16 years ago, I wrote this in my journal:
It’s just too easy here. I told my mom I’m dissatisfied with my life here. We have too many things and we live in luxury. She said to just be thankful we live in America. But we’re God’s stewards! He doesn’t give us money just so we can spend it all on ourselves. I almost feel guilty just living here. Maybe I don’t know what I’m saying, but I want to suffer for Christ. I never have, and every true disciple should.
I want to be a missionary. I know, that sounds crazy. I’m quiet, shy, I get discouraged easily, and I only know English. But I can pray, and I want to suffer and serve the God I love somehow, and not in America. Right now I’m giving all my extra money to Mom and Dad to prepare for Y2K. But if the world goes on, what will I do? I don’t want to stay here, and I’m afraid if I do stay here and just go to college, I’ll grow cold spiritually. Jesus, what would you do?
That book In His Steps by Charles Sheldon really inspired me. I want so much to leave this place, live in the city, feed the poor, and share the gospel. But out in the real world I’d be as helpless as a child. Why do I worry? I just have to do the best I can to live as Jesus would in this situation, and then I’ll see what He has in store for me.
— July 3rd, 1999
Dear Former Self,
You want to suffer for Christ? You’re right, you don’t know what you’re saying. Up until now you’ve lived a typical, easy, middle-class American life. Compared to most people in the world, you do live in luxury. But because of that, you don’t truly understand what it’s like to suffer.
Imagine eating stale bread for breakfast, shitting in an outhouse, washing yourself in a river, hoping you don’t catch a disease, and laboring in the hot sun for hours. Is that really what you want? Because there are millions of people who live that way who would do almost anything to have the kind of life you have. In fact, most of them would get angry if you told them you were dissatisfied with your luxurious lifestyle. They’d probably tell you to enjoy the things you have and stop complaining.
You, a missionary? Yea, that does sound crazy. You’re just another naive youth who thinks that if you’re passionate enough, you can do anything. Well, it’s not true. You need skills. If you’re quiet and shy, then you shouldn’t be going for a job that requires you to talk to strangers all day. It doesn’t matter how much you “want to suffer,” you’re not going to do as good a job as someone with people skills.
I understand that you’re young and eager to take on the world. Lots of people your age have a powerful desire to do something, to make a difference, to matter, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is that religion has steered you in the wrong direction. If you want to make a difference in the world, you need to learn about the world. So instead of going to church and spending several hours a day pray9ing, you should go to college and spend several hours a day studying.
It’s not entirely your fault that you’re headed in the wrong direction. Everyone around you goes on and on about the importance of prayer, and your parents have often warned you about those liberal universities where people lose their faith. So naturally you want to avoid college and spend more time in prayer, but you’re just wasting your time. If you really want to be a missionary then you need to practice dealing with people, and what better place to do that than college? Besides, if you’re afraid going to college will make you grow cold spiritually, then your faith must not be very strong.
I notice you’re already asking Jesus what he would do in your situation. The whole idea of WWJD isn’t very helpful if you don’t actually know what Jesus would do half the time. And of course he’s not actually going to answer you, so why bother asking? Instead you should ask yourself what to do, then use your brain to figure it out. Don’t just wait around for supernatural guidance because you’ll be waiting a long time.
— Matt, July 3rd, 2015
This is part of an ongoing series called Letters to My Former Self.