“Purpose; it’s that little flame, that lights a fire under your ass.” — (Avenue Q, the musical)
I’m facing an interesting problem in my life right now; one that I’ve found is also shared by many of my friends and colleagues.
A lot of us have successfully graduated university, found a decent job, and found good friends to share our young-adulthood with. But despite all this, we don’t feel settled. We all seem to have everything going for us, and yet, we cannot shake the feeling that something’s not quite right — that we are still waiting for something else. Many of us mid-twenty-somethings appear to be in some kind of post-university, pre-mortgage limbo. We are no longer being pressed to study for our next exams, but we aren’t really quite sure what we are supposed to do next. (This is a mindset shared by Pippa Holman, who has previously written a similar post on the subject here.)
Life up to this point has mostly been a string of academic tick boxes: SATS, GCSEs, A levels, possibly university and maybe even a master’s degree on top of that. As someone who’s always been a bit of a nerd, I really enjoyed that progression — always having a new challenge to work towards or a new set of exams to revise for. (Not the coolest of cucumbers over here.) But now that my academic life is over, I have found it immensely difficult to adjust to the fact that this is now it.
I have successfully managed to complete the early stages of my life, and now I can go and live it! …but what does that mean exactly? I feel like I’ve become so used to meeting certain pre-established goals that I am now frantically searching for the next ‘life achievement’ to complete. It’s like we’ve all been put in a race; a race to cross the finish line of ‘being grown up’ or ‘settling down’ or ‘finding contentment’. It can be really discouraging when we look to our left and our right to see that our peers seem to be making big strides ahead towards the finish line, while we feel like we are still under starter’s orders.
This is all stressful enough on its own, but when we hear news about how our generation are pretty screwed when it comes to finance, it makes figuring out the future all the more concerning. ‘How the heck am I supposed to be saving for a house when I can barely afford to pay rent?’ ‘So I could start saving £100 a month… if I chose a strict diet of water and pot noodles.’
While our parents’ generation had access to free university education, were able to purchase a house for three or four times their salary, and receive guaranteed state pensions that allow them to retire at 60/65, some of us are facing tens of thousands of pounds of student debt, the prospect of retiring at 75+, and the reality that any ideas of owning a property soon are a laughable pipedream. This does not particularly help with calming us down.
All of this combined with the occasional existential freak-out and frequent identity crises means that this period of our lives which is supposed to be one of fun, freedom and energy is actually one of worry, paranoia and fear.
However, all is not lost.
While you may feel alone in your concerns, your lack of clarity, and your uncertainty about where your life is going, it’s important to remember that these thoughts are all completely normal. I’ve spoken to so many people who agree about how many of us feel like we should have grown up by now, and that when we were little the concept of being 24 meant being married, looking to buy a house and thinking of children(?!). Often I need to remind myself that I shouldn’t get upset just because I don’t always feel content. Many of us are going through it. It’s completely natural. If you ask around, you’ll be surprised who’ll say they agree!
That’s all well and good, but that still doesn’t comfort us much. All it does is help us feel like we aren’t insane, weird or abnormal. When we are sitting in these ruts of doubt and lack of clarity, we should look to our creator, our good Father, for guidance.
God plans things in his own time, not ours. Everyone knows that famous phrase, “Man plans, God laughs”, but it’s so true. We can be so caught up in our own aspirations and plans for our lives that we forget that everything we have is a provision from God, and he chooses when that provision happens. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Ecc 3:1). It’s hard to wait for the things we want, but we have to be disciplined and patient, lest we end up like the stroppy toddler in a supermarket who just wants more sweets (even though dinner is just an hour or so away). Patience really is a virtue, and it’s something that I know I need to pray for more of every day.
It’s also important to remember that God makes everything work to our good. We might feel lost in our journeys of life, not knowing what is coming next, struggling with the uncertainty that lies ahead. But God uses these times of confusion — of pain, even — to bolster our relationship with him and give us the chance to be faithful to him. “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Rom 8:28).
He uses every little hiccup, every roadblock and every challenge for our benefit, to push us in the right direction, as long as we trust in him. That means that when we get scared that the years are rushing past and that our lives seem to be going nowhere, we must realise and accept that God has got this. It’s like that classic test of faith, falling backwards into the arms of someone who we trust. While we are falling, we aren’t always sure when we are going to stop. But God is there to catch us, every single time.
You might not always be happy with where you are right now in life. Sometimes you might be wishing for that next promotion, for a relationship to progress, or for a purpose or meaning for your life to be found. But you know what? Everything is going to be okay. I’d say trust me, but actually, trust God.
If we are running a race in life, then he is our coach. And after coaching millions of athletes before us, I think he knows what he is doing by now!
Alex Brabyn, 24, lives in London and has been a member of St Paul’s Ealing for a year and half. He volunteers with the youth work and also gets involved with worship ministry. He works professionally as a chemical engineer, and owns a Spiderman costume.
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