By Rachel Jones, Crosswalk.com
“What should I do with my life?”
Most children are used to being asked what they want to do when they grow up. But fast-forward a couple of decades, and many of those wannabe firefighters and train-drivers find that while they might have grown up, they’re no longer sure how to answer the question. Perhaps, like me, you’re part of a generation of 20-somethings who feel like they’re floating in an ocean without a clear sight of the shore. You could call it the peril of quarter-life paralysis. Part of this is a symptom of the age we live in: ever-improving transport links, increasing rates of college education and the digital revolution present young adults with more choice than any generation before, in almost all arenas of life—from career to location to dating relationships.
Granted, choices are always the preserve of the privileged. But the problem—as many of us eventually find—is that choosing is hard. We’re unable to make decisions precisely because there are so many paths to choose from, and we’re not sure where we’re aiming to get to. We keep our options open—even as they overwhelm us—so that we don’t miss out or get it wrong. And we fill our time with just enough trivial pursuits to keep the sense of despair at bay. When it comes to dealing with quarter-life paralysis, our culture tends to have three pieces of advice—but the gospel offers better wisdom.
Here's what's expected:
1. Have a Plan
If we hate the idea that we’re drifting through life then one solution, we’re told, is to have a life plan and check off the milestones. Study this course, make this career change, save up this amount of money . . . and of course, make sure you’re married by 30. In one sense, this desire for direction is understandable. The Creator has set his creation on a timeline from A to B. The universe is going somewhere, and we’re going somewhere with it:
“Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:3-7)
Life really is “a journey”—but not the kind of journey our culture commonly likes to portray. By rights, we’re on a headlong collision-course with God’s justified wrath; but by grace, God has intervened in the life of a Christian to change the final destination. Now we’re of part God’s plan, where “in the coming ages” his glory is put on indisputable display for all to see, forever. Where we’ll be in five years is anyone’s guess. But where we’ll be in 500 years is not. If we feel afloat in a sea of maybes, we can to look ahead to what is certain.
2. Find Your Passion
If our parents expect us to have a plan, our peers expect us to have a passion. Forget the milestones, the thinking goes, just do whatever makes you happy. Do the things that make you come alive. Yet somehow this narrative that is meant to liberate us only goes to put us under more pressure because living anything less than “my best life” is a waste. So we mix and match the puzzle pieces, looking for a combination that clicks to create perfect happiness and fulfillment.
Christian, you don’t need to find what makes you feel alive. You just need to embrace the fact that you already have been “made … alive with Christ”. He’s breathed real, resurrection life into your inner person. This is worth being passionate about. While culture encourages us to “make a difference” (and the challenge becomes working out how), true gospel passion gives believers a more solid sense of purpose. “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). This is what you were born (again) for. The Lord of the universe has prepared specific good works for you to do today.
Perhaps there are meals to cook and papers to write and data to crunch and friends to pray for and neighbors to love. Some “good works” are big and exciting; others are small and downright dull. But all of them have been lovingly prepared for us by our heavenly Father. We don’t need to find something better; we need to get up every morning and get on with the good works in front of us, taking them as a gift from our Father’s hand. Knowing this frees us from the restless search for fulfillment: we can enjoy the reality that Christ has sought us out and made us his own. And it frees us from the paralysis of indecision: even if we choose the “wrong” thing, our ultimate happiness is not at stake—we’ll still be alive in Christ.
Which is all well and good. But how do we actually stop drifting and start swimming towards the shore?
So how do we actually make a decision?
Well, we use some sanctified common sense to narrow down our options. Sure, there are lots of things you could do—but there are a lot less things that make sense in the light of what you’re good at and what’s important. Then we prayerfully and earnestly consider our motives. We humbly seek some wise counsel from godly saints who know us well. And then . . . we make a decision—or determine to live with our lot—secure in the knowledge that in Christ God gives us a plan, a passion and a purpose that is enough for our 20s, and for all the decades he gives us beyond.
Related Resource: Check out our FREE young adult podcast Big Pond, Little Fish! Host Alyssa Roat joins other young professionals in a podcast exploring life, career, family, friends, and calling from the perspective of a young Christian fish trying to make a splash in the world’s big pond. All episodes are at LifeAudio.com. Check out episode one here:
Rachel Jones is an editor for The Good Book Company and the author of Is This It? The Difference Jesus Makes to that ‘Where-is-my-life-going-I-hate-my-job-I-have-no-real-friends-Is-God-even-here-Will-I-end-up-alone-I-wish-I-was-back-at-school-Will-this-ever-feel-like-home-Am-I-failing-at-life’ Feeling. Available from Amazon or direct from The Good Book Company.
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