Th Reading Lair


Dear Teen Self: 7 Things Books Can Teach Us About Life and Relationships

Published April 25, 2012

Dear Teenage Self (for a visual reminder of what you looked like back then, please see this previous post and try not to snicker),

Over the weekend, I tagged a note on Facebook. Maybe you saw it.

(photo credit RepairGenius &

Okay, yes, I’m on the team that believes this quote isn’t actually from Plato, but I like the photo, and if I were going to settle on a motto to define my worldview as an adult, that quote would probably be it. And honestly it’s something I wish I’d understood better when I was a teenager and still figuring out how to relate to others.

Because that’s what it’s really all about, isn’t it? Our relationships with others? I mean, at the end of this brief speck called life, what matters isn’t the awesome band you wanted to be in, or the number of Facebook friends you had, or the size of the zombie garden gnomes who tried to maul you in your sleep. (Okay, so maybe that last one…)

What matters is how you lived out your story.

And whose lives you impacted along the way.

Because you ARE living a story. One which is continually being written, changed, discovered. And everyone else you know? They’re all hammering out a story of their own too. And all of these tales—mine, yours, or the ones we read about in novels—have similar components to them. And by components, I mean truths to keep in mind while you walk out the next 70 years of your life.


(1) You Are Broken

We all are. Every well-written protagonist (main character/good guy) is. It’s what makes a book character human and relatable. It’s what makes us love them. It’s what makes their internal and external battles so worth rooting for. So instead of pretending there’s nothing wrong with you, accept the fact that, yes, there is. And let us support you in it. That doesn’t mean you have to wear it as an obsessive badge of uniqueness (oh please no). It means that when others call you on your brokenness, you own it and say you’re sorry. Then grow like heck from it. Because the main point in any really good story is WHO the individual has developed into by the end.


(2) Others Are Broken

We know this, don’t we? In fact, sometimes, sadly, we’re the first to point it out behind their backs. But the question is do we ACT like we know they have brokenness? Do we treat them with kindness, imagining the dragons they must fight when they’re alone with their masks stripped away and their insecurities blazing?

Even the most minor character in a story has a reason for why she does what she does. More so, every well written antagonist (bad guy) has a reason for why he is so freaking messed up. And very rarely do we get to explore the depth of his pain.

But it’s there.

In Bronte’s WUTHERING HEIGHTS we don’t necessarily have to LIKE Heathcliff (nor trust him—because let’s face it, he’s psychotic), but rather than hating him or wondering why on earth he’s such a jerk, we see a glimpse of the emotional battles and abuse he’s come through. The battles he is, in fact, fighting through. Which allows us to relate a little. And judge less.


(3) Growth Happens In the Drama

You know those stories where nothing happens and we’re bored out of our minds wondering why in the name of all that is good and cuddly someone bothered to write the silly book? While at the same time we want smooth sailing (ie boring) in our own, personal, real lives.

Why is that? Why do we resent adversity only when it hits too close to home??? 

Think about it: We love Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins and Katniss Everdeen BECAUSE of the unfair and unasked-for trials they each embraced with courageous responses of fighting and hope and vulnerability. WHY? Because that’s the key to EVERY good story. It’s called the ”theme of redemption”—the overcoming of adversity and grief and betrayal by others, of dominating the mountains within and the curses spoken out by the bitter and the haunted. Those valleys and voices that say we cannot, should not, WILL NOT succeed.

And to those voices we respond by dancing in the dark and screaming out with Florence & The Machine, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

Because, my dear teen…there abso-freakin-lutely will be a dawn.


(4) There Are Multiple Sides to a Story

And yours is not necessarily the correct one. Nor is it without flaw. Have grace. Be kind. Be generous in your thoughts toward others because no matter how much you assume you understand another’s intentions and reasoning, you are not them. You have not walked and bled and wept in their skin.


(5) Forgive

It’s what makes Harry Potter better than Voldemort. He accepts the hand that’s dealt him and forgives life for dealing it, and eventually, (in a way) forgives Voldemort for his part. Not that he trusts poor Voldy. But he understands that there is a piece of Voldemort within himself—that he is capable of becoming like him. Whether he detests him or not.

