Is the term “young adult” a contradictory concept? Think about it. Youth is time-marked by energy, desire, exuberance, physical strength and attractiveness, inquisitiveness and exploration, change, creativity, idealism . . . and dependence. Adulthood is a time marked by responsibility, maturity, work, commitment, settling into one’s vocation, stable relationships, realism . . . and independence (as well as interdependence). Despite this, the concept of a “young adult” is not a contradiction. Rather, it’s a transitional phase that involves a mixture of all these elements of youth and adulthood. It’s a unique time with its own unique blessings and challenges.
And the transition doesn’t happen overnight, of course. It also doesn’t happen at the same time or speed for everyone. Hence the confusion and debates over what age range young adulthood includes.
Some look upon this period positively. In our culture, we tend to even idolize youth and think that life only has value insofar as we are young. Others look upon it more negatively. They see it as a time of immaturity and irresponsibility.
How does Scripture see this period though? Scripture tells us that, like any stage in life, young adulthood can be lived in a diligent way, a careless way . . . or in a mediocre way. It also recognizes this stage of life as an incredible opportunity. There are many examples of young adults in the Bible living out their faith maturely and even heroically.
God calls Jeremiah as a young adult (Jer 1:4-8). St. Paul commands Timothy—a young adult—to allow no one to despise his youth (1 Tim 4:12). Daniel and his companions valiantly keep the torah of God in a foreign land and are even willing to die for it (Dan 1). Joseph in the Old Testament remains chaste when tempted (Get 39:6-18) and admirably rations and dispenses grain to famine-struck peoples (Gen 41). Young David relies on the strength of God to overcome Goliath (1 Sam 17). Ruth as a young adult abandons everything she is familiar with in order to worship the true God and join the people of Israel (Ruth 1:15-18). Judith and Esther save their people by courage, prayer, and fasting. Mary, the mother of Jesus, surrenders herself completely to the plan of God as a young adult (Lk 1:38), and sings His praises (Lk 1:46-55).
Scripture also certainly highlights potential pitfalls for young adults. Proverbs warns the youth of falling in with men of violence and prostitutes (Pr 7:6-27). The book of Wisdom and the Psalms praise virtuous youth over unfaithful or lax old men (Wis 4:7-19). At the same time, the book of Kings warns youth of throwing off the wisdom of the elders because of peer pressure (1 Kgs 12:6-11). St. Paul also exhorts Titus to treat older men and women like fathers and mothers (Titus 2:1-6). Proverbs exhorts the youth to learn from their parents (Pr 1:8; 4; 6:20; 15:20;20:20; 23:22; 29:15; 30:11; 31:1). Sirach encourages us to show forbearance toward a parent lacking in understanding (Pr 3:1-16). It’s easy for young adults to fail in all these ways.
And we see these failures of young adults indeed. The rich young man that Jesus invited to follow Him was too attached to his possessions to give them up and follow Christ (Mk 10:22). James and John, the “sons of thunder” (Mk 3:17) wanted to call down fire from heaven on those who rejected Christ (Lk 9:51-56). David fell into adultery as a young adult (2 Sam 11). Many of the youth of various nations in the Old Testament found pleasure in fighting, war, and vying for power. Young adults fall into evil ways because of peer pressure and following the wrong crowd.
We could cite many examples. The point is that Scripture sheds the light of meaning on our own young adulthood. Scripture highlights the unique stage of life with its mixture of elements of youth and adulthood. The Bible highlights this stage as one with its own unique opportunities and challenges. There are many examples of virtue, but the common pitfalls are also abundantly clear. Examples of both abound.
Above all, Scripture points us to Christ who sanctified young adulthood through His own time as a young adult. Part of His time as a young adult was spent hidden in faithful work. Part of it involved His public ministry with its abundant fruitfulness. Part of it involved Jesus laying down His life for the world . . . and rising again. It is above all by looking to Jesus Himself, to Mary, and to the saints who lived young adulthood well, that we learn what it truly means to be a young adult. May He help us to live out our young adulthood in the best possible way, glorifying God, supporting each other in the faith, learning and growing, and serving others in generosity. Indeed, in young adulthood, God is forming us into the disciples He wants us to become.
-Fr. Hyacinth Marie Cordell, OP
Chaplain for St. Dominic’s Young Adults
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