I was rooting through some boxes of memorabilia yesterday, looking for something specific, and I came across a handful of diaries from my childhood. These were from when I was 13.
I was always writing diaries as a kid… dramatic, flowery things describing everything that happened to me, everything I did, and every emotion rushing through me at the speed of hormonal lightning. My drama went straight to the bone, and was only aggravated by the reading I did. Little Women, Elsie Dinsmore, and Jane Austen novels gave me plenty of language to describe my sins and heartaches.
But this particular series of diaries, begun when I was 13, were in in the form of “Letters to my Lord,” as stated on the front cover. It is made up of prayers, in the same dramatic hand, but with an earnest, pious, obsessively penitent tone.
Here I vacillate between white-knuckling items such as lists of things I can do with my spare time so that I don’t waste it (1. Write ‘A Letter to Teens’ project 2. Do a portrait of someone 3. Write about ‘Johnny Trout’ 4. Do some exercising 5. Deep cleaning…) and heartfelt requests that God change me. These entries are punctuated with fresh entries in which I rededicate my life to his service: “Oh Lord, I need to rededicate my life to you. So here I am. Take me, Lord, use me for your will. Please turn me into something worthy of being called a child of God. Make me an example…” “Oh Lord, you are so aw inspiring that, even though I have lived in your world for 13 years, it never ceases to take my breath away…” “I can’t wait to meet my Lord face to face. He has washed me of my sin and I long to be more and more his everyday…”
There are entries in which I pray for help confessing that I lied about using my sister’s toothbrush, in which I bemoan my youth group’s worldliness in extremely haughty terms, in which I tell on my mother for leaving me home from an outing because I took too long to get ready, “and you know, she often takes at least 20 15 minutes to get ready herself!” Another entry, written the day I got braces, ends with “I will have to make my inner beauty more existent. That is the only way I’ll be liked by anyone. I thank you for this trial.”
Reading these entries over, I look for a clue to my spiritual state at this age. It is clear that I was in earnest. I wanted to be changed. Clearly, I was struggling to understand my own heart and the world around me. I was clearly frustrated with my temper, which so often mastered me. I was clearly seeking to develop healthy relationships, and mystified to find that it was so difficult.
So I can’t guess what spiritual things the Lord was actually doing in my heart, between these lines of drama and insecurity. But there were so many entries begging God to do whatever it took to make me more like Jesus… that eventually it hit me. A few minutes ago, I stopped reading suddenly. My eyes welled up with recognition.
I asked God in clear terms to do whatever it took to mold me, to change my heart. Dozens of times.
And what do I see now when I look on the years that followed these diary entries? I see many teenage years that were wasted, and many young adult years wasted as well. I see the time that I spent in outright rebellion against God, and years in which I would have read these prayers in my little diary and laughed at them.
Then I see what God did afterwards. How he led me to the truth, how he used those years of pain to break me. I see the promises of God in scripture: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.(Matt. 7:7)”
And it hits me like a brick. These little prayers were heard. And what a testimony to the faithfulness of God that even the mangled prayers of a self-centered little girl are heard and answered. The steadiness that I longed for, the work that I desired for my hands to do, the satisfaction that I longed to meet my hungry heart with… how clearly I can see these prayers answered in my life now. I can’t say for sure now whether that little girl had a heart of flesh or a heart of stone, but I know that God had reserved that heart for himself and was determined to have it.
And that in her ignorance, she found herself praying for the thing that He had purposed to do before the foundation of the world:
“26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[g] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.(Rom. 8:26-30)”