A Letter to Your Past Self: Sermon Series Inspires a Congregation to Write
Rev. Chris Mullis, pastor of Pleasant Grove UMC in Dalton, had an interesting idea a few months ago during a sermon planning retreat.
"I heard a story on the radio about a lady who wrote a letter to her younger self," he said. He began to think about how that might make an interesting and meaningful sermon series and he decided to try it. The three-sermon series began on November 2 and ran through the November 16. For his sermons, he wrote letters to himself at the ages of 10, 20, and 30. (He is currently 40.)
As a way for the congregation to participate, Mullis asked them to write their own letters. The instructions were:
1) Choose a pivotal time in your life (for example - your 16th birthday, the day you got married or had your first child)
2) Write a letter as if you were going to be able to send it to yourself in the past to offer advice
He asked anyone who was willing to share their letter to email it to the church to be included in a self-published book. The results are already pouring in.
"The letters are interesting to read. Some are funny and some are deep," said Mullis. "Of course, we can't actually send letters into the past, but you never know who might read your letter and benefit from your wisdom. Furthermore, many people have reported how the exercise of reflecting on their life and writing a letter was quite enlightening for the present."
The book should be finished and produced by the end of November.
Read two of the letters below, Mullis' letter to himself at 20 (the second letter he used in the sermon series) and a letter a congregant, Ron Phillips, wrote in response.
A Letter to 20-Year-Old Me
By Rev. Chris Mullis
November 9, 2014
It has been a while since I wrote to you—10 years and one week to be exact. By now, you are 20 years old, newly married, and living in a one bedroom apartment in Marietta. I hope this letter finds you well. I really racked my brain to remember exactly what was going on in your life in November of 1994. There is one thing in particular that I was trying to remember and can’t. It’s about your job in the testing lab at Seydel International. You see, you’re going to get laid off. They decided to shut down the lab to save money and that means you and Mindy are going to be out of a job. Unfortunately, I can’t remember if you’ve already found this out or not.
I do remember how disappointed and worried you were. It was a good job for you while you were in college. It paid pretty good for your age, fit well with your college class schedule, and taught you a lot about the textile industry you are studying in school. Now unemployed, you feel the pressure to provide for your wife. Relax. Remember what I told you in my last letter—you don’t have to worry. God will take care of you. There’s another great job opportunity just around the corner. Hang in there and keep managing your money well—what little you have. It’s gonna be fine. You have a good wife and she’s in whole heartedly. Together, you will make it through.
Isn’t your wife, Kelly, awesome! Wow! I’m 40-years-old and I still can’t believe y’all were crazy enough to get married so young—you being 20 and Kelly only 18. After dating for over two years while living an hour and a half apart, y’all finally got married and started your life together. (I told you God was going to work all that guy/girl stuff out as soon as you quit worrying about it.) It feels like your dream came true, doesn’t it? It’s the biggest victory of your life so far really. Well hang on, buddy. God’s got even bigger dreams for you and Kelly. Even better than the plans you and Kelly have made.
I only have a few minutes to write and too much to say, so let me get to the point. Your 20s are going to be an incredible blur. You won’t believe how much you are going to go through and accomplish in every area of your life in the next few years. You are going to experience more milestones and life altering events than you can imagine. So hang on, enjoy the ride, and be glad you are full of youthful energy. If I had to live your life again now—in my 40s—I’d probably die of exhaustion.
I have to say, there’s not a lot I would want you to change about your twenties. I guess God really had His hand on you and steered you in the right direction. These are going to be some of the most formative years in life and God will lead you to make some great decisions. There’s just a few things I want to advise you on.
The first bit of advice is this: be more open with your wife. I know y’all already have a great relationship and talk about things. But we both know how you are. You’re an introvert. You have at least twice as many conversations with yourself in your own private thoughts than you ever do with other people. This includes your wife. When you have an idea or something to worry about, you tend to mull it over to yourself and work it before you share it with anyone else. But look man, Kelly’s your wife. The decisions and ideas you think about affect her life too. If it affects you, it affects her so she deserves to be in on the conversation. For instance, over the next few years, you’re gonna start wrestling with the idea that God might be calling you into the ministry. (I know that was never part of your plans. It’s Ok. Plans change. God’s got bigger plans for you than you have for yourself; trust me.) So while you’re wrestling with your call, let Kelly wrestle with it too. Go ahead and talk to her about it. Think out loud with your wife. She deserves to be in on the conversation. In the end, it will save you both time and heartache and it will bring your closer together instead of pushing you apart.
