The 16th June is an emotionally charged day in the history of our Nation. We celebrate Youth Day to remember the courageous stand taken by many young people in Soweto 1976, some of whom paid the ultimate price.
Youth Day conjures up memories of injustice, racism and the dream of a new dawn. Young people such as Hector Peterson, Tsiesti Mashinini, Mbuyisa Makhubo and Antoinette Sithole stood up for what they believed in and their names will forever be linked to that fateful day.
I have always hoped that history could teach us to avoid the mistakes of the past and to reimagine the endless possibilities of our future.
Upon reflection of my own youth, I have wondered about the direction I would take if I was given the opportunity to write a letter to a younger version of myself.
And so in celebration of Youth Day 2018, I have decided to give it a go – Here is my letter to a younger me.
I have learnt so many interesting and informative lessons over the last thirty years and although you will have started to formulate your own concrete ideas, please listen to a few loving words of guidance.
When we are young we feel as if we have so much time left to make responsible decisions or to stand for various causes. In truth, there is no better time to make that stand than when you are young – that is why so many teenagers were willing to sacrifice their lives in the Great Wars.
You are never too young to leave a legacy, so begin making that a reality today.
Teenage years can be a bit of a mine field, especially when it comes to friendships, but you can afford to choose those friendships that bring out the best in you. No friendship should take advantage of you and when you find great friendships they will be worth fighting for. Remember that Jesus said:
“No greater love has a man than this; that he is willing to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Although you will find many scoffers of your faith and be urged to abandon your belief in God, seek to discover a real and dynamic relationship with Jesus. God is real and Jesus is a lot more caring and compassionate than some people make us believe. Solomon spoke so wisely when he noted:
“Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honour him in your youth …” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).
There are a lot of people with degrees who know nothing of life at all. Education is about discovery, learning, engaging, travelling, reading, experiencing, risking and a whole lot more. Although there is a place for formal education, most of your learning will come from what happens in between the lessons in a classroom.
Understanding the diversity of all kinds of people will make you a more loving person and equally willing to walk alongside people from all backgrounds. Jesus modelled this well for all of us and although his extravagant grace led to his death, Jesus treated all people equally.
Playing it safe would have left Jesus’ disciples locked in the Upper Room forever, but when they were empowered by the Spirit. They allowed their faith in Christ to be bigger than their fears. There is so much you will miss out on if you stay on the shores of life. Jump into the boat and set your sails to the direction of the Holy Spirit. As Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Youth is wholly experimental.”
For too long, people have been held back by the colour of their skin, sex, abilities, family status, class, language and so on. You are a child of the Living God. Be proud of that fact and grow up into the full potential God has for you.
A lot of young people believe the lie that ‘Love’ is about dominating someone else and getting our own desires met. That is not Love at all. True Love lies in giving of yourself to others and having the joy of their love in response.
This certainly applies to the point above, as you will definitely make many mistakes along the way, but don’t let these stop you picking yourself up and trying again. The world may pretend that it only accepts ‘Perfection’, but that is the biggest lie of them all. God’s grace allows room for honest mistakes, second chances and sinners. Just don’t let your mistakes dictate your future.
The one thing that motivated thousands of young people to make their “Stand” on 16th June 1976 was Hope. It was hope in a better future; hope in equality; hope that the darkness would end. Hope is not a fanciful emotion; it can be the air that gives us breath and the blood that pumps through our veins. You will be surprised at how much you can endure when you possess Hope.
Lastly, let me end this letter with the instrumental words of the apostle Paul. He was a man who had stood for a lot of things in his lifetime, but the one that he is ultimately remembered for, is his dramatic decision to abandon his upbringing and his choice to follow Jesus. As Paul sought to pass on words of wisdom to a younger Timothy, he encouraged him with this charge:
“Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12).
May God hold you in the palm of his hand this Youth Day and may you recognise the love of Christ as he journeys with you always.
With much love and grace,
Your older self.