From 2009 to somewhere in 2012, I experienced something I’m going to call “being stuck”. I never would have thought to write about it on this blog, except that within the last month or so three different friends (all around 2-5 years younger than me) have said to me: “I just feel so stuck.” I realized this is something that may be commonly afflicting young adults in their 20s or even early 30s. Since I can now say that I have completely moved past this season of my life, I thought I would write a little about the mindset that helped me out, in the hope that it will help others who are currently going through this.
“Stuck” is a broad word and can apply to many areas of life. Personally, I went through varying degrees of a quarter-life crisis, an identity crisis, and a somewhat mild version of what St. John of the Cross calls the “dark night of the soul”.
I hesitated to even write about this, because I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I’m a resilient optimist by nature, and am not prone toward gloominess. I would not go so far as to say I was depressed during this time. I felt normal, except for an underlying frustration with where my life was at, which occasionally erupted into an anguish that I couldn’t quite explain.
For me, this crisis was brought on by a mixture of change in some places and lack of change in others. I was unhappy in my work, but unable to think of a better career option. I also felt distant from God for the first time in my life. I really experienced this at night. I dreaded those few moments between when I turned off my light and when I fell asleep, because I felt distant from Him.
Above all, I felt stuck geographically. I’ve lived in the Seattle area all my life, and I longed for the adventure of starting somewhere totally new. However, I lacked the financial resources to do this. I also didn’t like the feeling of discontent that accompanied my wanderlust…it just didn’t feel right. So I stayed home and felt stuck.
I’m thinking there are likely others out there going through some version of the same season. I think these quarter-life crises/stuck seasons come upon us for several reasons. One is that in our American culture we find a large amount of identity in our career and relationship status.
This is reinforced by the amount of time we spend on Facebook or other social media platforms. I’m not saying this is bad in itself, but it can lead to an unhealthy amount of comparing our lives to others. Facebook is where we post the highlights of our lives, and present the side of us we wish the world to see (which of course can still be genuine). It’s easy to scroll through and feel as though everyone is married, everyone has babies, everyone has a good job and thriving social life. It’s easy to compare and then feel lacking.
Secondly, these seasons come on us because young adulthood is a time when major life changes are happening. We may have been in school for a long time, following a structured life with instant feedback on our work performance, and suddenly we are out in the messy unstructured world. Friends make decisions and become different people, and places and communities where we have placed our identity shift and change. Most of us find that life just hasn’t played out exactly the way we expected when we were young.
If you are going through anything similar to this, or feeling stuck in any other way, here are three bits of advice I can give you.
Bloom where you are planted
This mindset is absolutely what brought me healing. This phrase echoed in my mind constantly during the last year of my stuck season, until I started really living it.
One example is my church. In early 2011 I left a church I had attended for about five years, and spent a whole summer exploring local churches and trying to find the right place to attend. The church I finally decided on was also the first one I had visited. I initially hesitated to go there, because from what I could see there were no single people my age at all (contrasted to other in-city churches in Seattle). However, it became clear to me that this was where I was supposed to go, and I wasn’t about to go somewhere with different values/theologies just because of the social scene. For the first year or so that I attended, I sat by myself and bolted at the end without meeting anyone.
However, towards the second year “bloom where you’re planted” started to take root. I began to become involved, volunteer and attend events. I started attending the young adults group. Although there still isn’t a huge group exactly my age, it no longer matters to me. It is so fulfilling to be exactly where I know God wants me, to see Him working, and to hear teaching that is right on. I feel like I’m experiencing a special season in this church and especially in the young adults group. One of the things I want most in life is to know that I’m where God wants me in that moment, and this is exactly what I feel about my church.
Blooming where you’re planted also means living in the moment. Many single people feel stuck and long to be married, which is natural and understandable. But many young mothers, who have everything a single person longs for, might also feel just as stuck, especially if they’re home caring for a baby.
These desires are often good and worth working toward. However, obsessing about them or expecting them to bring total fulfillment is going to lead to a frustrating cycle.
I have come into the mindset where I look on each day as important in itself. Today is the day that is real. Tomorrow is not yet real, and I have no control over what it will look like. Living for today, and asking God for His will for this day, creates an exciting and fulfilling life.
This concept is a Christian one. It is totally opposite to the secular mindset, which encourages us to strive and spend all our energy chasing after the things that we want.
Many young adults have strong desires for things that are natural and good – career, adventure, marriage, children, etc. And there is nothing wrong with desiring these things. But in my opinion, even if they’re honorable desires, you have to let them go. At least for a time. Even good desires can imprison us. The amount of time we spend dreaming/longing for things could be a distraction from what God is trying to do today.
“Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.” Ecc 11:1
“To this John replied, ‘A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.’“ John 3:27
Of course I don’t mean we shouldn’t take steps forward in life. If you want a career, you should research options and seek help, etc. I think “letting go” is an attitude. You can still move toward your desires without desperately clutching for them.
It is amazing too how breakthrough, or change, can happen so suddenly and often when we least expect it. It’s just the best when that happens, because in the meantime we have been living a full life.
Pray about it
This is important. It’s so easy to forget to pray! Sometimes I think I’m praying about things but actually I’m just sitting, staring into space and thinking about them. For this reason it is important to be intentional about prayer, and speak out loud if at all possible.
(One note on all of this: If you’re feeling stuck in an unhealthy situation – weight, finances, relationships – then I don’t think blooming where you’re planted and letting it go applies. By all means, muscle your way out of it and work toward goals. Number 3 still applies though!)
One more thing to remember – these seasons don’t last forever. Whether or not you feel stuck you probably have experienced a quarter-life crisis at some point (or it’s coming for you soon). Just remember that it won’t last forever.
Today I feel more joy than I’ve felt in a long time, maybe even since I was a child. My heart is completely full.
I can sit and list out the five or six things I want most to experience or accomplish in life. I don’t have them today, but yet my heart is satisfied. I still desire these things, but I know that it’s not even logistically possible for all of them to happen. So I trust God, and pray for help to walk on the pathway He is showing me each day. Instead of feeling stuck and boring, life has become a vibrant, alarmingly exciting, fulfilling adventure.
A note on my “dark night of the soul”. At some point I came across a quote from C.S. Lewis that says “The ‘hiddenness’ of God perhaps presses most painfully on those who are in another way nearest to Him.” I don’t include this quote to say that I assume I’m nearer to Him than others. It just changed my perspective – I realized that the desperation I felt for God was in some ways a gift. That season of my life is over, and these days I feel His presence around me in a new way. He has spoken to me in clear ways like I’ve never experienced before. Growing up in the church, it’s easy to just follow the motions and Christian culture that feels normal. I’m so glad I went through that painful “distance” because I now feel a newness and freshness around my time with Him.
As far as my geographical location – I have let it go. I don’t have the feeling that I’ll live in Seattle all my life, but I believe that I’ll know when the time and circumstances are right to make a change. In the meantime, I’m enjoying all that the area has to offer.
I find a lot of fulfillment in the little things these days. I enjoy writing this blog, and taking the time to be creative through areas like this. I find joy in the total unknown of tomorrow, because every day I’m asking God to lead me on the journey He wants me to take. It is sure to be an adventure.
I hope my own experience can be helpful to you if you’re going through this as well!
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