A portion of the Greatest Commandment is for us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. If we read the statement again, we will see that the assumption Jesus is making is that we already love ourselves. On some level that is most certainly true for each of us. On another level, however, we can observe when people don’t love themselves well. This is evident when a person can’t cultivate or maintain healthy or long-lasting relationships, or if they struggle with honesty. It may be observed by a person who is a gossiper, or someone who constantly compares themselves to others. If we canvas the world of entertainment and celebrity, this self-loathing is apparent when people are constantly changing, monitoring their appearance, or getting surgeries to make themselves be something they are not. And there we observe. We cannot love what we don’t see, and we must learn to see beyond the physical or what is only evident on the outside.
If we really want to love ourselves, we must regularly take inventory of our inner person—what is happening in the innermost parts of our minds and hearts, and how God is shaping and changing us through time and space. Self-reflection is an important leadership practice. It is also a means of monitoring our course—whether or not we maintain focus and continue in the pursuit of our lives’ purpose. Personal reflection is a discipline to cultivate because it also brings us to a place of thanksgiving and causes us to glorify God.
I think that’s why I was so intrigued the first time I saw someone participate in the “Letter to my Younger Self” exercise. I call it an exercise because this is a good example of an exercise that I would give to a mentee. Take a moment to listen to writer, director, and producer, Tyler Perry’s letter here:
After viewing this video the first time, I thought to myself, “Wow! I have to do that.” Some time went by before I actually did it, but I eventually did. A few months ago, I was reminded of this exercise when I read former NBA player turned business mogul, David Robinson’s letter to his younger self, and I was again keenly aware of the hand of God’s grace in my life.
I revisited the letter I wrote on January 2, 2013. This was before I graduated seminary, before I wrote and published my first book, and before the nonprofit that was only a dream had become a reality. A lot has shifted since then, so it might be time to write a new letter.
Never-the-less, this was me at 34 writing to that little black girl attending Orangeburg Wilkinson High School.
Look at you big dreamer. You had hopes about what life could be like for you, your peers, and your family. In some ways, your life has become something better than you imagined. Sure, you have experienced academic and even professional success. That was to be expected, I suppose but you graduated from the United States Naval Academy! You served your country as an officer in the United States Marine Corps! You served as a federal government employee, and this was not the life you saw for yourself.
Your life started when you met the Lord on the plane on the way to Newport, Rhode Island. That was the first time you literally had a “Come to Jesus” conversation, and it stuck. He has been faithful to you, even in the times where you did not honor Him. Every day he teaches you more and more about his grace. His grace is sufficient for you.
You are on the verge of something big! You don’t quite know what it is but you know that God loves you, and He has a plan for your life. He is concerned about all things—your family, ministry, writing, and work. Trust Him to finish the great work he has begun in you.
You and your mom have a special bond. You were honored and blessed to share time and space with her, and she with you. You don’t know it yet, but you only have two more years with her. You probably should have spent more time with her instead of focusing on that summer fling and hanging out with friends after graduation. Your mom missed you, but she was not afraid to let you go and fly. She did not clip your wings.
You were very good to her and your dad when they came to visit the Naval Academy Preparatory School. It made her very proud to see you graduate that spring. Throughout college and for much of your twenties, you continued to think about your family, and how they would cope without her. You prayed for God to give you the ability to take care of your dad when he grows tired and is unable to take care of himself. You worry about your little sister, who is now a mother and has girls of her own. You pray and wonder, wonder and pray if she will ever find her way out of the vicious life cycle she is in. You continue to work. You do not grieve the loss of your mother.
Seeing the beauty of your nieces and then your own daughter gives you hope. Their smiles cover the concerns you carry for your little brother. You love that knuckle-headed boy. With every passing day, you grow more concerned that he does not live up to his potential, that he has become comfortable receiving rather than giving, that he is chasing empty dreams, and is becoming more selfish. Because he is not responsible, you pray that he doesn’t get anyone pregnant. You pray that he returns to the Lord. You cry out to the Lord for mercy.
You marry a man who is a good thinker. When you marry, he doesn’t fully know who he is yet. He struggles from a broken past, struggles with unforgiveness, and goes through life pretending as a coping mechanism. You struggle in marriage, but eventually God breaks him and God breaks you. Like a potter molding his clay on a wheel, God reshapes your hearts and restores your marriage. You recommit to each other and work together as a team. You allow yourself to grieve all of it.
For the most part, you have given up the false sense of control—you have none, not over life or death, certainly not over other people and their choices, and not even over your own life’s path. You learn to surrender. You have a lot of questions for God. You are hopeful about your future on this earth and beyond. You sense that God is near, keeping you every step of the way.
You pray for your family to become close, and God shapes it for his glory. You pray for God’s help, strength, and wisdom to discipline, train, and love your daughter well. She is more like you than you realize. You fail, and try again. You want her to know that she is loved by God and by you. You pray that she channels her passions in holistic devotion to the Lord.
You pray for God’s leadership as you lead and serve others. And girlfriend, I just want to tell you don’t have to worry. Things are going to be fine. Just wait and see.
Through the good and bad, have you considered the goodness and faithfulness of God in your life? Is this something that you care to admit if only to yourself?
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2017