A Letter to a Young Theologian: This is What I Wrote to the Me of 10 Years Ago

I was listening recently to a podcast on productivity in which one of the contributors explained that it might be a good idea for his listeners to write a letter to their future selves. He thought that by doing so they could better plan for their future and set more accurate goals.

His presentation made me consider what I would say in a letter to my past self. I chose the me from 10 years ago. I was beginning my MDiV study at that point; I was just feeling my way into the world of theological studies (in many ways I still feel that I am doing so). Here are five things that I would say to the me of back then. I will post the additional five in my next blog post.

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Graduating college; soon heading to seminary

  1. Do not be someone you are not. Theology is a broad discipline, and you will never master it like you wish. If you do not know something, just be honest and say that you do not know it. Do not play the game and act as if you do. Do not be embarrassed or intimidated when someone knows more than you in regard to a specific area of study. You are insecure now because you are just starting. One day you will see that the admission of “I do not know” is actually the mark of a mature thinker.
  2. The study of theology is not your life. Theology matters, but your identity does not come from your present status as a divinity student. Have a life. Go have fun. Work out. Do not stay in the library all day. Enjoy the sunshine (before you move to Scotland!). Ultimately Christ determines your identity, so work hard but also play hard. The world will not collapse if you do not write the perfect paper.
  3. Remember to read fiction. There is only so much discussion of the Calvinistic extra or infralapsarianism that you will be able to handle. One day you will see that some of the most profound insights are found not in the latest theology texts but in the classic novels.
  4. The mind and the body matter. Right now you are skinny as a rail. You can eat an entire pizza and wash it down with a bowl of ice cream and not add an inch to your waistline. Trust me when I say that it will all soon change. The amount of hair you possess on your head will start to decrease; your ability to add weight will increase. Have a balanced life. Work out. Go for walks. There is more to the world than your desk, and the future you will thank you.

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    Pic from my first year in the seminary directory (2005)

  5. Community matters more than you realize now. You are in a new place surrounded by new people. Some of them will be gone before you graduate. The rest of them you will likely never see again after you graduate (except through their, um, interesting Facebook posts). Still, you cannot go this route alone. You are a Baptist, and Baptists have always emphasized in their theology the importance of not just the individual but also the community. Life passes by quickly. You will not remember all of the books you read. You will not remember those hours you burned in front of your laptop. You will remember, though, the moments that you spent laughing and talking with friends. Those memories will be with you forever. You will come to realize that the times in which you thought you were just “goofing off” were actually the most formative for you.

What advice would you give to your previous self?

Link to part two of this post: Link

About David Rathel

Husband to April; Baptist Minister; Student at St. Mary's Divinity School at the University of St. Andrews
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One Response to A Letter to a Young Theologian: This is What I Wrote to the Me of 10 Years Ago

  1. Pingback: A Letter to a Young Theologian: This is What I Wrote to the Me of 10 Years Ago (Part 2) | David Rathel's Research Page

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