I wish I could tell my younger self of 30 years ago something of what I’ve been reflecting on since retiring from pastoral ministry. It couldn’t be by messaging or e-mail, we didn’t have that 30 years ago. It would have to be a letter.
Imagine how I would have reacted, hearing from my older self 30 years into the future? I picture myself having returned to the church office after visiting Viola Brauchle, one of our shut-ins. The mail is lying on my desk, placed there by Betty Hall, our part-time church secretary. In the mail is a letter that starts with “Dear Dave” and ends with “Sincerely yours, Dave” and in between are a few paragraphs of insight and advice to me from me. I sit back in my office chair to read the letter.
“Dear Dave, now that I’m retired I have found myself wondering if I could have done some things differently and better. Sometimes the wondering turns to regretting or downright Biblical lamenting. Did I sabotage what the Lord wanted to do through me in His church? Why couldn’t I see some of the things then as I see them now? So, what conclusions have I come to? What can I tell you that could make a difference for you, for me?
“You’re probably filled with great anticipation about now, wanting to speed read to the good stuff you believe is just ahead in the next sentences from an older and wiser you from your future. Slow down! There are no such clear instructions or directions coming in the next few paragraphs on how to navigate the difficult decisions or situations you’re facing, or going to face. Why not?
“First of all, as I look back on my past (your present and future) I’m not sure, in many cases, if I should have done things differently. Contrary to popular opinion hindsight is not always 20/20. If issues are complex with gray areas for you now don’t expect much, if any, more clarity when you look back at them 30 years from now. Sorry about that, it’s just the way it is.
“Second, in those situations where I’m pretty sure I made mistakes I can now say that God, in His amazing sovereignty, had good come out of them, so I’m not sure I’d want to advise you to do things differently. God is pretty good at turning the lemons of poor pastoring into the lemonade of Kingdom growth.
“Third, all that is happening to you in the present and will happen to you in the future is what has made me who I am today, who you will be in 30 years. I don’t think I should be messing with the space/time continuum! The growth I’ve experienced through everything, even my mistakes, is something I don’t want to lose.
“Fourth, I’ll be honest with you, I think I know less for certain than I did when I was your age. I know you think you know quite a bit, especially with all you’re reading and all those seminars you’ve been attending (remember, I was you once). I’ve had to unlearn much of what I thought I knew! This is undoubtedly discouraging, but don’t let it bother you too much. You can look forward to a growing delight in the mysterious ways of the Lord.
“And finally, before I close, I realize that I do have a bit of advice. Don’t get so upset that things don’t always seem to turn out the way you planned. I know you want to be a successful pastor, but that’s not what’s most important. Here, then, is the one piece of advice I feel it is safe to give you from the future (after all, you can’t be too careful when messing with the space/time continuum). As I look back on my ministry I am coming to the conclusion (yes, I’m still in the on-going process of being sanctified) that my self-esteem and value as a person are not based on what I accomplished or didn’t accomplish. My self-esteem and value come from basking in God’s amazing grace and love for me.
“I recall what Jesus said to His disciples when they returned from a mission He had sent them on two by two. They were so excited about what they had been able to accomplish, but Jesus corrected their perspective. ‘However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’ (Luke 10:20) This truth is something I wished I had grasped more fully when I was your age. So, don’t hold to any idea, program, or projected outcome too tightly. Relax more, enjoy the journey with Jesus!
“Sincerely yours, Dave.”
This is something of what I would write to a younger me. OK, so we can’t go back in time, not even sending a letter to the past. It’s as if the letter I sent has been returned to me and stamped “undeliverable.” Rereading the letter I wish I could have sent to my younger self I realize that it’s all stuff I need to remind myself of in the present! Yes, messing with the space/time continuum like this is indeed strange, but I think it turned out OK.