I work a lot with graduate students and some clients who are in the “emerging adult” stage (defined as approximately 18-29). Many of them feel lost in their spiritual journey and are experiencing significant struggles. But this is not the whole picture. A significant number of emerging adults are spiritually mature for their age/stage and growing a lot during this time in their lives. This, in part, inspired a current, ongoing study I am conducting of spiritual exemplars in the emerging adult stage.
I would like to offer a few preliminary observations from this study to the emerging adults who feel lost on their spiritual journey, and invite those of you who are older leaders to “listen” in. These observations come from your peers—young adults who were nominated by mentors as spiritual exemplars for this study. While these young adults have their own struggles, I hope the common themes emerging from their vibrant spiritual lives will provide encouragement and direction for your spiritual journey.
These young adults feel they have been found by God, and subsequently experience spiritual transformation. Spiritual transformation for them is all about relationships and I think that resonates deeply with Scripture and with psychology. They pursue a deep connection with God in their everyday relationships with friends, mentors, and their communities.
1. Relationships with Friends: The young adult exemplars we interviewed seek spiritual friendships for encouragement and accountability. They realize the importance of good friendships, and the impact they have on their values. They often pray about their friendships. They choose their friends, in part, based on their spiritual life. As they have gotten older, these emerging adults find themselves focusing on deepening a few close friendships.
2. Relationships with Mentors: These young adults reported that mentors were and are very influential in their spiritual development. For some, particularly those who came from unhealthy families, these mentors have been like second parents to them. They conveyed the idea that they wouldn’t be where they are today without these mentors—that these mentors changed their life direction completely. They experience God’s love through these mentors in very concrete ways. They don’t feel they made this experience of love happen through their own effort or merit; instead, they feel God found them. By gradually opening themselves to God’s love as expressed by their mentors, they are being loved into loving. Many of these young adults also came to realize that guidance comes more easily in the context of ongoing relationships, and so they are intentional about pursuing contact with their mentors.
3. Relationships in Community: These young adults talked about becoming increasingly aware of the impact their relational environment has on their spiritual life. They realize that the values of their communities shape their own, for better or worse, and this informs their decisions about how and how much they connect with various groups.
So, your peers would encourage you to find friends, mentors, and a community who want to invest in you, and invest in them. When God finds you, and He will, open your heart just a little bit more, and allow yourself to be loved into loving.