What would your younger self think of you today? What would my younger self think of me today?
This is a question that both haunts and inspires me. Would she think I became what we feared the most: a boring adult who gets weirdly excited about making spreadsheets and looking through data reports? Would she trust me right away and ask for honest advice? Would she be disappointed that I still have not reached her goal weight, or would she be delighted by how I confidently carry myself and my imperfect body?
I used to be critical of the younger me. I thought her eyebrows were bushy; her face was too round, and she did not speak up enough and gave up too quickly.
Over time, I have learned to reflect on my younger self with compassion. I wish I could tell her that her frizzy curls were a unique mark of the Creator and to hold on a little bit longer because big eyebrows would be super trendy in about a decade. I would want her to see that she was an artist with a Lite-Brite, vibrant on stage, and had a beautiful willingness to try anything new and exciting. She was playful and imaginative, always bringing new ideas to the table. She was a good friend; many of these friendships I still get to enjoy today because of the strong foundation she set.
I always told myself I wanted to become the adult my younger self needed. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do that, and I think it is well-intentioned, but it turns out it is my inner child I have needed all along. To this day, I rely on her creative drive, her inner confidence, and her passion for deep community. The days when I embrace my inner child are when I feel most like my authentic self.
What if to be a thriving adult is to be more like a child? Compassionately embracing your inner child will unleash the creativity, confidence, and passion needed to thrive in adulthood.
Creativity – Are you lacking creativity? Younger me had a solid, imaginative streak. She gave herself permission to dream and create, even if only in her mind. She turned a trampoline into the campus for a large Ninja Academy. The small, wooded lot across the street from her childhood home was a tropical rainforest that she could explore endlessly. Long car rides were spent looking out the window, creating stories about the families who lived in the houses that blurred past, not realizing these imaginative habits would develop a deep love for the art of storytelling. Allow your adult self to dream and imagine without limits; you never know where it may lead you.
Confidence – Are you afraid to try new things out of fear of failure? My younger self sang a solo in front of the entire student body in middle school to practice for a state competition that would take place later that semester. The outcome did not matter, but embracing an opportunity to celebrate a passion with her peers was enough for her. Confidently try something new without the need for a specific outcome. Embrace newness simply because walking an uncharted path brings new sights to tired eyes.
Passion – Are you feeling weighed down by a mundane to-do list? My younger self was filled with joy by the sight of a firefly, a new package of sidewalk chalk, and getting off the school bus to be greeted by the smell of fresh-baked banana bread. The most joy-filled moments in my childhood were not bought but noticed. It is a youthful passion for life that allows us to pay attention to the things that matter most. Make time to notice the things you love simply because you were created to love them.
In Matthew 18:1-5 (NLT), Jesus is asked who the greatest is in His kingdom. He responds, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
I imagine that Jesus lifted the child onto his lap as he said this. Become like little children. Lowly and dependent, yet the greatest in God’s Kingdom.
Adults ask, who is most significant in the Kingdom of heaven?
A child asks, can I sit on your lap and color my paper crown?
Perhaps the most beautiful thing we can embrace in our younger selves is our child-like dependence.
We have a different framework for adulthood in America: The more independent you are, the more grown-up you are. We strive for independence. What if adulthood is not about becoming independent but shifting our dependence?
At 24 years old, I still depend on my dad when my car breaks down. I depend on a trusted community to get me through hardship. I depend on my bi-weekly direct deposit and my alarm clock. I rely on the sun’s warmth to kickstart spring and the good Lord to provide for my deepest needs and empower me to live out each day.
While I no longer depend on a caretaker to change a diaper, feed me, and care for my physical needs, I have shifted my dependence. I am just as dependent now as I was as a child.
What if to be a thriving adult is to be more like a child? What if the most remarkable step in our spiritual formation is to look at God’s Kingdom through the lens of a small child, simply wanting to be held and cared for by Jesus–entirely dependent and dreaming of what is to come?
Embrace your inner child. Do not over-complicate things. Call out the good you see in younger you and allow those unique wirings to guide you in adulthood. Confidently trust that your childhood dependence will draw you closer to the Kingdom of God.