When I was in my twenties, it felt like I was riding wild horses, and I was hoping I didn’t go over a cliff.” That’s how singer/songwriter Chaka Khan has described what, for many of us, is the most turbulent decade of our lives. Young adulthood is when we aim for the stars and fall splat in the mud. It’s the time when we reach for love and sometimes find heartbreak instead (or in addition). Musicians and writers often talk about needing to “find their voice,” and young adulthood is the time when we make that attempt for the first time, trading in childhood dreams and fears and postures for new ambitions and anxieties and performances.
The book you hold in your hands is born out of intimate familiarity with this wondrous and stress-inducing process. Austin Gohn has been unusually attentive to his own journey through his twenties. Plus, in his role as a pastor, he’s helped shepherd others along the same road. He hasn’t just survived or coasted through young adulthood on autopilot; he’s paid attention to it, noticing its strangeness, its poignancy and complexity—and the way it yields gifts and opportunities despite its challenges.
More importantly, though, Austin hasn’t only relied on his powers of observation to write about the quest to live well as a young adult. He’s looked for trailblazers who have already completed their pilgrimage through young adulthood and can offer hard-won wisdom as a result. The primary pilgrim Austin points to in A Restless Age is Augustine of Hippo, the fourth-century Christian bishop who wrote a kind of prayerful autobiography about how God found him in his twenties and turned him into a believer. You may not think an ancient saint would have much to say that would help navigate a world with Snapchat and Porn-hub, but A Restless Age will convince you otherwise. This book shows how Augustine’s self-examination in his book the Confessions can still speak across the gulf of seventeen centuries. While he may not have had the option of Internet dating, Augustine knew the kinds of longings and phobias that lurk in every human heart, regardless of era or culture.
Although it’s been almost a decade since I exited my twenties, I still recall with mingled happiness and grief my trip through those trying, stretching, enlivening years. I started to question the certainties of my childhood faith. I fell in love for the first time and lost my best friend. I moved away from home and tried to forge a new identity. Through it all, I never lost my hunger to find God—or to be found by Him. I wish I had had A Restless Age to read during those years, not only for its witty diagnoses of twentysomething angst and its “Oh, that’s so true!” insights into what makes young adults tick but also for its generous, compelling introduction to a saint who could have helped me hold onto faith and maybe even thrive.
Whether you’re just embarking on the path of young adulthood or you’re in the middle of your hike wondering how to keep going or you’re looking back with regrets as well as gratitude, I’ll say about this book what Augustine heard a child’s voice singing so many years ago in a garden far away: “Pick it up! Read it!” Your life, like Augustine’s, might just be changed if you do.
Wesley Hill (PhD, MA Durham University, UK; BA, Wheaton College, IL) is assistant professor of biblical studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. He is the author of Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, Paul and the Trinity: Persons, Relations, and the Pauline Letters, and Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian. In 2014, Christianity Today included him in a list of "33 Under 33" Christian leaders shaping the next generation of ministry. Learn more at wesleyhill.tumblr.com.