Last week, on a roadside after a delivery, I found a small, unmarked box containing a time machine.
Weirdly, it didn’t appear in any pictures or videos I tried to take with my phone. It wasn’t a huge device, either, closer to the size of a toaster. Unlike the ones in movies and TV shows, it seems you can actually only do so much with this kind of technology, no fitting in a whole person or any such. It would, however, accommodate a small letter.
The instant I realized that, I knew what to write.
I had to drive down to Phoenix to take the exact GPS coordinates of my old Union Hills apartment, so the device would land when and where I wanted it. I set the sequencer to place it there in late 2004 (the dial wouldn’t go further into the past than 15 years), hoping that my younger self might find it and. at the very least. face the next few years better equipped. Then I pressed the big red button. Thank goodness for big red buttons.
The device vanished soundlessly. Nothing in my life appears to have changed. Either it didn’t work, or it did work and the result was a separate branching timeline with which we can’t interact. I guess I have no way of knowing.
But I can share what the letter contained. Maybe, if you’re further back on the trail God once assigned to me – well, I just thought it might be of help.
I know things are tough right now. Man, are they tough. Everything feels like a suffocating mattress of isolation and confusion. That “amazing plan for your life” you heard about isn’t materializing, and you’re struggling to readjust to adult life away from home. You feel hurt, helpless, and hopeless.
You are under attack.
That’s how you need to see your present circumstances. That’s the lens you need. Things are actually going okay for you, but the onslaught of lies and fired-up emotions is making it hard to see – and threatening to sabotage it all.
There are six things you really need to hear. I hope you will be willing. Part of you doesn’t want to hear anything except “things will change tomorrow”. But if you will listen, you could find a much better life for yourself in the next few years.
1. You can have joy right now.
You’re stuck in a loop right now that looks something like this:
This is hard. I know. I hate to say that things aren’t going to improve right away. They’re just not.
But life doesn’t have to be awful in the meanwhile. You actually can stand up to your emotions and master them.
I know the world has convinced you that you need to give your feelings free reign in order to “be honest with yourself” and have them validated. I know that it’s given some twisted nobility to the struggle. I also know the Enemy has convinced you that the weight of these emotions is just too great and exhausting to face, and that joy is a cheap and insulting consolation prize – God’s cheap way to distract you from problems that he doesn’t intend to fix.
It’s all a lie, a bully with a glass chin.
You can take a deep breath and decide you’re going to enjoy the little things today. You can derive joy from the blessings you have. This isn’t a cliche. It feels really good. And it has power. There are wondrous secrets in joy. It isn’t just a distraction from problems; it actually saps the power of worry and frustration. It makes room for a spirit of “power, love, and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). And that spirit is in a much better position to think clearly, attract allies, and address those problems. Joy can actually be key to overcoming your enemies!
You will need God’s help for some of this, so don’t forget to ask. But right now you’re not asking. You’re moaning. Ask! Don’t be the big brother from Luke 15 who had to be reminded that everything of God’s had always been his. He has resources for you. Some of them are spiritual; some of them are physical, like the amygdala he gave you. It’s there for a reason.
2. People like you more than you realize; reward them.
They may be bad at saying it, because most people are; they don’t know the accusations you’re fighting. But there are people who appreciate you being around, faint neurosis and all. They’re not always the people you like; you’ll have to go where the appreciation is. But they’re the people you need. (And sometimes they are the people you like.)
The real problem is your un-recognized internal bully, the one that keeps making up stories of what your friends are really thinking. Get a handle on this now; this bully’s teeth will only sharpen over time. The people around you aren’t sick to death of you or viewing you as a burden – well, maybe on some days. They talk about you behind your back occasionally. But we all receive that. We all DO that. It doesn’t mean you aren’t loved.
In the end, some people will still be standing by you. And they have good reasons, not just pity. They care a great deal. They can see good in you because they aren’t constantly comparing you to some perfect ideal, like you are. And believe it or not – and I still can’t believe this even today – God has things to offer them through you as well.
