Many twenty-or-thirtysomethings are looking at a gap between expectations and reality. Before going to college, I didn’t expect to be an aspiring author still living with my parents in my early twenties. However, barring minor mistakes, I don’t have any regrets. I’ve saved a ton of money I would have funneled into a lease. Writing is my calling, and pursuing anything else would have felt wrong.
But these glamorous decades supposedly consecrated to self-reliance and healthy pride are, for so many young adults, spent in forced humility. Talent, passion and determination are no longer the only tools needed for success. Life may not beat these bright-eyed people into the dirt, but it seems more than happy to twist their arms and make them say uncle.
But young adults are a pretty gracious crowd in the sense that they respond with candid humor to accusations of laziness or ineptitude, even when they are striving desperately to succeed to so little avail. They are adept at making light of their struggles because they know others have suffered worse than living in the guest room of their parents’ house, going on a bad date or working at a job that is not conducive to realizing lifelong aspirations. Jokes about becoming crazy cat people or spending eternity in a Netflix marathon circulate in all their self-deprecating glory. Sometimes it’s even freeing to laugh about the job inquiries or attempts at connecting with people that seem to just puff out and evanesce in a yawning universe of emails and texts.
At times frustrated twenty-or-thirtysomethings don’t even feel validated in their struggles because they remind themselves that other people face much worse and receive less blessings and privileges. They wonder if they should try harder, even if they’re stressing out and losing sleep from trying so hard and hitting walls. Sometimes they even wonder if God has a purpose for them.
Even those who have hammered out career and living situations may still struggle with romance or friendships. There is no fail-proof guidebook for navigating this challenging economy or being the first generation to grow up into a technology-dominated social scene. Attempts at self-sufficiency and pursuing dreams are in danger of being suffocated by a tough economic situation this generation has inherited rather than shaped. Innate desires for intimate romance and steadfast friendships are thwarted by flippant, fragmented and impersonal communication.
Even for those who are not facing grief, loss or persecution—all the more respect to those who cling to the hope of Christ during those trials—this is a hard phase of life. Every young adult should be free to admit that.
This generation is brimming with valor, determination and a thirst for serious action, but the attribute that’s getting the most exercise is the will to outlast.
I recently became acquainted with the term hupomone. It means patience and endurance. Steadfastness. What God often requires of his people are not isolated demonstrations of extraordinary strength and courage or light bulb bursts of passion for a calling. It is the slow, toilsome, day-to-day, opposite-of-glamorous hupomone. I’ve taken to chanting this word out loud to myself when I go for a jog. It’s not about speed, distance or keeping the beat with whatever song is playing. It’s about ignoring the lactic acid in my muscles that makes me want to give up.
Christians know there is a purpose in times of patience and endurance, no matter how strenuous or slow—no matter how much the sufferer itches for action and significance and a voice. Oswald Chambers said, “A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, and He stretches and strains, and every now and again the saint says, ‘I cannot stand anymore.’ But God does not heed, He goes on stretching till His purpose is in sight, and then He lets fly.”
We know we are meant to wait on God’s purposes with hope and expectation, to choose joy. But sometimes joy runs dry.
If a Christian’s supply of joy can be depleted, why does the Bible make joy sound like a choice? 1 Thessalonians 5:16 says to be joyful always. My first instinct is to say thank you, God, for that simple yet impossible command. If joy is a choice, why can’t I manufacture it? Why am I weak if the joy of the Lord is my strength? How come, in the midst of clinging to my relationship with you through serious doubts, I can’t will joy to wash over me like rain, bloom where I’m planted and do other grandma’s-refrigerator-magnet things?
But keep reading. “Be joyful always” is followed by “pray continually” and “give thanks in all circumstances.” The next verses command us to hold on to the good and avoid every kind of evil. These are not unrelated commands, but a recipe. In order to experience the satisfaction of the Lord, you must continuously seek his face, cling to what is good and exercise gratitude for the salvation given in Christ. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
If I could see God’s target while he stretched me thin and taut, I would delight in my distress, certain of its significance in his plan. But I can’t. So I have to remind myself that He is big, that I have no greater advocate. Sometimes the strength of the Lord must be my joy.
In waiting, in hupomone, we have the opportunity to draw closer to Him. Sometimes we will kneel and ask for joy and still walk away depleted. That’s reality. But if we pursue God every day—honest with Him about our pain and frustration, yet thankful for what He has done—that joy will inflame again like dying fire in a dry breeze, and no circumstance will destroy it.