May - Letter to Me

Brad Paisley’s song “Letter to me” is a great tune that imagines a 40-something writing a letter to the younger version of himself.  The song made me think, “Knowing what I know now, what would I say to the 17-year-old Ben Bowden in 1998 who is about to graduate high school?” 
It’s been 24 years since I graduated from Enterprise High School, that’s almost a quarter of a century! I have experienced a lot of joy and pain since then.  Mileage in life can give us depth in wisdom.  As Cicero said, “For there is assuredly nothing dearer to a man than wisdom, and though age takes away all else, it undoubtedly brings us that.” 
There’s a lot I’d like to say to my younger self, but for brevity’s sake, let me break it down into six subjects.

1. Family.  Spend time with your parents and grandparents.  Family is a gift and if you have a good one, make sure to steward that gift well.  If I could go back, I’d hug my parents and tell them how much I love them.  I would ask them unending questions about life and their jobs and what they’ve learned about leadership and laughing and love.  I’d go fishing with my grandad, play golf with dad, and just sit and listen to my mom tell stories.  I would soak up the cookouts and birthdays and Christmases and family times with siblings and cousins.  Family time is precious.

2. Friends.  John Templeton McCarty said, “Friendship is the sweetest influence.”  Cherish childhood friends.  You will go on and make new friends as you should.  But never forget your lifelong friends, they’re rare, and they’re special.  Be a good friend.  “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov 17:17).  Eddie Vedder wrote, “I'm a lucky man to count on both hands, the ones I love; Some folks just have one, yeah, others they got none.”  Usually, good friends have friends.  Work at being a good friend.

3. Travel.  Don’t be scared to travel. Be adventurous, but don’t be foolish.  Andy Warhol said, “Land really is the best art.” So get out there and see it.  Seeing different cultures and parts of the world can be the greatest education you can receive.  Ben Sasse said, “The well-traveled tend to be mentally flexible—not tied to one approach or solution, calm under pressure, and thus able problem solvers.”  Traveling doesn’t have to cost you a lot, learn to travel cheaply. Make mission trips a priority.  On mission trips you’ll go past the glitzy tourist traps and see some of the worst the world has to offer, and some of the most beautiful.  Travel wide, but never forget to travel back home.  There’s something special about the old familiar roads.

4. Read.  Books will take you on adventures without leaving your house and teach you lessons without sitting in a class.  Read books; all genres.  If you read for depth and breadth, you will have your assumptions and views challenged, which is good.  If you’re going to be willing to die for the gospel, you must be willing to hear the arguments that seek to undermine the gospel.  If the pen is more powerful than the sword, then saturate your life with the ink that has changed the world, namely the Bible.  Give yourself to the reading and studying of the Bible.  Explore ideas and ask questions.  Books will tend to enhance the flavor of your vocabulary and reinforce the foundation for your worldview (or cause it to crumble).

5. Work.  Don’t ever stop working hard.  Two of my most formative and educational experiences was when I worked one summer in the chicken houses on my family’s farm and when I worked two summers washing and waxing school buses for Enterprise City Schools.  The former is when I learned how to get the work done when there is no one else to do it for you.  The latter is when I learned that there are some people who will let others work hard while they sit around and are lazy.  Though I was frustrated because we all got paid the same, there was the priceless value of integrity and fulfillment, which is worth more than gold.  The hardest of work often comes with the greatest of rewards, even if we don’t see it at the time.  Teddy Roosevelt said, “I don’t pity any man who does hard work worth doing.  I admire him, for he is becoming something.”  God made us for work, hard work.  Find the joy in working hard, then you can worry about figuring out what you love to do.

6. Church. Give yourself to the church.  Nothing has the power to shape your heart and life like the church of Jesus Christ, for it is God’s ordained means of growth in your life.  The church is the hope of the world, the bride of Christ, the “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15).  What you do with the church is what you will ultimately do with Jesus.  If you want to know and taste and see and treasure Jesus more, then you must put your all into the church. The church is the gospel made visible and you have a part to play.  Play it well.

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