Dear Precious Daughter,
There are a few things that I want you to know before the pressures of the world become more intense, and the each decision you make carries with it greater weights of significance.
First I want you to know how much you are loved. You are very much appreciated. Nothing you can do, or don't do, will ever take away from or add to that love. Nothing you ever do, or fail to do, will ever lesson your position as our daughter, or take that from you. This is not a new sort of love, in fact it is the unconditional love we have been given, but unlike the Lord we will fail to perfectly, sacrificially show that to you in a consistent manner. Which brings me to my second point.
Your parents are sinners, and regular screw-ups. It's true, and it comes as absolutely no surprise to you. We don't have this parenting thing all figured out. The fact that you are the oldest, may mean that you have bore the brunt of most of our trial and error parenting strategies. We are resting in God's mercy, and Christ's righteousness alone, because we know that's the only place we can lay that burden of frequent failure down. We get selfish, we sometimes fail to love you well, and sometimes we hurt you without even knowing it. We are but a dim reflection of the love that God has for you. For all those times, I'm so very sorry. I pray that, even in my limited role, I might help point you toward the One who will never fail you.
Despite all I still have to learn, I have learned a few things along the way (usually the hard way) that I want to share with you. Some of these things won't apply for a while, and some might be on your heart already. I know we will continue to talk about, and fill these sorts of topics out more fully, as the years continue.
The first thing that comes to mind is this...
People pleasing is much less about serving and loving others, than it is about loving and serving yourself. That may sounds strange since a people pleaser always seems to be giving, doing, and even sacrificing. The different between that and genuine love is the motive, the expectation that people will like you, value you, or make you feel better about yourself if you keep them happy. It's a tempting trap to fall into, but it is incredibly destructive. The driving focus is still self, regardless of apparent selfless actions. Living a life fully surrendered and obedient to God may gain you the responsibility of influence and the respect of some people, but it will also earn you some enemies and the criticism of many. You will not be able to please everyone, nor should you try. How you present yourself, and your reputation does absolutely matter...but it can't be what drives you, or keeps you shackled in fear. Fear of man is crippling. People pleasing is nothing but fear of man coated in service. We are told to fear God, not man. So give, without expecting gratitude. Be courageous enough to lovingly stand for truth and enter into conflict when necessary, but ground it in humility and prayer. Give to people who cannot repay you. Love sacrificially, without any guarantees of a return on your investments. Show kindness, when kindness has not been, and may never be extended. Be gracious in the face of hostility. Forgive, even when an apology will never come.
Think about yourself less.
I'm not suggesting you specifically think about yourself too much, or more than any other adolescent girl, but some girls spend their whole lives trying to prove their worth, earn someone's love, or work for the praise and admiration of others. Your identity cannot be secured in something as fleeting as beauty, popularity, designer duds, good grades, or perceived desirability. Your worth is not earned through College degrees, a high powered career, a successful ministry, a small jean size, or the number of children you bear. The only place you can secure your identity to is the finished work of Jesus. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, you are saved by God's grace alone, and you can rest secure in that. That is your anchor, while living in a whirl pool of idolatry.
Truly understanding the gospel and letting it sink deep into your heart, to the point that it marks every area of your life, leaves you nothing left to prove, it leaves you no other love to seek, it leaves no greater treasure to be pursued. That, my precious one, is true freedom. So, don't buy into the lie that says you must look out for "number one", or "find yourself" by looking inward, or conform to societies expectations of you. When you know how perfectly you are already loved, and how eternally you have been accepted (with a love that wasn't earned and therefore cannot be lost) you are free to love others without worrying about what they will do for you in return. We are free to lose, because Christ won for us. We are free to be non-famous nobodies because Jesus was that somebody for us. We are free to be who God made us to be, without worrying about what everyone else expects or thinks. True security, and confidence is thinking of yourself less, and looking to Jesus more.
Don't follow your heart. I know that the world around you, romantic movies, and Disney will tell you to, but God's word tells us something totally different. In Jeremiah 17:9 he warns us that "the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond all cure." You must carefully lead your heart, in wisdom, and instruct it in knowledge of God's word. You must surrender your heart, with it's whims and fleeting desires, to the One you knows you best the One who's glory is so far better than satisfying your turbulent emotions. You must guard your heart (Prov. 4:23) and not give it away to just anyone who flatters you, or makes you promises. A wise woman is discerning...she does not flit about chasing after what "feels right". Do right, even when you don't feel like it.
Don't worry about what you will "do". God calls us to be faithful, not "successful". I care far more about WHO you are, than what you accomplish. I care more about your growth than your comfort. I want you to know, without a doubt, that I don't care in the least what career path you choose, what sort of education you pursue, or how much money you make...or choose not to make. If you would rather travel the world, or serve in a local ministry, or work pumping gas, and gain practical experiences before you decide "what you want to do when you grow up" that's totally fine with me. If you decide to pursue a career and need to go to University that is something I will support, and pray, and help guide you though. If you decide to forgo every conventional expectation and move to a foreign country to live in a hut, I will be your biggest cheerleader. If you find the love of your life and get married right out of highschool and pop out 12 babies I will be thrilled and will welcome each one of those children, and honour your dignified role as a wife and mother.
Which brings me to my next point.
There will come a day, several years from now, when you start looking at men as potential husbands. Notice I didn't say "boys" as potential boyfriends. We've already talked in length about the topics of dating, courting, and marriage so I won't go into that today (I'll save that for another letter) but one thing I don't think I've told you is this...
I don't give a hoot what your future husband does for a living, how highly educated he is, how much money he makes, what race he is, how stunningly handsome he is, or even how able bodied he is. There are things that are extremely important, and there are things that just really don't matter. If you can find a man who knows what it is to love sacrificially and serve others as he has been loved and served by Jesus, if you can find a man who is living passionately and courageously on mission, who is gentle and gracious, who is humble enough to embrace repentance, who's inner life and outer life don't contradict each other, who is eager to continue to learn and grow in his faith, who is ambitious enough to lead, provide and protect, and who will strive to love you like Christ loves the church, you will be a very blessed woman. That man of integrity and strong character may come with a body that can run marathons, or he may not be able to walk at all, he might be an accomplished surgeon, or he might be a brick layer...what matters is his dedication to the Lord, and to you. While I want you to have high standards, I don't want you to feel like finding "the one" will "complete" you, or make all your dreams come true. Perfection does not exist and expecting it will set your marriage up for failure from the start. Marriage is the union of two sinners, and it requires a lot of grace. Love is work, despite what romantic comedies will tell you. Love is an action, more than it is a feeling.
As I wrap this up, I want you to remember.
You have a purpose. You are here for a reason, and while this world does not revolve around you, and God's glory and purposes do not depend on you....you are invited into his kingdom work, and he has exquisitely hand crafted you for your part in that. So, my beautiful one, live your life in light of eternity. Love sacrificially. Pursue wisdom. Let the good news of the gospel take root down deep in your soul. Live with purpose.
You are so very loved.