Second, let me say this. Exercise and eat right you slob. Here’s the thing: You’re young and in great shape now—fit and trim and pretty athletic after all that martial arts training in high school. But don’t you see what’s happening? You’ve only been in college for two years and you’ve already put on 10 pounds. It’s because your metabolism is slowing down and you don’t exercise as much as you used to. I know, it’s hard to find the time to exercise. Well, figure something out or you’ll spend the next 10 years putting on 35 more pounds, which is going to be really unhealthy and make life a lot more difficult. Think about it, what if you had to carry a 35 pound backpack around with you everywhere you go (I mean everywhere). You’d tire out a lot faster, have a lot less energy, and have to move around slower than you should. You’ve got too much to do over the next 10 years to let anything slow down. Not to mention the toll lack of exercise will take on your health. So make sure you exercise and stay in shape. Do something fun that will give you a reason to stay active—something extra strenuous, that’s regular, and has people to motivate you and hold you accountable.
Third, you’re a man now. It’s time to live your own life with your own values. Your family did a good job instilling some wholesome traits in you—loyalty, integrity, family values, and faith in Christ. That’s good. Take what they gave you and go deeper. You also picked up some scars along the way that God needs to heal. Forgive your Dad. The way he abandoned your family 10 years ago was wrong and tremendously hurtful to your family. I know. But that’s over now and there’s no good reason to hold on to a grudge. God took what was meant for evil and turned it into something good. And remember how much Christ has forgiven you. If Christ gave his life for you and forgave you, shouldn’t you forgive others also? Listen to what I’m saying, because I have a lot more life experience than you. I’ve been a husband for 20 years and a father for 16. I have learned that it is very hard to be a good father and a husband and I (you) have failed often. At this stage in my life, I’m very thankful for mercy and forgiveness because I’ve needed it often for mistakes I’ve made—some accidental, some on purpose. So, be more forgiving and merciful with your Dad, with yourself, and with everyone.
In closing, let me share an important passage of Scripture—Joshua 24:14-15.
14 “So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. 15 But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”
Chris, you are now a man with your own family. It’s time to be the family man God wants you to be. You’re plans and hard work have brought you this far. You’re beginning to see the path God wants you to follow. Like Joshua and the Israelites in this passage, it’s time to choose who you will serve. Are you going to serve yourself and your own selfish desires? Are you going to remain a prisoner to the ignorance and failures of your past? Or are you going to be bold and courageous and choose to serve the Lord and follow the path He is laying out before you? I advise you with all the sincerity and hope I have within me—serve the Lord alone. For when you do, you will experience success and goodness and peace. And when you don’t you will suffer failure and evil and strife. The choice is now before you.
Rev. Chris Mullis
(You at 40-years-old)
A letter from my 65 year old self to my 10 year old self
By Ron Phillips
It's a beautiful Sunday afternoon and your future wife, Donna, and I just finished attending our church service. The sermon today affected me more than usual as Pastor Chris hit on a particular part of my psyche with one of his remarks. The point of today's sermon was to convince us to write a letter to our younger self with the hope we could offer some advice. Pastor Chris read his letter to the congregation, it was from his 40 year old self to his 20 year old self and it covered many experiences and offered advice on how to navigate the next 20 years of his life. In particular he spoke of his father and his feelings towards him when his parents divorced. This part of his existence struck a cord with me and I listened intently to learn of the advice he had for his 20 year old self. I thought of my feelings toward your father and wondered if I could bring myself to do what Pastor Chris had done.
Your father was not present at your birth and there will be no pictures of him holding you as an infant. He will never do as most fathers do and create a bond with you. He will not be present at any of your birthdays or any holidays. He will never take you to church. He will never attend any of your youth baseball games, take you fishing, camping or go on any vacations with the family. He will not be there when you buy your first car or have your first date. He won't be there when you receive your draft notice, when you graduate top of your class from Army basic training or when you return from Vietnam after your first tour. He will not visit you at the Army hospital in Augusta after being medically evacuated from Vietnam at the start of your second tour. He will not attend your wedding nor will he be present for the birth of your first born. He will never attend your boys sporting events and he will never acknowledge his grandsons birthdays. He will never offer you any guidance; there will be no discipline or words of praise. He will never put his arm on your shoulder and tell you he is proud of you, he will never hug you, or look you in the eye and say he loves you
You're probably asking yourself why am I telling you all of this and what in the world does any of this have do with the advice Pastor Chris had for his 20 year old self? Here it is Ron, read it and embrace it.
God has demonstrated his love and grace by forgiving you of your sins even though you are undeserving. At some point in your life you will accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and profess your love for God and want to live the life of a Christian. As a result of this you will need to find it within yourself to forgive Frank Phillips, your father. You cannot hold him accountable for his actions, only God can do this, and He will. So forgive Frank Phillips, embrace your family and your life and become the man God wants you to be. Once you do these things your heart will heal and you will have a life filled with God's love and His Grace.
Ron Phillips at 65 years of age