Regrets hurt, but we can learn from them. It’s not uncommon for adults to have regrets about their teen years. They might say, “I wish I knew then what I know now.”
We might think of regrets as only negative, but our remorse is also good because regrets remind us we are human, fallible and desperately need someone to show us the way. Crosswalk editor Ryan Duncan described it well, “Remorse is a cruel teacher, but you never forget a lesson.”
As I’ve contemplated some of the spiritual truths and lessons I wish I’d known and learned as a teenager, the Lord reminded me of His goodness and grace. He does not leave us without help when we fall. He works all things—even our most serious blunders—together for our good and His wise purposes (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 1:11).
Here are 10 spiritual truths I wish I'd known when I was younger:
1. Knowing about God is Important, but Actually Knowing Him Is Crucial.
Growing up in a Christian home did not make me a Christian. It just made me a proud sinner. I was a phony baloney “Christian.” I didn’t know God; I only knew a smidgeon about Him. I failed to understand my desperate, lost condition, so I didn’t understand my need for God’s mercy, grace and salvation.
I felt miserable, but in God’s time, my spiritual discomfort led to brokenness, surrender, and becoming a true Christ-follower. I finally understood Romans 5:8: while I was yet a sinner, Christ died for me!
Also, like many young people today, I knew a smattering of “facts” and Bible stories, but never studied theology and basic Christian doctrines. I didn’t know how to make a worthy defense when people mocked the Lord and His Word. I wish I knew as a teen what I understand now. To know who God is—His character and will—I must faithfully study His Word.
2. God May Change Your Spiritual Perspectives, and That’s a Good Thing.
Most teens are dreadfully self-focused. But I remember when I finally understood life isn’t all about me and my agenda. I’d been trying to “play God,” and it wasn’t working. As Ray Pritchard wrote in He’s God and We’re Not, “Every mistake you’ve ever made has come as a result of forgetting who’s God and who’s not.”
In my mid-20s, my spiritual perspective changed. I discovered my college and career choices didn’t define me; but rather, I am defined by my position in Christ. The only worth I have is the worth God gives me in His sovereign grace. While it’s good to make plans, if we follow the Lord it’s likely He will interrupt our agenda and take us on adventures we never dreamed possible. My greatest perspective shift came when I started living in light of eternity.
Spiritual perspectives may also change as we deal with various life experiences, and that is a good thing if we stay grounded in scripture. God’s Word gives helpful boundaries for our growth and protection, and we can sift each circumstance through a biblical grid. How I wish a caring mentor had taught me the spiritual discipline of studying and meditating on the Bible during my confusing teen years.
3. Your Choices Always Matter, and You’ll Reap What You Sow.
Teens may not realize how wrong choices can come back to haunt them, or right choices ultimately bless them. People gave me strict rules as a teenager, but seldom the “why” behind them. I needed wise counsel to ensure my choices lined up with scripture rather than unhealthy or ungodly philosophies from the culture. I needed to learn to fear and respect God and not worry what people think.
I needed wise and godly training about choices—helpful things like, “Learn to tithe and save now, and you’ll establish a lifelong habit of blessing.” I needed counsel about what to read, watch and listen to. Social media wasn’t a thing when I was a teen, but today I would caution teens about what they see and post there. I wish a godly woman had frankly shared about sex and why it’s a God-design gift to be treasured and protected.
I wish I’d been taught how to walk in the Spirit to empower me to refuse lustful or addictive temptations. I needed this powerful warning: “You will reap what you sow.” Radio host Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth said, “You are what you’re becoming.” In other words, if I want to know my Bible later, I need to study it like crazy now. If I want to be more like Jesus someday, I need to be intentional in imitating him today. I need to “sow” righteousness.
4. Character and Integrity are Valuable, and Last Longer than Physical Beauty.
A person who is drop-dead gorgeous can possess a nasty spirit, and one who is not physically attractive can demonstrate a beautiful heart. Character is truly beautiful; and integrity—being the same person in public and private—is a valuable attribute. In my youth, adults and peers taught me how to dress attractively and put on makeup, but I needed to see character and integrity modeled more consistently.
The scriptures encourage us to be holy, and guard our mind and heart. Those aren’t simply high and lofty thoughts. God wants us to strategically protect our lives and not make provision for our flesh or give our scheming enemy any opportunities!
Outward beauty won’t last, but godly character and integrity will. Dr. David Jeremiah says, “Circumstances don’t create character; they reveal character. Arm yourself today with the integrity of Christ.” Living out the fruit of the Spirit will make us far more memorable over time than wearing the latest fashions or newest cosmetics.
5. Prayer Isn’t Just for a Crisis, and Cultivating It Reminds Us Who’s in Charge.
Prayer in my teen years was pretty much about crisis control. Until a crisis came, I felt invincible. I could handle things. But when faced with tough, seemingly insurmountable problems, it was always, “Help me, God!” One study says prayer is often, even for non-believers, an instinctive response to a crisis. But prayer isn’t just for a crisis, although I might argue a constant lifeline to the Father prepares us for a crisis because we immediately know where to turn.
