Our 20s can look very different from person to person.
Some of us have children, others don’t; some are single, others married, some divorced, some widowed. Some of us will have high-flying careers, while others will be studying or stay-at-home-mums. Many of our generation travel and others are homebodies. Some of us live at home, others rent and a few fortunate ones buy. These are just a few of the varied experiences we will have as 20-somethings.
While these years can be among the happiest and most exciting of our lives, for many of us they can also bring some pretty serious disappointments, unfulfilled hopes and challenges to our faith.
We grow up being asked: “What do you want to be when you are older?” We have all these hopes and expectations about the jobs we’d like to do, if we will marry, how many children we will have. We are taught, to a certain extent, to believe that we will get to decide how every detail of our lives works out.
But then we grow up. We get to our 20s, and very often this is when we start to realise that rent needs to be paid and children need to be fed and that in spite of internet dating and matchmaker friends, it really is quite hard to find the person you want to marry. We start to lose some of the dreams, optimism and even self-belief we may have had in our teens.
This all seems a little depressing on the face of it, and yet there is something formative about it too.
My husband and I married young and hopeful and the big disappointment of our 20s has been our unexplained infertility. For more than half our marriage we have been ‘trying for children’. After a recent round of treatment, we finally had the news we had been praying for: we were pregnant! Two weeks later, we found out that the pregnancy was ectopic and I was rushed in for surgery to remove it.
When I was younger and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I answered whimsically, as the mood took me. My most common aspirations were to be an actress, a vet, an archaeologist or an interior designer. Hmm. Not a teaching assistant, then. Nor a writer. No, I have ended up on a different path, and yet I have a growing feeling that it is the right one.
Psalm 16:11, The Message version: “Ever since you took my hand, I’m on the right path.”
Sometimes, in the words of John 21:18, Jesus leads us where we don’t want to go. Sometimes, he takes us somewhere downright unanticipated. We want to plan our lives like a route on a map – At this age I will marry. At this age, I will have my first child. At this age, I will have this success. But adventures don’t happen when we plan every minute of a journey, and growth often comes from the challenges we encounter.
The years that we have been trying for children have been some of the most heart-wrenching of my life. I have known the full truth of that Proverb (13:12), hope deferred makes the heart sick. I will never deny the grief that hope deferred has caused and continues to cause. Yet, I have also learnt many things about God, other people and myself. I have learnt – not just academically, but through real, visceral experience – that God is close to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34: 18), that God places the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6) and that those who sow in tears will reap in joy (Psalm 126:5). I’ve learnt to be watchful and thankful (Colossians 4: 2), to be sensitive and compassionate, to prioritise the small and simple things.
God is the One who works out the details of our lives and in that well-used Narnian adage: “He is good, but He is not tame.” Accepting the truth that we can’t train Him to act as we want when we want, may just be one of the greatest lessons our 20s will bring us.