Dear Younger Me: John Donovan

Dear John (age 14),

I know this may seem weird, but I’m writing to you from the future. Yes, this is John as an adult. To prove it, I know that you love the Philadelphia Flyers and hate the band Limp Bizkit. 

See, I am you.

Anyway, I wanted to write to you to first acknowledge your pain and say that it’s OK to feel bad sometimes. And that nobody likes middle school. Life is unfair and many times, people are mean and do awful things. 

At your age, I remember the times when I got bullied verbally and physically. I remember the times when adults wouldn’t stand up for me or believe me because I was a “kid.” I remember the times fellow students wouldn’t stand up for me because of the potential social cost being too high.

The crazy thing—you will be tempted to bully and manipulate others when you get to be my age and become an adult yourself. Fight it. Always fight it. Transmit that anger into standing up for what is right and fighting for the vulnerable. Fight so that no one else goes through what you have had to go through. Because these horrible things have happened to you, you can show empathy for a range of people and ensure you can break the cycle.

That includes the hard things you remember around Mom and Dad divorcing and their fraught relationship. Marriage isn’t supposed to be that way and you are not predestined to have this happen. You deserve happiness and relationships don’t have to look like that. Love well. Break the cycle.

I want you to know that you don’t have to have it all figured out. Day after day, week after week, I remember the seminars, activities, and assessments focused on getting to know what I wanted to do when I “grew up.” The funny thing is that we are always trying to figure that out. And life expectancies are longer than ever!! 

The best piece of advice I can provide on this is to follow your passions. I know you’ve considered pursuing art and have had ideas planted in your head that it isn’t “practical” or helpful to society. That simply isn’t true. It’s OK to be weird and pursue your dreams.

I also know that Christianity or religion of any kind at your age is unattractive. I remember the moments when Christians seemed like hypocrites and it seemed like more of a club where you weren’t welcome. It felt pithy to have other people smile and say “God has got this” when they didn’t understand your circumstances.

In reality, at the core of the Bible and Christianity is the fact that, just like you, many Christians have serious problems. Just like you, they don’t have it figured out and struggle mightily with things like doubt. And that’s OK. In Christianity, those willing to acknowledge their powerlessness can better love the world well. Via God, there is also much given to those who have gone through tremendous hardship. That hardship can afford you chances to care for others and feel their pain. To empathize.

I hope you know that someone bigger than us loves you and no matter what happens, He has greater things in store for you. 

John (age 33)