I admired my pastor and youth pastor, but had to learn they were not God; and though they prayed inspiring prayers, they were not my connection to the Lord. There is one mediator, and that is Jesus. I had to cultivate a personal relationship with God through prayer.
Biblical prayer reminds me God is in charge. Pastor Ray Pritchard says, “The basic problem for many of us is that we have allowed God to be everywhere but on His throne.” Coming regularly to the throne room of God teaches me to lay down my rebellious heart at His feet, surrender to His will and thank Him for His mercy.
6. There’s No Growth without Struggle, but You Are Never Alone.
As a teenager, I thought Christians led charmed lives. Christians I knew were happy, so I thought they had no problems. I imagined Jesus magically removed every negative, hurtful, tempting situation so Christians could basically coast into heaven.
Later, I discovered the truth. Life would always be full of messy “issues,” and Jesus said I would encounter troubles and persecution. I would also face discipline and correction from my Father as He dealt with my bad habits, desiring to make me more like His Son. (Romans 8:29).
Struggles and trials scared me, because I didn’t think I was strong enough to face them. But then I learned a wonderful truth. I will never be alone! The Holy Spirit lives within me. God is my helper. Jesus prays for me. And God’s presence will be enough. I simply needed to learn to trust Him to be my sufficiency in all circumstances.
7. Always Be Your Unique Self, Even if Everyone Else Thinks You’re Weird.
When I was 15, all I wanted to do was “fit in.” I made the cheerleading squad, but then discovered all the girls thought I was weird because I was analytical, a writer, and I loved chemistry and world history. I wasn’t interested in the cheerleaders’ boy-crazed conversations. I wish I’d known then how overrated “normal” is. From God’s perspective, being different is not only acceptable, it’s purposeful!
In 2 Corinthians 10:12, the Apostle Paul said it’s not wise to compare ourselves with others. God created us with unique personalities and appearances, and then gave us unique gifts and callings. Our sum total is meant to bring Him—not ourselves—honor and glory. It’s OK to stand out in the crowd in a unique way when our lives keep pointing back to Him.
Teaching Christian teens who they are in Christ can make a huge difference in how they approach life. In Him, we find courage to live out our God-designed uniqueness. We don’t have to live in fear and insecurity.
8. Relationships Truly Matter, So Cultivate Them with Wisdom.
As a teen in a military family, I had lots of acquaintances but developed few close friends, because we always had to move. I was afraid to go deeper and cultivate relationships. On top of that, I failed to understand the importance of godly connections. When we build our lives around—and date—people who don’t love Jesus, they can influence our thinking, beliefs and actions.
I also didn’t understand the beautiful, biblical picture of marriage. I married a committed Christian, but had so much to learn about sacrifice, service and a Christ-honoring marriage. I later discovered the Bible has much to teach us about all kinds of relationships.
I learned helpful lessons from my parents, siblings, teachers, church leaders, godly mentors and Christian books. Practicing the art of listening and having a teachable spirit helped me learn to be more loving, kind, forgiving, loyal and encouraging—the essence of strong relationships. And choosing friends wisely—especially those who stand with me in prayer when I am weak—has proved important at every stage of life.
9. You Will Make Lots of Mistakes, but They Won’t Be Fatal.
I wish I’d known I wasn’t the only one struggling with temptation—and the only one messing up. In my teen years, it would have helped for caring, godly adults to address some of the enslaving issues people face—pornography, sexual temptation, addictive substances, overeating—in a straightforward, non-judgmental way.
I’ve since learned believers’ mistakes aren’t fatal, because—though there may be some nasty consequences as we reap what we sow—Jesus desires to redeem our wrong choices. Hymn writer John Newton said, “We serve a gracious Master who knows how to overrule even our mistakes to His glory and our own advantage.”
Our sins and mistakes can drive us to cry out to God as we realize without Jesus we can do nothing and there is no hope for change without Him. In Christ, we can survive a broken heart. We can get past the stupid thing we did to impress someone. We can trust God to redeem our choices and make us choice servants for His glory.
10. God Will Open Doors, and He Will Help You to Seize Those Opportunities.
I had lots of dreams as a teen, and my parents encouraged them; but God opened unexpected doors I felt I couldn’t possibly walk through in my own strength and wisdom. Later I learned to go through those doors. We must seize the opportunities the Lord designs for us, because He will enable and empower us as we move forward in faith and obedience.
I’ve learned to prioritize seizing spiritual opportunities first—to seek God and His kingdom and make righteous choices. Only people and God’s Word go with us into eternity, so I need to focus there.
There is nothing we can do to make God love us more, but we can make the kinds of decisions and choose behaviors that please Him. God opens and closes doors for His purposes; and we can trust His Word and the Holy Spirit to guide us. We can know if an “open door” is from Him. We don’t need to worry about “failing,” because God’s definition of success is different than ours. He values obedience and faithfulness.
Dawn Wilson and her husband Bob live in Southern California. They have two married sons and three granddaughters. Dawn assists author and radio host Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth with research and works with various departments at Revive Our Hearts. She is the founder and director of Heart Choices Today, and also publishes LOL with God and UPGRADE with Dawn and writes for Crosswalk.com. Dawn also travels with her husband in ministry with Pacesetter Global Outreach.