4 Experiences Young People Need to Flourish

The transition from high school into adulthood is bumpier and more confusing than at any other time in history. I remember a quiet moment the night after my high school graduation thinking, “What in the world am I going to do next?” What happened included attending an expensive private college, dropping out after one semester, working at a Lumberyard, traveling to Buffalo to look at a ministry internship, turning it down, and getting hired at the church I was serving at.

Whether you are 18 or 68, you can’t predict your future. The dream is never the reality. Life unfolds so much different than anything you could have ever imagined—especially when you are following Jesus.

How will I position myself to flourish in this next season of life?

To most of us, this isn’t comforting. The tension of the unknown hovers over us like a dark cloud. It would be so much easier if God would just “direct our paths” as Proverbs 3:6 says he’s supposed to. Following Jesus would be easier if there was giant red footprints painted on the ground and neon signs flashing, “God’s Will For You, Straight Ahead.”

But think about this for a second, does your heart burst with love while you’re following an IKEA instruction manual? Probably not. If so, you might just want to keep that excitement to yourself.

God forms us as disciples not by teleporting us to a destination but by inviting us to evaluate priorities, weigh options, seek counsel, and then make decisions. Who ends up as a more emotionally intelligent, faith-filled, wise individual—the person following detailed instructions or the person making decisions?

Many children grow up in highly controlled Christian families and lose themselves when they go off college. The kids know how to be controlled by their parents, but they never matured to the point where they could walk in love. Their decisions were made for them through a rigid structure and plentiful rules, so although they “did all the right things” at home, they were robbed of the opportunity to mature that comes through decision-making. It cost them dearly.

We orchestrate our lives around a big story that we trust in. The habits and decisions of our daily life are expressions of living that story.

Thankfully, that’s not how God fathers us. He doesn’t dictate our path, but invites us to wrestle with the grand questions of our purpose. He doesn’t have us on a leash and then yank us back on track when we wander too far off course.

He doesn’t lead us by controlling our details; instead, he tells us a great story, wins our affections with his goodness, and invites us to bumble around as we find our place in his Kingdom.

So if you feel confused and run down by the question of, “What is my calling in life?” Take it down a notch. Ask a simpler question. If you are facing a tough decision or a transition right now ask yourself, “How will I position myself to flourish in this next season of life?

The prophet Jeremiah gives us a compelling picture of flourishing in any season of life:

Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

– Jeremiah 17:5-8 ESV

You will either become a shrub in the desert or a tree planted by water. The difference is where you plant yourself.

For the tree, difficult seasons still come. Times of drought come. Extreme heat comes. But because the roots are taking in life and health from the water the tree continues to be healthy in any season. In fact, it says the leaves “remain green.”

How can you plant yourself somewhere like that? How can you put yourself in a position to flourish in any season of life?

I want to suggest that there are four experiences you need to flourish after high school. Four experiences that will help you thrive in this next season of life and beyond. If you are a young adult thinking through what’s next, whatever it is—make sure these experiences are a part of it.

1. Confirm Your Faith

Before you can work out at my gym, you have to take a fundamentals class. In the course, you learn basic body movements. Most of the time, people can’t perform these simple movements correctly because of mobility issues associated with their lifestyle.

The class is to protect me from jumping into an exercise I think I understand well enough (like a clean and jerk) and then hurting others or myself through my lack of knowledge and coordination.

What if we offered more fundamental experiences like this to young Christians? When we use the word “gospel,” we can’t assume we’re all on the same page. Every year at Adelphia, the one-year discipleship college I lead, we have students come in the fall who have grown up in church their entire life and can’t articulate the gospel.

Without explicit training in the fundamentals of faith—not just hearing it but studying, writing, and then teaching it to others—our “Christianity” deteriorates into sentimentality, moralism, or pointlessly vague deism.

2. Rip Up the Script

I’m a college dropout. At the time, my parents and grandparents thought I was destroying my life. My wife always makes me qualify that story by explaining that I now have a doctorate—but that’s not the point.

