by Bob Kellemen

Yesterday in the car I was listening to a Christian radio station (Moody Radio out of Chicago) and they had an interesting call-in question: 

“What would you say to your 16-year-old self?” 

Whatever age you are now, if you had a chance to go back to the you of age 16, what would you tell yourself about life? What biblical counsel would you offer the younger you? 

How would you answer that question? 

My “Gut Response”

My first response, my “gut response,” kind of surprised me: 

“Life is hard, but God is good.” 

When I was 16, I had been a Christian for just over one year. At that age I falsely assumed that with God, since all things were possible, therefore life would be easy. 

Some 37 years later, I certainly would say that I’ve had a good life. God has graciously given me untold blessings: eternal salvation in Christ, a wonderful wife of 32 years, two young adult children I deeply love, a wonderful daughter-in-law and granddaughter, great ongoing relationships with my extended family and with friends, a great church where we worship and fellowship, a nice home perfect for entertaining, a life in ministry where I’ve been able to use my abilities and gifts, etc., etc., etc. 

So, why would my first thought be to tell my younger self, “Life will be hard”? 

Biblical Counsel: Sustaining—“Life Is Bad”

Well, Jesus promised us a hard life. “In this world you will have trouble(John 16:33).  

His promise has come true in my life. Along with all the blessings, I have found that life has a way of knocking me down. Life in this fallen world is filled with hurts, disappointments, confusion. I sin against others. Others sin against me.  

For example, as wonderful as ministry has been, like anyone who gives themselves to others, I have been hurt deeply by others (and I’ve hurt others deeply). In my 37 years since age 16, many times I have felt what the Apostle Paul felt. After telling the Corinthians about the hardships he had suffered, Paul admitted that the pressure felt like far more than he could endure. He confessed that in his heart he felt the sentence of death and despaired even of life. 

I’m not saying this to “whine.” I’m simply saying that my 16-year-old self would have been helped by a major change in expectations. Assuming that God will make life easy is not helpful! 

The historic biblical counseling approach that I follow and teach starts with sustaining, which empathizes with people by communicating, “Yes, life is bad. Yes, it’s normal to hurt.” I picture sustaining with the image of “climbing in the casket.” When someone like Paul feels the sentence of death, before we rush in with our “happiness all the time” mentality, we stop and experience their death-like, their casket-like hurt.  

With the hurting “me of age 16,” I would be tempted to rush in with 1 Corinthians 10:13 and explain that God never tempts anyone beyond what they can bear. Well, the same Apostle Paul who wrote that, a few years later also wrote that he was under great pressure far beyond his ability to endure.” Both truths are equally true. I’d want to communicate both to the younger me. 

Biblical Counsel: Healing—“God Is Good” 

The biblical counseling approach I teach and practice continues with historic biblical healing which says, “It’s possible to hope.” So, taken together, we say, “It’s normal to hurt, but it’s possible to hope.”  

I would say to the younger me: 

“Along with your casket experiences, expect many resurrection experiences. Life is filled with daily mini-caskets of separation, of the death of expectations, even the death of dreams and some relationships. But life will also be filled with many daily mini-resurrections.” 

That’s what Paul said when he spoke of himself and to himself. Right after saying that he “despaired even of life,” Paul continued: “But this happened so that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” 

What image of God did Paul highlight in his self-counsel? 

The dead-raising God. 

The God of daily resurrections. 

Yes, I would communicate to my younger self that “life will be hard. Life will sometimes feel like an inescapable coffin.” But I would never stop there. With my younger self, I would also say: 

“But God is good. He’s good all the time. It may not feel like that. But focus on your image of God. See Him as the God who sees you, who cares for you, and who uses the hard things of life to make you a more Christ-dependent person.” 

I’d want to communicate what Paul said to himself and the Corinthians.  

“Through all the struggles and temptations of life, God is faithful. You can count on Him to raise the dead things in your life. Now, sometimes some of those dead things won’t be raised until the next life, until eternity. Sometimes some things, perhaps many things, won’t make sense until the next life. But don’t only look at life from an earthly perspective. Also look at life from God’s eternal perspective. When people intend things for evil and harm and hurt, God weaves all things together for good. Hope in God.” 

“Hope in God.” That’s a good piece of counsel for my 16-year-old self. 

I’d also want to share with the younger me what Christ shared with His followers. 

“Yes, in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! Christ has overcome the world. Focus on your relationship to Christ. In Him you can have peace.” 

“Peace in Christ.” That’s a good piece of counsel for my 16-year-old self. 

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“What would you say to your 16-year-old self?”