Have you ever thought about what you would tell your younger self? Sometimes I think about 12-year-old Greg.
He was uncertain about his future, as most young people are. He would have given anything to know what life had in store for him. If I could go back in time, I would tell that young, scared kid to calm down and know God will protect him. I might have also told him to go ahead and buy a couple of Star Wars figurines and keep them in their original package. Those go for a lot of money nowadays. More than anything, I would tell him that life is going to be ok. This might be the biggest cliché ever spoken, but the convenient thing about clichés is they tend to be true.
Being a kid in this big intimidating world is a daunting experience. Knowing what I know now, I would tell 12-year-old Greg that his life would turn out better than he can ever imagine. And he had a big imagination.
I would tell him that he will find his purpose as a young adult, that he will end up marrying his dream girl and have the kind of family he didn't have growing up. I would tell him that strange concepts such as love and stability would characterize his life later on and that, most of all, being a child of God would become the very foundation of his life.
I would tell him that he will find mentors like Chuck Smith and Billy Graham, guiding him and showing him what it means to be a man of God. I would also tell him that his life will make a difference, not because of him, but because God will call him to be something he never anticipated — a preacher who would have the privilege of reaching millions of people with the good news that changed his life. It’s almost unbelievable, but we serve a God of miracles.
When I look back, I know that this future wasn’t a sure thing. To say the odds were stacked against me would be an understatement.
To recap, my mom wasn't exactly the prototypical image of what a mother should be. She went from man to man, trying to find someone that could fill the hole in her heart, resulting in more heartbreak. She was married and divorced seven times, and I became the casualty of that life. She effectively abandoned me, and my life became the incarnation of transient living, bouncing around from aunts and uncles, to friends, to a stint through military school until I landed with my grandparents. There, for the first time, I received a foundation based on God and his church. Not to mention food much better than the TV dinners that had become my regular diet.
Most importantly, my grandparents provided guidance and discipline when I needed it (often) and introduced me to a new life. I remember watching television and seeing this larger-than-life man preaching to large crowds, not knowing at the time that this man would become my close friend. I'm still pinching myself about that one all these years later. It’s even more difficult to believe that Jesus, the man whose picture I saw hanging on my grandma’s wall, would also become my friend, my Savior, and my Lord.
But that’s not the end of the story. The late sixties and early seventies were periods of rebellion in the US, especially in California. Long hair, different music, experimentation with drugs and alcohol. As much as I would tell that young Greg to skip it altogether, I was in it.
I went through much suffering in my early life, but I believe this was a setup for a step up!
We all have a choice in life, and the decisions we make end up influencing the rest of our lives. I came to a crossroads as a young man, and I had to decide how to live the rest of my life.
Would I let the mistakes of the past determine my path ahead? Or would I use all these challenges to help others? Would I make the kind of commitment that would effectively change the course of my life or would I accept those mediocre circumstances as fate?
I chose to change, and so can you. I don’t know what the narrative of your life is right now, but God can change everything. If there is a cycle of addiction in your family, he can break it. You do not have to be a victim of your past.
I know that younger me would have a hard time believing it, and as I recall those times, I tend to think that grown-up me would, too, but I am confident about one thing: God loves us and has a plan for our lives. You are more loved than you can ever imagine. You are needed and wanted. You are uniquely valuable in the eyes of God.
Younger Greg, against all odds, despite huge setbacks and life-altering tragedy, you come through stronger with hope in your heart because of a God who loves you.
Greg Laurie is the pastor and founder of the Harvest churches in California and Hawaii and of Harvest Crusades. He is an evangelist, best-selling author and movie producer. His new book World Changers: How God Uses Ordinary People to Do Extraordinary Things (Baker Books), releases Sept. 1.