The point is God brings great fruit in our lives when we rip up the script that has been handed to us. We all have some sense of the path we are supposed to take. That path may be informed by the American Dream, our parents, or even our ambitions. Notice: none of those people are vested with the authority of God.

When God speaks to us, he doesn’t shrug nonchalantly and say, “Just keep doing what seems rational. Whatever culture is telling you to do, just aim for that.”

If you’re looking to flourish in this next season of life, try detaching from the ordinary. The old business axiom is true, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”

3. Integrate Your Identity

Are you living one whole life or a bunch of fragmented lives? If you’ve ever felt that you are one person at work, another person at home, and another person with your friends—you might have fragmented identity syndrome.

One of the cures is to plant ourselves somewhere where our work, play, worship, and downtime are all with the same people. In many cases, you may even live together. In my book One Year, I refer to places like these as “short-term communities.” Others have called them, “immersion experiences.”

The benefit of an experience like this is that it serves to integrate our identity. During a short period of time, we can begin to see how God’s presence nourishes our ordinary moments. In this sort of community, our vision is expanded to grasp how every area of our life connects to God’s purposes.

4. Transition to Adulthood

Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost write, “The loss of meaningful rituals of initiation into adulthood is considered by some to be the primary cause of delinquency and malformed adult identity, especially among men, in the West.”[1]

What are they getting at? Cultural anthropologists would tell you that virtually all people groups throughout history have a rite of passage. A rite of passage is a checkpoint that someone moves through to become something different. You enter the experience as an adolescent and, upon completion, emerge as an adult.

  • In the Amish rite of Rumspringa, teens age 14-16 are invited to either leave the community or to choose baptism in the church.
  • Jewish youth experience bar/bat mitzvahs.
  • The Massai tribe (Keyna and Tanzania) requires their aspiring warriors to hunt and kill a lion with a single spear.[2]
  • The Australian word “walkabout” originates from an Aboriginal rite of passage in which young men live unassisted in isolation for six months.
  • Many Native American tribes sent their young men into the wilderness for several days of fasting and soul-searching.
  • In Europe, the gap year—a year off before pursuing higher education—is an “accepted and expected rite of passage.”[3] This seems to be increasingly true of Canadian young adults as well.

So here’s an important question: What is the rite of passage for a young adult in the United States? What is the clear transition point between being an adolescent and being an adult? Are you drawing a blank? There’s a reason for that.

Hirsch and Frost argue that the lack of a defined experience to transition adolescents to adulthood is a primary cause of dysfunction in our country. This trend is on display on a national level.

The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have written at length on “delayed adulthood” and “prolonged adolescence.” Young men and young women are delaying the key sociological tasks that define adulthood longer than ever before.

What are they doing instead? Well the cultural path to mature adulthood is to go to college, experiment, and stay just sober enough that you can get your degree. The less acceptable (but frighteningly popular) option is to live in your parent’s basement as a full-time video game indulger, part-time Taco Bell employee.

Also, you have a band and you’re currently lining up a big-time tour (traveling in your car). Also, you are 29 years old. We aren’t producing emotionally mature, spiritually vibrant adults if the critical transition moment is a landmark birthday or sending someone off to college. It's not enough.

Poised to Flourish

Leaders, how will you help the young people in your ministry prepare to flourish? To flourish, they need to confirm their faith, rip up the script, integrate their identity, and transition to adulthood. Whether you create these experiences or farm them out to established ministries, help your young people in this process.

Aspiring adults, you are only young once, but you can be immature forever. Don’t let that be you! How will you position yourself to flourish in this next season of life and beyond? Plant yourself well. Plant yourself by the stream. Plant yourself in space that will offer these critical experiences. That’s the beginning of flourishing for the rest of your life.

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[1] The Faith of Leap, p57
[2] http://list25.com/25-crazy-rites-of-passage/
[3] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/parenting/gap-year-why-your-kid-shouldnt-go-to-school-in-the-fall/article570898/

Dr. Sean Post leads a one-year discipleship experience for young adults called Adelphia. He has authored three books. His great joys in life are spending time with his wife and three kids, eating great food, and CrossFit.