The recently silenced soundtrack of another 80s pop icon brought back realities and memories of my own 20s, prompting my letter to you. So many changes are going on in the larger world – and your own world too. I can’t speak how this right-now-crazy world will affect you with all its mixed-up changes, but I think I can speak to the life changes and confusion in your first quarter-life decade…the search for significance and purpose…hopes of making a difference…making your mark and the future that’s in front of you…surviving it all. I think too, that I can speak a little bit into the small world that’s right in front of you, that might matter a little too much than it should to you right now, the friends, the trends, the drama. Three whopping-fast decades ago, I’ve been there. And yeah, a lot has changed. But some of it remained the same.
Is every onramp to the twenties launched on a portion of luck, fierce independence and a small dose of angst…or was it just mine?
I entered college at seventeen, ran a fast pace through school and before my senior year, accepted an invitation to work in the field of my dreams and finish school at night. Before my twentieth birthday, I stepped into a pretty cool career not fully knowing how it all happened but whisked into the wonder of it all. The world of advertising handed a new rhythm of crazy-creative antics with people who thrived on fresh ideas and very big budgets, to this young designer who probably had more chutzpah than promise, but right-brained zaniness with left-brain practicality.
I audaciously adapted to working hard, and, at the end of our long days, playing harder. It was the decade of excess…music drove culture; drugs and sex drove music. Everything was at our fingertips or only a delivery guy away.
As I began searching for who I was, the beginnings of that quarter life decade brought a ton of fun as independence birthed new hopes and dreams, fueled on travel, relationships with the wrong people, relationships with the right people, champagne, frustration, loneliness, ways and means to numb it, preachy people, adventure, and frankly a lot of sin. I found myself in the middle of intense tension with heartache, on the edge of a future that I had never fathomed, and was convinced I didn’t want. Funny how you grasp at pleasure in the pressure, isn’t it?
I didn’t want Him. I knew what was best for me. God had rules in that book of His that I didn’t want anything to do with. The creativity, fun and independence I pursued didn’t conform to rules of religion. I knew about the God behind all the rules, the one I learned of in grade school religion classes, the one I was graded on. The one I put on the cross. The one who looked down on me with a painful-looking, accusatory scorn on his face, hanging from a crucifix against a two-story red velvet curtain as incense made me gag and sometimes throw up. The one who was stuck hanging forever in a cold, echo-y church that they wheeled dead bodies into in caskets and sang in Latin. That God was untouchable and mean…just like the hypocrites that followed him, and I didn’t want any association with them.
I bought into the lies when the world said there was no God. And if there was, I didn’t want him, her, whoever or whatever. I didn’t need God to mess up my life.
“The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction… So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish.” (1 Corinthians 1:18 and 20)
However, there was this subtle love that kept pursuing me in my own crazy mess and I didn’t quite understand it. He kept showing up. Annoyingly. In little, gentle ways. Until things got under my skin to the degree that I went out and got my own bible to actually read and to prove that it too, was hypocritical, outdated and biased.
But I couldn’t.
God continued to pursue me. In my fight for independence, I found freedom: Jesus, the real person. He wasn’t a statue who hung with scorn on His face, and He wasn’t something made up by a bunch of yahoos who continued a myth like Santa Claus. But instead I got to know the person Jesus, who, out of love, offered living, open arms to hold me.
Jesus is as real as my husband sitting next to me right now. He’s as real as the three children I have raised, and as the parents who raised me with my brothers and sister. He’s the friend who meets me for coffee every morning that I ask Him to, and He’s the gentleman who waits to be invited in. He’s not trying to hide. He’s just waiting to be noticed.
I thought I knew better. In acutality, I didn’t need God to mess up my life because I was able to manage that all on my own. Can you relate? On the crest of this new year, I challenge you to just explore Him. He’s pursuing you and simply waiting to be seen.
“Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.
But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.
Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God.
God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:21-31)
The world offered so much to me in the first part of my twenties. What it delivered though, was heartbreak.
He extended grace I never knew about through Jesus, delivered my life from anguish and remorse, and replaced it with peace that I can’t describe. I truly don’t know how I would have made it through the past three decades without Him.
Sure 20-someone, I know the church is full of hypocrites, and you don’t need the institution. The church has made mistakes and we’ll continue to trip up and make mistakes. But instead of looking at our failures and missteps, will you take a chance and look to Christ, whom we follow? We still have decades ahead to learn and grow in holiness in this lifetime…through Him, through His love, together. And we have so much to learn from you.
Follow HIM, He’s waiting quietly for you. You have so much promise ahead. And there’s a lot of fun, creativity, and freedom in Jesus; more than I ever found without Him. Encounter Jesus, and don’t go it alone.
An Old(er) Friend