The quarter-life crisis (QLC). If you’ve not come across this increasingly popular phrase, it’s time that you did.
It’s a phenomenon that can strike any time in your 20s or early 30s—the dawning realization that you’ve reached the age by which you assumed you would have it all figured out, only to find that you don’t. The QLC creeps up around birthdays and New Year’s Day, and rears its head any time you see on social media that someone you went to school with has gotten engaged, gained a promotion, or simply had the audacity to look happy in a photo. It’s the uneasy realization that comes when you take stock of everything around you—the people, the places, the relentless routines of work and washing dishes—and wonder, Is this it?
The networking website LinkedIn found that 75 percent of 25- to 33-year-olds report having a quarter-life crisis.
I’m one of them.
Beyond the Stereotype
When I first pitched a Christian book on the quarter-life crisis, the idea was met with bemusement. I was in a room full of older people with bigger problems. What could I possibly have to complain about by comparison?
The QLC phenomenon seems to feed into a wider cultural stereotype about miserable millennials who moan their lot and refuse to grow up. It’s a stereotype common in Christian culture, too.
Don’t dismiss the Quarter-Life Crisis phenomenon out of hand.
You might be reading this as a bemused older person who thinks millennials having some supposed “crisis” are overreacting. And we might be. But don’t dismiss the phenomenon out of hand. At least, it tells you some helpful things about what the 20-somethings in your church are feeling, what discipleship challenges they’re facing, and how the church can help.
They Feel Rootless
For a host of economic and social reasons, rates of homeownership among this generation are at a record low. The combination of renting and rising mobility leads many 20-somethings to feel unmoored. In the five years since I graduated, I’ve lived in five different houses with a revolving cast of roommates. This isn’t particularly unusual. But even as 20-somethings long for the permanency of home, many of us harbor an equal fear of settling down.
Millennials in your church need help to see that home is where God’s people are—the household of faith—and that this is a community worth committing to. They need help to see that to follow Jesus is to follow the one who “had no place to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20)—and that their sense of rootlessness is an opportunity to set their hearts on heaven, not on home ownership. They need the conversations that happen over coffee after church to not be dominated by the topics of buying, decorating, and renovating houses (a recurring theme at my church at least)—but about the things that ultimately matter.
They Feel Paralyzed
“What should I do with my life?”
You’d be hard pressed to find a 20-something who hasn’t contemplated this question with a degree of terror. What job, whom to date, where to live—this is the paralysis of adulting. We can feel unable to make decisions, because there are so many paths to choose from, and we’re not even sure where we’re aiming to reach. We struggle to figure that out because we don’t know will fulfill us. So we keep our options open—even as they overwhelm us—so that we don’t miss out or get it wrong. And in doing so, we never go anywhere.
Twenty-somethings need older, wiser saints who are ready to listen and willing to help us wrestle through life decisions with eternal perspective.
But we all want life to go somewhere. And we need the church to remind us that our existence isn’t one of aimless drifting—we have a destination. Where we’ll be in 50 years’ time is uncertain. Where we’ll be in 500 years is not. We’re part of a story that’s building to a climax where Jesus is glorified forever. Twenty-somethings need older, wiser saints who are ready to listen and willing to help us wrestle through life decisions with this eternal perspective.
They Feel Lonely
As we move through our 20s, our relationships are in a state of flux. People move away or move on—a new job, a new girlfriend, or a new hobby changes the dynamics first in one relationship and then another. Eventually most of us reach a point where we look around and ask, Wait . . . where did all my friends go? In one recent study, more people in their 20s reported feeling lonely “often” or “very often” than those older than 75.
The quarter-life crisis needs a whole-life view of Christ.
We need to be reminded that God is the one who searches us and knows us (Ps. 139:1). When we read his Word, we’re listening to a loving Father who is speaking to us—not as a politician does through a TV screen but as a friend does face to face. And we need a church community, of all ages and stages, that embraces us as family and encourages us to be known by others as we are honest about ourselves.
I could go on. I could write about how God’s people can help us fight discontent, about the sense of meaning found in dying to self in the service to Christ’s body, about how a church family helps when it feels like all our friends are getting married and our time is running out.
But one thing is for sure. I couldn’t have ridden out my quarter-life crisis without my church family, and the millennials in your church can’t ride out their quarter-life crisis without yours. Their quarter-life crisis needs a whole-life view of Christ. Together, we can fix our eyes on him—the one who gives purpose, peace, and joy in every season.