Young Millennials, Old Gen Zers and Discerning God’s Will
“How do I figure out what God wants me to do with my life?”
That’s a good question, and it is one I was asked to answer very recently.
Every Tuesday night I have the privilege of meeting with a small group of college students for Bible study. All three of the young men in the group are upperclassmen. They are wrapping up their studies, preparing their resumes, and thinking carefully about their next step in life.
Their peers are signing contracts with business firms, and these students are beginning to worry that they might not secure a job before graduation. And, of course, they are asking whether or not their first job after college will be in their chosen field of study. My young friends are reflecting on their choices and the options that are open to them, and they’re asking, “Where is God in all of this?”
I’ve worked with young people for twenty years. In late adolescence and early adulthood I have observed a tremendous amount of anxiety among my students, particularly surrounding questions about career, vocation, and work. Where does it come from? I’ve observed three major sources.
First, young people have ideas about adulthood and when it begins, and most students generally understand that they are expected to get a job and go out on their own. This is the idealized progression from child, to teen, to independent adulthood. And because they’ve been asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” more than they could count, they assume that this will be the time in which they will arrive at the definitive answer.
When this idea is coupled with the notion of God’s will, young people often worry that they will miss it--or that they have missed it--especially if they have yet to discover a field of interest that aligns with their gifts, talents, and abilities. If it doesn’t appear as though a job is going to emerge immediately following graduation, these students believe their life is going off-script.
Second, there is anxiety stemming from the fact they or their parents have invested financially in further education. As graduation nears, these students believe it is time to prove they were “worth it.” If they finish school and there is not an immediate financial return, students worry their education has been a waste, when nothing could be further than the truth.
Third, young people assume they must live up to parent expectations about who they have become after college, and this yields anxiety. These worries often deal with status. A parent may have never said that their child “must” demonstrate this or that form of success after graduation, but the student feels it. They don’t want to let their parent or guardian down.
As a result, my student friends believe they must have it all figured out by graduation. They feel pressure to discern the will of God specifically for them with regard to their job. And while it is important for each person to pray, listen, and seek a job that fits their gifts, talents, and abilities, it is often the case that more than one job possibility is an option.
Because of this, I often counsel young Millennials and older Gen Zers to focus on God’s general will, the things that we know God has called them to as disciples of Jesus Christ. I urge them to seek to grow in faith, loving their neighbor, serving, and training their mind in service to God. If they don’t immediately find a “perfect” job, I push them to find a job with a sustainable income, bless those around them, and listen to God speak through their life. As they seek God generally, along the way it is often the case that God will reveal matters more specifically with regard to how they can best serve in the kingdom.
Church leaders often encourage young people to pray, read the Bible, and seek counsel in discerning God’s will. Those practices continue to be wise. But it is also important for church leaders to help remove some of the pressure from young Millennials and older Gen Zers, to equip them with a theology that helps them gain resilience and to successfully handle uncertainty, and to acknowledge the anxiety they feel as normal.
This kind of loving support might not remove all anxiety. Graduation is still right around the corner. Decisions will need to be made. Young people will need to mature and learn from their experiences. But God is faithful. If you’re a church leader, you can attest to that.