This is something that I sent to a young lady who wrote to me about her new relationship with Jesus. I know being a teenager is tough in this culture. It was tough when I was a teen…. back in the ancient of days. I wish I had known these things when I was a teen...

1.    I wish I had known that my high school years did not define me at all

My teen years were a mixed bag of memorable highs and incredible lows. Now I realize that what I once considered some of the worst moments of my life I am grateful for experiencing. In many of those spiritual valleys you could not have begun to convince me that God was molding me or that those experiences could ever be of value. I knew the scripture just as you likely do…that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. I now realize that mere knowledge of that promise is not enough. It comes down to our foundational belief of who God is. Do we believe His Word? I mean really believe His Word? That He will actually cause even the worst event to something work for ours or someone else's good? That requires faith in a God that is trustworthy.

Do we know His attributes? Do we believe (really believe) His promises? If we do, then we must accept the troubles and "we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good". Romans 8:28 (MsgB) 

I have developed a heart of compassion for those who are wounded. Why? God gave me the privilege of being wounded early in my life. That sounds crazy as I read back over that last sentence. It is not a sentence that I would have written twenty or perhaps even ten years ago. But I can see that my struggles as an overweight, geeky and generally outcast adolescent molded my heart to empathize with those who are hurt and ostracized by their peers.

Had I been the coolest guy or the best athlete or the most handsome I most likely would not have developed a sensitive spirit to others. So God gave me the opportunity on all of those fronts to develop sensitivity.  I did not enjoy that period of my life. I would have given anything at that time to be one of the really popular kids. I would have told you that I would gladly trade nearly anything on the spot to be the starting quarterback or the big man on campus. I was desperate to be part of the cool group. With the benefit of hindsight I can promise you that I am grateful for every refining difficulty and problem.  Such a dramatic change in attitude is a matter of time, growth in my relationship with Jesus and my trust in the truth of His promises. As G.K.Chesterton wryly noted, "Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump; you may be freeing him from being a camel." Had I been freed the burden of my "hump" (that tough teenage passage), I would not be who I am today.

So I hope your experience right now is better than mine. But if it is not or if it changes in the future, always remember that God is in control, He loves you even more than your wonderful earthly father, and He will work it for good even if you cannot see it at the time.

2.     I wish I had known that I needed to decide in advance what I would do in tough situations

Most of my mistakes as a teen were made in moments of peer pressure that I was not prepared to address. Joni and I tried to teach our sons that you decide in advance what your response will be to temptation. Decide in advance that you will call for a ride when asked to get in the car with a drinking driver. Decide in advance to not get yourself into a situation where sexual temptation will be an issue. Decide in advance that you will be kind to the less popular no matter how the "cool" kids view that action. Decide in advance to trust God as you make decisions that you fear might lessen your popularity or status. In the moment you tend to make wrong decisions so make them in advance and then stand firm.