I’m not saying you have to trust the person who wounds you. Because you don’t. Maybe ever again. But forgiveness for a wrong done you, no matter how wretched, how humiliating, how full of bloody betrayal, is the key to living successfully. Your ability to dream, to become better than, to conquer the valleys and cliffs of the life you’re meant to live is directly related to the freedom of shaking off the chains that hang on your heart like a deadweight.

What happens in life is painful, yes. For some of your friends, it will be downright unbearable. But don’t you or them sacrifice your identities on the altar of being victims to others. Heck—don’t sacrifice by becoming a victim to yourself! While you can’t control how others have treated you, you CAN choose to rise above that which was intended to hold you back.


(6) Take a Risk

There is no story without risk, just as there are no relationships without risk. Life isn’t lived in your comfort zone. It’s lived in the broken world around you as you stand back-to-back bleeding with your friends fighting battles for the futures of those who cannot fight for themselves.


(7) You Are More Powerful Than You Can Imagine

Every protagonist is. It’s part of what makes the story of your life so worth living and reading and sharing.

Just be sure to use that power wisely.

To do good to yourself.

To do good to others.

And to leave a kick-ass legacy so the world around you will remember.

Love, Mary ;0)

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16 Responses to “Dear Teen Self: 7 Things Books Can Teach Us About Life and Relationships”

What Others Have To Say

  1. 04.25.2012 / 8:52 am

    Susan Gaddis

    Well said, Mary. And what’s more, I know you live it. I’m proud of the spiritual legacy you’re building. Really. You got it, girl.

  2. 04.25.2012 / 9:43 am



  3. 04.25.2012 / 9:50 am


    Love this. I’m sending the link to my daughter. :-)

  4. 04.25.2012 / 9:50 am


    Aw, thanks ladies! :0) Heaps and heaps of love to you all.

  5. 04.25.2012 / 4:29 pm

    Jeanette Morris

    Uh…this so rocks that I’m otherwise speechless.

    So grateful to know you.

  6. 04.25.2012 / 5:28 pm


    You are SO sweet, Jeanette. Thank you. :0) I’m grateful to know you too. (In fact, wanna have a spork fight to prove who’s the grateful-est?)

  7. 04.25.2012 / 5:52 pm

    Juju @ Tales of

    This post is SO wow.
    So well written.
    I wish I could print it and mail it to 17 year old me.

  8. 04.26.2012 / 7:28 am


    Ahhh Heathcliff …. *le sigh

  9. 04.26.2012 / 7:30 am


    Seriously though, beautiful post.

  10. 04.26.2012 / 7:41 am


    Juju, I appreciate your kind words. Thanks so much. ;0) You rock.

    Kati, total yes on the Heathcliff sigh. And thanks for liking my post. :0)

  11. 04.26.2012 / 3:08 pm

    Caryn Caldwell

    Oh, wow. This is so moving and so beautiful and so, so true. I especially love how you move from what we feel to what our characters should reflect.

  12. 04.26.2012 / 4:07 pm


    Well stated!

  13. 04.27.2012 / 1:21 am

    Tania. F. Walsh

    This is great… it’s good to remind myself of this some days. Thanks for sharing:)

  14. 04.27.2012 / 7:54 am


    Caryn, isn’t that so true in our own lives–we have to push ourselves to move from what we feel, to how we should rightly respond. Oh man, this is easier said than done sometimes (or is it just me)!

    Heather and Tania, thanks!

  15. 05.1.2012 / 11:14 pm


    All great lessons to be learned and great lessons to share. I agree wholeheartedly with this post. I especially identify with being broken and realizing others are in their own ways as well. It may be different from yours, but it still exists and bears consideration.

  16. 05.4.2012 / 5:37 pm


    So well said! I love how you said we all want our lives to sail along smoothly- but we love Harry Potter and The Hunger Games and Harry and Katniss have lives that are anything but plain and smooth sailing. I also love the quote at the top of the page. SO TRUE!


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