Many people have heard about the mid-life crisis, but research has begun to show that many people in their mid-20s to early-30s also experience what they are calling a quarter-life crisis (For more on that read this article published in The Guardian from May 2011). From speaking with my own friends and colleagues, I can say that much of this anxiety seems to focus around people who have been students for the majority of their lives finally graduating with their degrees and being thrown into the work force, with astounding amounts of student debt, no insurance, and praying that all of the hard work they have done over the past few years might find them a job. Likewise, relationships of all forms, especially a breakup or loss of close friends / friends moving apart can feed into feelings of loneliness and unhappiness, which are all factors that can lead to a quarter-life crisis. I can tell you from my own experience that the quarter-life crisis is a very, very real thing.
Now, at this point in my life, I am months away from turning 27 years old. Within the past year, I have graduated from my dual-degree Masters program, accepted a new job, moved all of my stuff from Atlanta, Georgia back to my hometown in North Carolina, just to purge and pack-up once more and move 1,600 miles to my current home in Wyoming to begin my call to be an Associate Pastor of Youth and Young Adult ministries. I have also experienced a significant break-up during this time. One would think that all of that might necessitate a crisis of identity, and while I will say that it has had its difficult moments, in all honesty it has been refreshing to experience a new place, get to meet new people, and delve into my call. No. My quarter-life crisis for the most part occurred a few years ago, during one of the most trying times of my life, seminary.
Many people will attest to the intensity of seminary studies, or I would argue most Masters programs. Seminary just has that added level of challenging your own faith, and in many ways breaking it down before helping you put it all back together again so you can go out and hopefully preach and teach the gospel. When I initially entered into seminary, I was excited. Excited to be in a truly large city for the first time in my life, excited to study, excited to see where God was going to lead me. And then it all started. As I was packing up to leave, preparing for this new adventure that would be seminary and life in Atlanta, I had more than one person tell me that if I did not find a man to marry while I was in seminary I should just give up and be content with being single the rest of my life. Now, people who know me best know that while I am still very much a feminist and believe in achieving and focusing on my own career goals, I have always loved children and have always wanted to find my soulmate and have a family of my own. Being told at 22 years old that the next four years of my life were my last true chance at finding love because after that I would be “undesireable” was a bit of a shock and ultimately sent me into a panic. If I don’t find the right man now, especially in the big city and especially among a fine group of seminary gentlemen, I am destined to be forever alone. Now, we all know that’s not true and that I still have plenty of time to fall in love and for the right man to come along so that we can start a family together, but this almost desperation to find the right man led to my being and staying in relationships that were in many ways not the least bit healthy, including emotionally and verbally abusive. But I stayed because I just knew they might be my last chance at that perfect stereotypical American family. Praise the Lord that I have finally learned from those mistakes, and though I admittedly still struggle from time to time seeing so many friends and family members getting engaged, married, and having children, I have decided that it truly is better to wait until the absolute right man comes along and sweeps me off my feet instead of settling and being unhappy for the rest of my life.
Just as I struggled with romantic relationships in seminary, there were aspects of community life and living on a very small campus that caused my quarter-life crisis. I was studying at a seminary, training to be a Christian pastor, teacher, and preacher, and instead it oftentimes felt like I was re-living middle school or the movie Mean Girls. Cliques formed, people were excluded, some people were very open about their willingness to make life a living hell for others on campus, and overtly racist incidents occurred to a number of dear friends. This was a Christian community y’all, and that’s where I struggled. How could people who were studying to be ministers be so incredibly hateful toward one another? Understandably, we’re human and as a theologian I understand that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God, and I admittedly pushed a few people away because I was not sure if I could trust them. However, there were many times that I felt like giving up and getting out of there altogether. It made complete sense to me why many people no longer wanted to be affiliated with organized religion because the hypocrisy that I was witnessing in this so-called beloved community of Christians was absolutely heart and gut-wrenching.
Fortunately, for the beginning of my fourth and final year of seminary, I was accepted to study abroad for a semester in Cambridge, England. The space and time away and the absolutely brilliant friends I made, gave me time to recharge my own batteries for that final spring push toward graduation back in Atlanta, and it also helped me reconnect with one of my favorite literary characters, Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Being abroad, visiting so many of the places that Austen would have know, though a bit more modern, reminded me that even though society puts all sorts of expectations upon us, especially women, we must stay true to our own hearts and do what we believe is right. Lizzy never settled. Though she was meant to marry for the sake of her family, Elizabeth followed her heart and ended up finding the love of her life in Mr. Darcy. Likewise, she read and wrote all of the time to better her own mind and education, activities which I have found to be some of the most grounding for me now that I am out of school. And just as Lizzy reminded me to be fiercely independent and to fight for the things I believe in and want in life, her elder sister Jane, also reminded me that kindness is the best way to overcome any who would seek to look down upon you.
Throughout it all, aside from drawing personal strength from Elizabeth Bennet, I am thankful to the close friends who carried me through my tough time of trying to figure out what was going on in my life. These were the women and men who consistently reminded me that I am above all else a beloved and beautiful child of God, the people who listened to my hurts, who held me when I cried, and by golly helped me to find things to laugh about. These are the people who give me hope for the future, the future of the church as they are amazing Christians and are each going to be brilliant and loving church leaders, and the future of the world as they continue to shape their world in love and use their privilege to stand up to the injustices that they see. I could not have made it through without them, and I pray that each person who goes through a crisis, whether it be quarter-life, mid-life, or general life crisis is able to find yourself a squad of people who will continually uplift and encourage you, when you’re struggling to do that for yourself. I’ve found that it’s those friendships that are the most honest, open, real, loving, and everlasting and for which I am the most grateful. Though my life may not have ended up where I thought it would thus far, I can say that the experiences that I have had have continued to shape and mold me into the minister, friend, and person that I am today, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Live, Love, Laugh,