"Life will often be tough, but you will find more love than you can imagine now"
The Spectator asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to write to his 14-year-old self. It is a surprisingly brief note from His (present) Grace (now also posted on the Lambeth Palace website). His (former) Grace would have an awful lot more to say to his 14-year-old self, not least about the vicious politics of all the church stuff – the evil buried beneath shrouds of piety, and the long and lonely nights of consecrated darkness. Some Christians will let you down; others will be absolute bastards.
But they love you.
His (present) Grace's letter is probably copyright, but the Speccie has been known to 'lift' one or two items from His Grace's site, and if Lambeth Palace wish to sue, they are free to do so. His (present) Grace writes:
Dear Justin,Neither the Palace's website nor the Archbishop's blog permit comments, which is a pity because all that His (present) Grace writes and says merits more than a little discussion.
You are rarely good at anything, a fact you know well and worry about. But don’t worry — it does not measure who you are. Keep on dreaming of great things, but learn to live in the present, so that you take steps to accomplish them. Above all, more important than anything, don’t wait until you are older to find out about Jesus Christ and his love for you. He is not just a name at Chapel, but a person you can know. Christmas is not a fairy story, but the compelling opening of the greatest drama in history, with you as one of millions of players. Life will often be tough, but you will find more love than you can imagine now.
With my love to you, Justin
"You are rarely good at anything."
What a window into the man's humility and youthful insecurity this opening phrase gives. He is no great theologian; no distinguished intellect. He has no impressive doctorate; no profound expression.
But neither did St Peter.
The Christian faith was preached in the first instance to poor, illiterate men – a college made up, for the most part, of an ignorant but inspired cohort of theologically undistinguished and spiritually flawed men who must have worried more than a little about their faults and failings.
But the Lord still chose them, because our inadequacies are not the measure of who we are.
If we do not dream big dreams we will reach our deathbeds and gaze back on our lives with sorrow and regret. But realising those dreams requires tenacity, discipline and commitment: we should not wait passively for Simon Cowell to discover us, or the lottery to deliver us, for fame and fortune are nothing but illusions of fulfilment. The material yearning is just a longing for the peace that passes understanding.
We need to find Jesus Christ, but when you find him don't, for God's sake, presume to believe that only you grasp the depth of his wisdom or the breadth of his salvation. The Church is universal, it is catholic, and the Holy Spirit lives in places and works through people you couldn't begin to imagine. Who are we to confine His infinite grace by the borders of our intellects and the boundaries of our structures?
"Christmas is not a fairy story, but the compelling opening of the greatest drama in history."
The world will not believe that, and no amount of shouting it or singing it will persuade them. Only by loving can we preach the truth. And that love must be selfless, or it is not love. If you have found it, share it. Yes, it will be tough. But Jesus didn't come to make our lives easy.
Perhaps, on reflection, there is not so much to write to one's 14-year-old self. His (former) Grace's missive might be even briefer that that of his (present) Grace:
Be of good comfort, Master Cranmer, and play the man! You shall one day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.
But it will hurt, profoundly.