It’s an increasingly well-documented phenomenon, the mid-twenties (or quarter-life) crisis. Everyone from the Guardian and the Huffington Post to Buzzfeed have written about it, and it’s a common topic of conversation in the circles I tend to move in.
We’ve been out of uni a couple of years or more now. We’ve moved into the realm of the Big Wide World and the rest of adult life stretches out before us.
It’s bloody terrifying. It’s stressful. It’s confusing and it’s painful. It’s ever-present anxiety and constant self-doubt. It’s indecision and rash decisions and hesitant decisions. I can’t speak for all of us – or anyone, besides myself. But from the conversations I’ve had, a theme has cropped up.
Yes, we’re disillusioned at the lack of choices, the resigned acceptance of more internships and moving back in with our parents, the soulless indifference of the treadmill and the inevitability of disappointment. Yes, it’s too hard to get the jobs we want, rent is too high, food too expensive, a Masters degree doesn’t guarantee the careers we were promised and living with your friends in the big city doesn’t even vaguely resemble Friends. (And I realise that for many, it’s the frustrating lack of choices that dominates – that a lot of the rest of what I’m about to say comes from my own privileged position.)
But more than that, we’re scared of the choices. The massive and apparently never-ending choices in front of us; the crazy, boundless, possibilities.
Now more than ever, comparisons are unavoidable: watching peers set sail on travels and adventures; seeing the fledgling careers of uni friends progress through grad schemes, bonuses, and upgraded job titles; scrolling through endless photos of old school friends’ engagements, weddings and gurgling babies. How does my life fit in? Which sort am I choosing? Is there still time to change my mind?
And that’s only the people our own age. Beyond the world of university, it turns out not everyone was born within a couple of years of each other. The more I’ve worked with, and become friends with, some incredible people in their 30s, 40s and beyond, the more inspired I am by their lives. And they’ve opened my eyes to lifestyles, relationships, careers and adventures that I never knew were possible. Have I settled for a narrow selection of what I thought were the only valid life-choices? What could I be missing?
The problem with choices is that you can make the wrong ones. And for some of us, that’s the scariest thing.
We haven’t yet put down roots, not properly. Home is a rented room, we don’t own furniture, we don’t expect to live anywhere for more than a year or two at a time – at least, not with the same people. So there’s a choice: do we invest our time, money and emotional energy in trying hard to settle down? Do we forge out a path of stability and security, carving out our very own comfortable corner in this chaotic world?
Or do we keep commitment-free and take this unique chance in life to do it all, see it all, take risks, take planes, take opportunities as they come? Do we save for the deposit on the house (ha!) or spend it on holidays and adventures? Do we save for the wedding (ha!) or spend it on more rounds of drinks, more fancy dinners, more shows, more day-by-day luxuries to make this harsh world a little more bearable?
And whether in a relationship right now or not – there’s more choices. Stick or twist? Search or settle? Is this person the best I can do, or is there someone else out there, someone funnier, someone who speaks my language even more, someone whose dreams fit mine even more snugly? But if I keep searching, will I ever be satisfied? Will I ever want to pick one, or will the possibility of another always be great enough to prevent me putting my eggs in any basket at all? How can I know?
What if I get it wrong? What if I have to pick between committing to one life-plan and holding out for another, and I make a bad call? What if I regret it? What if I miss out? What if I’m not making the impact on the world I could be, not achieving all that I’m capable of, not becoming everything I was made to be because I get the choices wrong? What if I hold myself back when I could be flying free? Or what if I jump before I’m ready to soar?
More scary still, what if a couple of bad choices ruin everything? What if my risk-taking goes a step too far? What if I lose my job? What if I mess up the relationship? What if I betray all my friends? What if I put a foot wrong, lose control, find myself addicted, or depressed, or anxious, or hurting and I don’t get help? What if I can’t keep these plates spinning for the rest of my life? What if it’s unsustainable? What if I just. mess. it. up?
This is the mid-twenties crisis. It’s crippling fear. No, not everyone’s is quite as intense or all-encompassing as that. Yes, I will go back to therapy. But in the meantime, there’s one more simple question to ask.
It’s the question that calms my fears.
Lets me sleep.
Gets me up in the morning again.
…What difference does Jesus make?
Call it predictable, call it a cliche, call it a cop-out, call it whatever you want because the answer to that question – whenever it’s asked, I think – is always powerful beyond our imagination. My world stops for a second when I remember it; my heart lifts and my eyes fill, because one word rolls around like a marble and drops into my mind.
The difference that Jesus makes to the fear of messing it up, missing out, making bad choices and not being able to handle it, is not to deny the validity of that fear. He doesn’t say “you’ll get it right”. He doesn’t tell me I won’t make too much of a mess. He doesn’t tell me I’m good enough or kind enough or stable enough to be trusted with the choices. He doesn’t promise me infinite wisdom, discipline and self-control, nor does he guarantee money, home, or marriage.
There’s darkness in the story of Jesus. There’s betrayal and abandonment, inner conflict and regret. There’s death. There’s apparent hopelessness. There are some very wrong choices.
But they don’t win out. They can’t win out. Not in the face of the beautiful, overcoming power of a resurrection that was never under threat. If they’d beat him harder, if they’d spat on him more, if they’d found crueller ways to torture and kill him, the resurrection would have been just as sure. Just as glorious. Just as complete.
There is redemption. And that means redemption for every single one of my choices, however terrible they end up being.
There is redemption. And that means I am not too broken, not a lost cause, not missing my chances, not a failure before I’ve started.
There is limitless, life-giving redemption. And so there will always be hope. There will always be a future. There will always be the possibility of turning round, looking defeat in the eye and saying ‘That was shit. But it can be better.’ There will be redemption.
And if that doesn’t make a difference to a mid-twenties crisis, it’s only because we don’t yet believe it. We’ll see redemption, of that I’m sure.
He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making everything new.”