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When Your Twenties Are Darker Than You Expected

The human body starts dying at age 25. Our twenties slap us with the expiration date of sin’s curse (Genesis 6:3). Our twenties bring so many answers to that question—transition, failure, desperation, dependence, accusation, responsibility, moral failure, stagnation, unfulfillment. “Sting” isn’t sufficient. Our twenties can be a dark time.

Aspects of Quarter-Life Crisis

There are (at least) five feelings that overwhelm and disillusion the wandering young saints, day after day.

1. Disappointment

“I thought things would be better.”
“I thought I would be better.”
“I thought friendships would stay together.”

We show up at the doorstep of our twenties and mid-twenties hoping to meet our childhood dreams. It turns out that we oversold ourselves on our future. No astronaut missions. No presidencies. No spouse and kids. No house. “Wait, does life suck?” Expectations aren’t shown to be false—only shown to be miniature scales of what we’re actually hoping for; financially in dire straights, emotionally unfulfilled, professionally unimpressive and spiritually stagnant. “I thought I would have grown out of this sin by now.” Shared, white-walled apartment spaces drag our nerves with doom: “This can’t be it. This can’t be all there is.” The doors of childhood are closed behind. Life, it seems, indicates that things will only be getting worse from here.

2. Despondency

“I’m just not as happy as I used to be.”
“I feel fundamentally unable to see the bright side of life.”
“My ability to feel joy is just broken.”

Each day—another day, and another—erodes the soul. Each day, a little less meaningful, a little more hazy; a few less moments of true beauty, a few more innocent pleasures to make it through. Unrelenting haze. Emotional nebula. Spiritual indolence. Slowly—down, sinking—down, twisting—down. Lethargic weight, myopic gaze. “Darkness” is not a sufficient word. Heavy. Weary. Vapid. Unaroused. Despondent.

3. Despair

“Nothing I do matters.”
“I’m going to be stuck here forever.”
“My parents are so disappointed.”
“All of my friends are doing so much better than I am.”
“Life just feels like a rat race.”

Despair is the emotional muscle of “Oh God, this will never end.” Pay up. You’re bulldozed. Despair is the overdrawn bank account—“Insufficient hope. Please deposit more faith to make a withdrawal.” And we have nothing. Rejection letters, romantic break ups, deaths of parents and siblings, bad news tailor fit to our most arresting anxieties. They’ve embarrassed us with empty hands. They are thieves of hope. Ruthless pillagers of dreams. Our circumstances, emotions and relationships—we are fooling ourselves if we don’t think they are interwoven in the fabric of our beliefs. And when they die, despair comes alive.

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Paul Maxwell (@paulcmaxwell) is a PhD student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and philosophy professor at Moody Bible Institute. He writes more at his blog, paulcmaxwell.com, and pretends to like coffee.