We’ve all heard about the mid-life crisis, but today, many young adults experience a crisis well before that: the quarter-life crisis. It’s the scary stage of planning for one’s impending adulthood before finishing college or when the realities of permanently and officially entering the real world start to sink in.
For me, my quarter-life crisis started when I began to internalize my self-doubts and insecurities about my future. The more I believed the doubts, the worse it became. I worried more and more about my future and began asking loaded questions, like “What will my career look like? Where will I live (and will that still be with my parents)? What will I do if I lack finances? And what happens if I fail?”
If you’ve been asking similar questions lately, and you’re feeling anxiety, uncertainty, difficulty making decisions, and fear of failure, you have officially entered your quarter-life crisis.
Though you may be in the midst of crippling worries about the future, the good news is that as Christians, we have a very committed friend who is always there for us: God, our dear heavenly father.
While this loving father of ours has great plans for us, he is selective on when to reveal those plans, and sometimes it may feel like he is waiting until the last minute to disclose his master blueprint for our lives. This situation tends to be very inconvenient when you are in the middle of figuring out the path he has set for you. It’s worse when everyone asks what you plan on doing with your life. “I don’t know!” we want to scream. “He hasn’t clued me in on that yet!”
The longer this question goes unanswered, the more we stress. Without realizing it, we begin to become impatient with God, the one who has given everything to us and truly loves us unconditionally. Don’t blame him just yet; we simply aren’t ready for the whole plan.
SYMPTOMS OF A QUARTER–LIFE CRISIS
fear or nervousness about what might happen
Feeling the need to control our lives and having a desire to plan where we’d like our lives to go is not uncommon. Mariah, a female Panamanian, Dominican junior undergraduate student shares her desire for control:
“My number one struggle in life is control. When I feel stressed about life or college, my anxiety can leave me on edge for hours or days. … For me, it’s hard to relinquish all my worries to God. Why would he care about something as little as an exam when there are orphaned children or diseases to cure? But I realize my mistake in putting a big God in a small box. I wasn’t trusting God to pull through in every area of my life. But I have felt the difference of sharing my burden and letting God take care of me. It’s crazy to think that change can happen through letting go and giving God the ‘little things’.”
At the core we all struggle to trust in God’s goodness and faithfulness for our lives. This lack of trust leads to anxiety because we know deep down that we do not have real control and we cannot possibly plan every situation or prepare for every scenario. In Matthew 6:25-34 ESV Jesus says: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” This verse is helpful in reminding us to put our lives in perspective, not be so caught up in the details, and to look at the bigger picture. While God does care about us in every detail, he doesn’t give us the whole blueprint of our lives because he wants us to walk in faith with him. God wants to be at the center of our lives and life decisions. While the uncertainty can be unceasing, God has given us every reason to trust him. Repeatedly through stories in the Old and New Testament, he has come to our rescue and constantly extended grace (i.e. Jesus dying on the cross in order to forgive our sins and give us an eternal future in relationship with him is the ultimate fulfillment of this).
Wanting to personally decide the outcome of our lives
Understandably, our human minds have a hard time relinquishing control to someone we can’t see or touch. Yet, as Mariah put it, he has and will continue to take care of us. So “Cast all your anxiety on him because [God] cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7 NIV). God has something in store for us and we aren’t always clued in as to what that is. He wants us to fully trust him and the plan he has for our lives. When the enemy sees us struggling to fully trust God, he becomes that little voice in our head trying to fill us with doubt. It is our job to not believe those lies, but to believe in God, who only wants the best for us.
Alexandra, a female Puerto Rican senior undergraduate student is a natural born planner and likes having a system in place to arrange a positive outcome:
“I’m a natural-born planner so coming into college I had plans for my life. During my first few years in college, God so graciously and lovingly began to alter those plans. Before I knew it all my selfish desire was gone, and all that I longed for was for his will to be done. Though I didn’t know where I was going to go, I was willing. That’s a scary thing to say to God because he will take your word for it and he did just that. … I wrestled with God because I felt he was withholding information from me, keeping me out of the loop from my own life plans which was horrifying for me as a planner. I wondered if he even had my best interest at heart because the waiting period seemed miserable and hopeless … I soon learned that this waiting and listening period was only difficult because I was not trusting in God’s promises for my life … It took a lot of prayer, counsel from trusted people, and courage to take a step of faith into the unknown with God.”