Don’t despair. Take comfort that you are not alone.
And…reward your allies. Make sure they know how much they mean to you. Such things should not be left unsaid. Appreciate the ten good supervisors you have at work, instead of grinding your teeth over the two bad ones. Some people would give their left arms for a ratio that high. Endeavor to be happy when your friends are around; there are times to be honest about a crummy day, and times to force yourself to be positive for their sake. Find a balance. Your friends deserve it.
3. Don’t daydream.
This is probably the worst thing you’re doing to yourself.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting a better life, with wanting to see the other side of this valley. But daydreaming sucks away your ability to enjoy what you have now. It cements the lie that happiness is waiting for better days, when it’s really only waiting for your ability to enjoy today.
Don’t be that hamster on that wheel. Your happiness is not stuck forever behind a barrier of unattainable circumstances. It’s available now, through the presence of Christ within you, through a healthy response of spiritual warfare, and through your own personal discipline.
4. Take care of yourself.
Keep your kitchen clean. Keep your car clean. Find a cheaper apartment. Hit the gym. Or just go for a walk. Eat foods and drinks that don’t leave you with a sugar crash in the evening. These aren’t weak, cloying fee-fee-boosters from Oprah; don’t push this advice away with a big, cynical “you don’t get it”. This stuff works. It actually has tremendous power to make you feel good about yourself. Tremendous power.
Oh, and find some hobbies besides computer gaming. You don’t want to waste the next seven years with that stuff like I did.
5. God is pleased with you.
He really is. Right now you believe that’s a dangerous thing to tell a Christian; what if it makes you complacent? But the Bible doesn’t promote that idea. Jesus is constantly telling his people the good things he sees.
God is pleased with you. That’s not changed by how people treat you. They don’t define you. You’re struggling, but you’re not compromising, not seeking solace in alcohol or women or being a jerk to people. This isn’t to brag; God did this character work in you, largely through your folks and your pastors. But it is something you can celebrate.
The people at work view you with scorn. They think you’re weak and naive. They mock you for your virginity. A couple of guys have asked if you’re gay. You’re still likeable, but they won’t admit it. I understand. I remember. It’s a cutthroat world.
But God isn’t deflected by any of that. He’s pleased with you. Start using that knowledge. Take comfort in it more; quit letting Satan rob you of it by reminding you of the things God hasn’t yet done for you. Quit it. There is so much peace that’s available to you now!
6. It’s going to get better.
No, I’m not going to give you a timeline of when and where good things start happening. You’d wreck those things if you had that knowledge.
But they will happen. Some will be unexpected; some of them are the things you’re hoping for. Some of them, by 2016, have yet to happen, but I have a lot more faith than I used to. God isn’t idle. The wheels are turning. (One thing that will not change, I’m afraid, is your habit of ending sentences with prepositions.)
And the most important thing? Even if some hopes don’t come to pass, you won’t be nearly as afraid anymore.
The most important change will happen inside you. At some point in the future I will not name, God will bring you a mentor who will pinpoint your inability – or, perhaps, your refusal – to take charge of your attitude and surrender it to God. The moment that happens, you’ll start finding freedom. Outward circumstances will begin losing their death grasp on your heart; the bully will retreat. And it will be amazing. You know that excited feeling you get in April and October, when the trees are changing and life is changing with it? Every day will have the potential to feel that way, because you know God is in control and he loves you.
I’m writing in the hopes that you will start that process today. I can’t play God. I don’t know why he waited to start the transformation. Perhaps there’s a reason he waited as long as he did. If so, I suspect he’ll intercept this letter somewhere in the space-time continuum and make sure you never see it. He is master of time and space, after all.
But if you do see this – start today. Don’t be cynical; don’t be passive; don’t be demanding that God just fix things. The repairs will come in time. But the peace is available right now. The intimacy with God is available right now. That’s what you need the most.