for things we would like to leave in our past so we can move forward with our future. It can also train our minds (or retrain or unlearn) to catch ourselves doing something right when many of us dwell on what we've done wrong. Doing this helps us in the here and now by bringing our present into perspective. Take it that next step and we are making good choices now so that our letters to ourselves from a future self are going to be epic!

It isn't like me to ask others or teach others to do something I haven't done myself. So I am going to try a few examples from my own life that you could try:

1. Dear Younger Me, You are going to go through a few relationships in your adult life before you learn to truly embrace yourself in a single season. You didn't make great choices because you wanted so desperately to be loved. I totally get that. I'd forgive you because you probably think you need to be forgiven but there's nothing to forgive. You didn't know how much you were loved without the need to look for it in less than ideal relationships. You did what you thought you needed to do. And it's okay. It turns out that you were loved all along, you just couldn't see or feel it for yourself. And that's okay too. You'll get it. You'll learn to love yourself more and you'll love others even more than you do now. It will just take time. Hang in there.

2. Dear Younger Me, You don't know this yet but you will discover one day that your life experiences that are hard and painful now are going to help you write songs (and blogs) that will touch the lives of others. You will have a season of songwriting and singing and sharing your experiences and it will take you to places you never imagined going - in a good way! And by the way, I also want you to know that you are loved just as you are. Some will love you because you performed for them and will withhold love when you stop. Others that should love you will discourage you, shame you, and walk away from you when you do. You'll figure it all out and be stronger for it. Most importantly, you don't need to perform in any way or for anyone to be loved. You just are.

3. Dear Younger Me, You are brave and strong. You were incredibly resourceful and resilient - and you are a survivor. Looking at younger you makes me proud. You were so brave without knowing how brave you were. You couldn't even see all you have braved to fight through your darkest of times. You couldn't yet see the perseverance it would take to keep going. Well, I do. I see you. You are not only brave and strong, you still loved others well even in your pain. I admire you for that and that is a younger me that I am taking with me into the future.

When I went to try the above exercise for myself, it was at first harder than I thought. It's a very intimate exercise. The self-affirmation part - I'm not gonna lie - felt uncomfortable. It may have been uncomfortable for you to read. How can this woman write those things about herself? Many of us were programmed not to embrace affirmation yet we were starved for it. That's when we must now parent ourselves as adults. Self-affirmation doesn't make us prideful (wrong-thinking legalistic religious indoctrination lies just beneath the surface for many of us). What it does do is build up healthy self-esteem or healthy ego that we need to move forward in a healthy way. So go ahead! If you need permission to self-affirm - I'm giving it to you! The Bible tells us to "Love our neighbours as OURSELVES." I think that's pretty clear and gives this church girl a green light for learning to love myself. It's just that a lot of us do a better job at loving others more than ourselves. Yes, I digress but this was a necessary digression!

The steps I took to come up with the above points were to remember the ways I have been hard on myself for decisions I made that I felt stuck in, or ashamed of, or lost in, and then to extend grace to myself in those situations. If you need help in doing this exercise, I'm wondering if you can think of it like this:

Extend Grace (to younger self) followed by Hope (to present and future self). Grace for what you need to forgive yourself for (not knowing or knowing how to do differently) and Hope for a better future based on the decisions you can now make moving forward. But it doesn't end there. This process is cyclical. We will always want to embrace Grace and embrace Hope for self as we will inevitably stumble our way into our future. Try having both like two walking polls by your side propelling you down life's path. Keep them handy!

And so we embrace our season knowing this is only part of the beautiful quilt that will be our life. And remember to climb up high and look down, gaze across and over the patchworks of your life - it's great perspective, past, present, and future. And I hope you can see the Grace and feel the Hope of it all on the journey.

Please write and share your "Dear Younger Me" excerpts in the comments below.

Because Every One Counts,


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