I posted this baby picture on Facebook as my profile picture yesterday. It was a picture I hadn’t seen in a long time. I saw it at my grandmother’s house and decided to take a picture of it with my phone. I remember that huge Afro all too well. The funny thing is I wasn’t looking at the picture as if I was looking at me. Instead, I was looking at the picture as if the baby in it was some other little kid. I began to think, “Man, what would I teach this kid as he grew up so that he didn’t make the mistakes I made?” I was looking at me as if I was looking at my son. Knowing how my life turned out up to this point, I felt a great sense of pride for all that had been accomplished. I also felt a sense of sadness knowing what the kid in the picture was about to have to endure at home and throughout his life. If I could spare him some of the pain from the mistakes I made, what would I say to him? Some things happen because God allows them and they are a part of life and play a part in shaping us. Some things happen because we make unwise decisions.
Here are 5 things I would teach the Lil’ me…
- The value and truth about his identity…In my opinion identity may be the most important thing we should be aware of. We will generally conduct ourselves according to who we perceive ourselves to be. First of all, his identity is in Christ. Even before ever coming into a relationship with Jesus, his identity is rooted more in the image of God than anything else, since God made man in his image. For example, for half of this young man’s life his identity was wrapped up in basketball. It defined him. So when the ball was no longer bouncing to the cheers of others, he didn’t know what to do with himself. He battled some depression hidden behind a smile and a manufactured confidence in self. He lost himself in alcohol and women. I would let him know that he is neither what he does nor what he may accomplish, but he is made in the image of God. If we ever lose the capacity to do something, and our identity is tied primarily to what we do, we will lose who we are, if we ever even knew who we were in the first place. I would not want him to experience this inner turmoil.
- The value of purity…Before this young man could be brainwashed into thinking that manhood is really about getting laid as much as you can, I want him to know what I had to learn the hard way, that manhood is about holiness. I remember thinking years ago, while guys took pride as young men in their sexual conquests, that sex is actually the easiest thing in the world to get. Everyone’s doing it. I would try to instill in him that a real man doesn’t follow the crowd to do what everyone else is doing. Here’s the point, anything less than desiring purity for your life is desiring less than your worth. A life of holiness shows off and maintains your true worth. A diamond with a scratch on it is reduced in its value. A professional player with a lingering injury will not get what he may be worth in a contract, if anything at all. Water poured into a dirty glass is likely to be poured down the sink. Likewise, as a man, purity in speech, behavior, and even with his eyes doesn’t take away from his value, but enhances it. The more important part is that he more clearly reflects the image of God in a world of impurity and immorality. No easy task, but well worth it for the young man of God. The rhetoric of the culture says otherwise. I would pray that my voice is louder than the culture’s.
- The value of selflessness…Lil’ Phil was too young for this selfie generation. While the selfie can be fun and interesting, it can also signify an excessive, even obsessive preoccupation with self, also known as narcissism. I’ve learned that selflessness is far more gratifying and far more impactful in this world than selfish gain borne out of pride. As a matter of fact, I would want to spare him from the pain and emptiness of it. Not only is it biblical, but also it is honorable. We cannot love without a heart of selflessness, for pure love is the most selfless act we can engage in. As Ravi Zacharias, noted theologian and Christian philosopher and apologist says in his book The Real Face of Atheism, “For love is purest where it desires no returns for itself; and it is most potent where it is purest.” I would want to teach this young man how to love and how to live free of the slavery of his own desires. I know far too well what that enslavement feels like and it never gets satisfied.
- The value of courage…Speaking of enslavement, I have seen far too many people enslaved to fear. Fear is crippling and disrupts our joy and our peace. Courage is the antidote. First of all in a world that applauds bad behavior, rebellion to authority, mischief, etc., I would teach him about having the courage to do the right thing even in the face of unpopularity. I would teach him to have courage in taking calculated risks. I do not believe we can live an exclusively safe life taking no risks at all. The calculated risks I am talking about is not just about probability of the chance of failure or success as in an Algebra formula, I am talking about the calculated risk subsequent to prayer and wise counsel. I want to teach Lil’ Phil to have the courage to stand up to the bully. When I say bully I mean physically from the bully in school or on the streets, emotionally from the insecure person who looks to tear others down in order to build his or herself up, mentally from the intellect who desires feel a sense of superiority at the expense of someone else, and the bully that is the culture we live in that tries to intimidate when you are not in agreement with the masses.
- The value of humility…I would not want this kid to grow up and repeat the attitude of cockiness that I may have had as an athlete. Humility is the opposite of pride. Pride can show up in the form of self-sufficiency (my big struggle), self-confidence (as opposed to confidence in God), and selfishness (in contrast to serving the needs of others). I would teach him to leave the praise to others rather than praising himself. I would tell him to not exalt himself because he will likely have to be the one to sustain himself on that pedestal he climbed up on. Even when others place you on a pedestal, if you ever fell, you are likely going to have to brace yourself during your own fall. I would teach him that walking in humility means growing in dependence on God and interdependence on community (not co-dependency). Lastly humility is more attractive than pride!
This list is not exhaustive; since there are more things I would want to tell/teach him. I just wish someone had spoken those lessons to me when I really was Lil’ Phil many years ago. I learned the hard way and through mentorship in these last ten years.
Either way, while I grieve the pain he would soon have to endure, I am excited for his future and all that God would do in and through him in spite of his own shortcomings.
And I would tell him to keep the ‘fro! Once the hair is gone, it’s gone! LOL