Distrusting God’s Plan
Thinking that our life goals are more important that God’s plans for us
From Alexandra’s wise words, seek prayer and counsel when we are faced with anxiety about our future. Our community and support from others with practice on relying on God will help keep us on the right path of continuing to trust God despite the unknown and difficult road blocks or challenging circumstances. Have faith in God and wait on his timing for details to be revealed about our future. Sunny, a male South Asian junior undergraduate student, has experience in trusting God in his life that we can learn from:
“I have a lack of worry for my life when I graduate—not because I have everything figured out, but I trust in the one that does. I have many different options, and truth be told it can be overwhelming. I find hope in knowing that whatever path God calls me to, I can still be used to shine light on others. My main calling above any job is to be an ambassador of Christ, and I have faith God will always provide for me regardless of what happens.”
Sunny is wise to realize that he doesn’t need to have everything figured out in order to trust God. Being in a place of uncertainty is sometimes the best time to lean on God for guidance and reassurance.
Being Uncomfortable With Change
Unprepared for results different from what we expect
A lot of the time we place a perfect picture in our mind of our future. Unfortunately our minds are often faulty, because we usually don’t know ourselves as well as we think we do. Jarumi, a black male junior undergraduate student says:
“All throughout high school I planned on playing professional soccer and majoring in computer science. … However later on, through a series of events, the passion of soccer faded away, and I was left to really evaluate what I will be doing with my life. During that time, I began to learn about myself—how I was a natural leader, my love for ministry, and how I loved to be creative whether it be in poetry, photography or video production. As time moved on, my love for computer science grew. How would I know I would be happy in whatever career I choose all while glorifying God? At Urbana [an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship Conference], God revealed that answer… And he told me not to worry about how [it] would tie together, or if I will enjoy what I do, but just to trust him and be patient. And if he can speak the world into existence than I, myself, have nothing to worry about. All I need to do is follow his will, and rest in his love, wisdom and hope…And through my faith in God, I know that those hopes and dreams will come about.”
Through change, God is with us. College is known to be a time of trial and error. Changing your major once or twice is to be expected, but that does not make the experience any less daunting. Like Jarumi, we need to submit ourselves to God and give these decisions to him.
Doubting God’s Will & Our Giftings
Having no confidence in ourselves or in God’s path for us
We all have doubts about our future, especially when we face failure. Yet, we forget that we are in a time in our lives where we are learning: learning about our career path, learning about ourselves, learning about God. We are apprentices and we will make mistakes, but we will learn from them and improve. God does not expect us to have all the answers. Like Kimberly says, a female Mexican junior undergraduate student, he just wants us to have faith in the good that will come of doubt or struggle:
“Putting my trust in God to lead me to where I am meant to be is truly a leap of faith—one that is sometimes unfathomable for me as a Pre-Med student who should have things organized and planned out in order to position myself for the greatest opportunities. Yet, I struggle to be excellent and my plans fall through time after time, which makes me wonder: Am I forcing myself to do my own will, not his? If there aren’t bright fluorescent signs pointing me to the next step, how does he expect me not to be anxious and dubious when I can’t know for certain I’m going down the right path? I drown in stress and anxiety, fearful about moving on. But then I remember: Jesus calmed the roaring waters and stilled the fiercest winds (Mark 4:35-41). He is not asking me to make it through alone and unequipped, all he wants is for me to have faith.”
James 1:6 says, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (ESV). Our doubts make us uneasy, and make us fear the life ahead of us. God does not want us to live in this place of anxiety. I have struggled in this very area myself, but as my college career comes to its final chapter, my only option is to rest in God’s love, grace, and wisdom and to know that he will not lead me astray.
If you have been feeling any of the above symptoms, let me reassure you that you are not the only one. Most other twenty-somethings are struggling alongside you. Whether it is deciding to go into ministry, choosing a profession, choosing where to live, or who to love, we hope for God to give us the green light or at least a sign on which path to take, but most of the time it takes blind faith (Hebrews 11:1) that God will be with us in whatever results our choices bring and guide us in our decision-making through prayer. As Proverbs 3:5-6 encourages, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Any direction we take, God will still be with us.