A letter to my 22-year-old self

Published 11:04 am Wednesday, September 26, 2018

by Charles Qualls

I want to tell you some things that will be handy for you to know by the time you reach your mid-50s. These will be important, but I’m not sure how much of this you’ll believe just yet.

First of all, on balance life is good. The stuff you’ve thought was hard up to this point has prepared you, but there’s way harder up ahead.

The stuff you’ve thought was good up to this point has enriched you. But, there’s way better up ahead.

You’re going off to seminary with mostly untested beliefs and a lot of questions. You’re going to finish with a seminary degree and more sophisticated beliefs. But those questions? They’re just going to be replaced with better ones. Get used to it, because that’s really what faith is all about.

Oh, and that blonde girl you’re going to meet on the very first day of orientation up in Louisville, Kentucky? You two will take a bit to get it figured out. But, she’s going to be the one who’ll be by your side for the long run. Fact is, sometimes she’ll be out in front of you. So, be nice to her.

You think you know life’s plan already. That’s okay. It’s all you can see right now. The reality will go nothing like you think. Nothing. Overall, it’ll be even better. Except those two books you think you’re going to write? Try eight.

Let’s speed up and rattle off some important things you need to come to grips with right now:

• People are going to love you. Deep within your secret young self, you doubt that sometimes. Believe it and let them. It’ll be the key to everything else I need to tell you.

• You’re going to go back to school. So, don’t make any bold declarations in 1992 about being finished. You’re not truly done until one day in 2008 a professor shakes your hand and says, “Congratulations, Dr. Qualls.” You’ll have to work harder than you knew that you could in order to get there, though.

• The thing you always say about, “My hope is to retire one day and never have been anybody’s pastor”? God’s already laughing about that one.

• You’ve not yet come close to leaving the country. One day, 28 small flags will adorn your house, reminding you of a world out there you will be learning from.

  Twice, you will travel to Eastern Europe to study with Gypsy pastors. That’ll be hilarious.

• You’re a dog person, but you’ll end up having cats instead. Just deal with it.

•Take better care of your 20-something body. Your 50-something body will hurt and wish you had.

• A major college football coach and his family will befriend you and Elizabeth. Enjoy the ride!    

• Nurture the best friendships you have right now. They’ll be chosen-family by mid-life.

• You’ve always had a good relationship with your parents. Looks like they will both make it into their 90s. Savor every moment, because it all goes too fast. Oh, and at some point a good day with your Dad will be that he still knew who you were when you walked in. You’ll cry tears of relief.

• Your brother will get cancer in his 50s, but the journey will bring you closer.

• That thing about “the more you give, the more you receive”? Turns out, that’s true on everything maybe except money. So, concentrate on the important things. Give, give and give some more of yourself.

• What people warn you about is true. The wealthy in your churches will demand a lot of your time. But, the richest church member you’ll ever have will be as humble, easy and giving a member as any you’ll have. Go figure.

You should know that you’ll move home to Atlanta one day. You will stay there for 16 mostly enchanted years in a church. Before that you’ll serve two wonderful congregations, one in a county-seat town in middle Georgia and one in a mid-major city up in North Carolina. 

All the resources and all the possibilities that Atlanta holds will eventually be offset by its overcrowding and competitiveness. You’ll move one day to a small city in a rural part of Virginia and rediscover the very best of yourself. It’ll be such a wonderful place to live, but you may have to help the long-timers to remember this.

There’s more I could tell you. But simply listen to Frederick Buechner, because he sums up God’s grace best. “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”

DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.