Quarter-Life Crisis: Heading Nowhere Fast

By: Ryan Mason

Justin was making the jump from the college ministry into young adult ministry and struggling with the transition that was taking place. Several of his friends had graduated college and had already begun working in their chosen career field. Some were in committed relationships and were already talking about marriage. His life was heading in a very different direction. He could not find his dream job or the girl he wanted to give a ring. He was embarrassed he still lived with his parents and had no prospects of finding the good life about which he had always dreamed. This life transition was not turning out like he had imagined.


Transitions are a natural part of life that help people move from one stage to the next. Justin’s problem was that his life was not matching the movie that was playing in his mind. The gap between his expectations and reality was causing severe frustration.


Justin’s dilemma is increasingly becoming the new reality for millions of young adults. Forbes magazine recently revealed that half of recent college graduates are either underemployed or jobless. [1] The Pew Research Center discovered that in 2012, 36 percent of young adults (ages 18 to 31) were living in their parents’ home. [2]


What is causing this new reality and what is the biblical response?


Let’s Get This Party Started


Justin had progressed through all of the usual life checkpoints that were supposed to lead to success and happiness. He was an honor student, a decent athlete, and he had many hours of community involvement. He was accepted to a respected college on an academic scholarship and graduated with honors. Justin was a model student and even played in the worship band at church. College was over and he was ready to get going with the rest of his life. He was ready to get the party started.


A steaming hot cup of caramel macchiato anchored a friendly conversation as Justin talked about what was going wrong with his life. He thought he was on the path to fulfillment yet his life was not working out that way. He was searching for answers and asked for some advice about how to move forward. These were a few issues that came to the surface as the possible source of his frustration:


False Expectations. Justin had placed a lot of hope in his academic record. He had created false expectations that the high value of education would somehow be enough to guarantee his idea of success. The reality is there are many career students with multiple degrees who are working part-time jobs just to pay back their student loans. He needed to hear that a college degree is valuable but not enough for a ticket to the good life.


Hard Work. There are some qualities that are of high enough substance to cross all generational lines. Hard work is one of them. Justin thought about what it means to work hard and was soon recalling how his grandfather started with nothing and built a successful business on principles like integrity and hard work.


A strong work ethic was God’s design from the very beginning of creation. God created the first man, Adam, and immediately assigned him to work in the garden (Genesis 2:15). Hard work is ordained by God and often leads to future blessings that are difficult to see in the moment.


Comparison Trap. There was something else going on with Justin. It was not as simple as just having an unfulfilled spirit. He had fallen victim to the allure of an unrealistic lifestyle. He quipped that he had done all the right things and now he deserved to be rewarded. He named several high-profile young adults that had achieved much with less impressive academic credentials. He almost slipped into whining mode as he mentioned young adults that were already serving in vocational ministry, trekking across the mission field, and some that were climbing the corporate ladder.


God does occasionally grant favor early in life, but it would be self-deceptive to think He does so based on human merit. The biblical response calls Christ-followers to be faithful with what God has entrusted to them, trust Him for each new day, and seek to make a difference where they are. Justin said he heard his father call this “learning to bloom where you are planted.” [Augustine is quoted as saying, “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”] Careers and relationships take time to develop. Many of the greatest accomplishments in human history came from people who started late in life.


Manna Jobs. A wise man once said. “To be blessed, you have to put yourself in a place of blessing.” The place of blessing for recent college graduates usually means going to work. It may not be a dream job but failure to get started means failure to move forward. The new reality points toward a tighter job market, a leaner economy, and a lot more applicants for each job posting. Justin admitted he had hopes of starting near the top because of his impeccable academic record. He was slowly becoming open to the idea of just getting started. He remembered taking a financial management class where the teacher was fond of saying, “There is a great place to go when you are broke and want to get moving in life. Go to work!” These words were beginning to ring true.


Employers are looking for candidates based on both education and experience. Internships are a popular way to develop a greater skill set in a chosen field while gaining valuable experience. A large number of companies and churches are now making internships part of their overall leadership development strategy. Internships also provide a network to build relationships with key decision makers. It is amazing how hard work opens doors of greater opportunity. Manna jobs do not have to be forever but can help launch young adults into their chosen career field.


When Plans Go Wrong


“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps”

– Proverbs 16:9, ESV


It is easy to praise God when life is going well. The struggle for Justin came when life seemed to be getting off course and he was left to make sense of what was happening. Justin mumbled something about being thankful he was not like Job, a biblical person whose life was in shambles and whose entire identity had been taken from him. His friends ridiculed him and even his wife urged him to, “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9, ESV). It is remarkable that, with life going so badly for Job, he chose to look beyond his present set of circumstances and find the faith to praise God by saying, “For I know that my Redeemer lives . . .” (Job 19:25, ESV). God blessed Job’s ultimate devotion and the end of the story turns out pretty cool (Job 42).


Those looking at others’ lives from afar sometimes make condemning statements without taking the time to really understand the situation. Justin had already heard statements like, “Get over it” and, “You are just an entitled generation.” These remarks were hurtful because he sincerely wanted to start a career and family but opportunity was not knocking on his door. Life was not going his way and he did not know what to do about it.


The Bible promises two very important things for the believer. One is that followers of Christ should expect trials and tribulations in this life. God never guarantees a worry-free life. In fact, the opposite is true. Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation . . .” (John 16:33b, ESV). The second promise is where hope and comfort are found because Jesus proclaims that His followers can “take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33c, ESV). Jesus does not keep His followers from all tribulation, but He does promise to walk with them through the trials and uncertainties of life (Daniel 3:25).


Heart Surrender


“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

– 1 Peter 5:6-7, ESV


Justin pulled out his Bible and turned to a highlighted verse on a well-worn page. The verse was Ephesians 3:17-20. It had been too long since he was here. A rush of emotions came over him as he tried to comprehend just how much God loved him.


“…so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (ESV).


The truth is that God loves His children and wants the best for them. A heart that is surrendered to the Father does not have to be consumed with daily affairs because He is working all things together for good (Romans 8:28-29). Justin began to see that this was the answer to his troubles. He needed to focus on God’s goodness and trust Him for the direction of his life. True success is living in obedience to God and not in obtaining a certain relational status or material possessions that people value so much.


Justin recalled his pastor saying, “We are all just one bad decision away from ruining our witness for Jesus.” Those words really hit home as he thought about how many of his friends had forever altered their life course because of drugs, alcohol, and a host of other bad decisions. He was not where he had hoped to be at this stage of life but he was determined to trust the Lord’s timing and live surrendered to Christ. Justin began to see his life from an eternal perspective and was coming to grips with the fact that God had a great plan for his life. He was going to be just fine.
“So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

– Proverbs 3:4-6, ESV

Author: David Jones

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