David Brooks wrote about “The Odyssey Years” in the New York Times recently. He describes the time between adolescence and adulthood. A period when people are not married and they’re not settled on a career. A time when twenty-somethings are not going to church, but they’re spiritually longing.
I agree that adults born after 1970 have found their lives unsettled. With the combination of the high cost of housing, the massive school debts, and stagnant wages, they have economic realities that no other generation in our country has had to deal with. Too many of them have no health insurance, and they’re the first to be downsized. I often described myself and my friends as nomadic, due to the unsettled nature of our lives.
But here’s the sticking point, for me. So often, when people of other generations try to describe twenty-somethings, they think of them as something less than adults. And now they’ve gone as far as creating a separate life phase for them. It’s as if a mortgage and a marriage certificate makes a person an adult.
I’ve noticed this, over and over again, in our mainline churches. We talk about “Youth and Young Adults” and then we define YA’s as anyone under forty-five. They toss the thirteen year olds and forty-four year olds into the same pile.
Churches would be wise to guard against the notion of treating twenty year olds as anything less than who they are: adults. Bill-paying, taxable, wise, interesting, responsible adults.
As a society, I’m afraid we dismiss the situation of adults in their twenties and thirties when we think of them as something less than full-grown. And, along with it, I worry that we wash our hands of them. Then their unsettled lives become a developmental stage, instead of a societal crisis.
Yet, if we can begin to understand the economic and social situations of young adults, we can begin to find ways to alleviate some of the pressure of a new generation.