A Timeless Winning Trifecta for Every Age

Editors' Note: This article is part of the Patheos Public Square on the Faith and Aging. Read other perspectives here.

There's a funky kind of ageism afoot in our culture. Older generations take issue with the behavior patterns of twenty-somethings who seem to them to be dragging their feet on their way to adulthood. Get on with it! summarizes the elders' charge. I confess that some years ago I felt this critical inclination toward my own twenty-somethings.

It is true that over the last dozen years or so social psychologists have identified a new life stage termed "emerging adulthood," which defines to older generations an in-between state of delayed maturity, that is, declining to fully embrace the realities and responsibilities that come along with settled adulthood. We have fully accepted the stage of adolescence for the teen years, but forget that this construct wasn't culturally acknowledged until the early 20th century. Prior to that children took on adult responsibilities as soon as possible.

Judging this newest development as though my generational experience defines the norm repeats a simple mistake that my parents' generation made about the emerging boomers in the '60s. Context matters. We grew up in a world that was very different from theirs. And my children grew up in a culture that was different from mine. I see that more clearly today and have acquired patience and appreciation for the work emerging adulthood seems to require.

Their experience is no worse or better, just different. The picture they see of their world and their future at the end of high school is different than what I saw.

And what about their spiritual life? It would seem this too falls into a season of extended consideration. I suspect this accounts in part for what has come to be known as "spiritual but not religious," declining to claim an ordered spiritual pattern and people. If they do show up at church, they come with questions, not settled opinions.

Boomers were often dubbed "seekers." That doesn't exactly describe today's twenty-somethings. They are both less religiously encumbered and motivated, which seems to mimic their tendency to take their time figuring out life direction, education, and romantic commitment. But this process doesn't make them any less susceptible to finally desiring lives that matter, ultimately embracing those values that foster loving community and deep purpose.

On All Saints Day I happened to be in conversation with two young men in their mid thirties, the cusp of the millennial generation. One has an eighteen-month-old daughter. He grew up in a Christian household, but does not currently identify religiously. He's a terrific father, and, along with his friend, thoughtful and involved in building useful lives with excellent values.

In an off-hand way he mentioned how a couple of years ago he would have been in full recovery mode from Halloween festivities. With a chuckle he added that that now seemed like another lifetime. By this I understood he had made a maturational leap; he was now involved with matters of an entirely different order of magnitude. This led us into a conversation about authentic love, how it changes and dignifies our lives and sets us on a life course. Though not explicitly so, it was as fine a conversation on the essential meaning of my faith as any I have had in church.

When the Apostle Paul stipulates that faith, hope, and love abide, and the greatest of these is love, that does not diminish the importance of faith and hope. Indeed, they seem the trifecta undergirding a life well lived. I suspect that some of these later arriving adults will discover that authentic love requires the services of faith and hope, and it's a very good thing to name and claim this, which is what church is for.

As each year gives way to the next we inevitably discover that every life stage presents the conundrum of letting one thing go in order to take on the new thing.

Currently I'm involved in that process at another of the life stages. Without faith and hope I would find it difficult to manage the letting go and taking on. I'd be more inclined to hang on for dear life right where I am, or wallow in depressive self-pity. Experience reveals that a new day generally requires a new kind of work that's reliant on faith and hope, and, oh yes, love.