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The Spiritual Uses of Unemployment

God Is in Control

I never really thought it would happen to me. Unemployment always seemed to be someone else’s problem.

When the economy got shaky and some of my friends in technology or business got laid off, I would sometimes joke that even if my career—Christian journalism—was not lucrative, at least it was stable. Now the joke, as it were, is on me.

On May 19, which will forever live in my memory as “Black Tuesday,” my bosses called me into an office to give me the news. I had just finished the most productive year of my career and had been on a track of acquiring more and more responsibility and producing more and more for my employer.

But as I walked in, one of my superiors was fighting back tears, the other glum. Because of economic conditions, my job was being discontinued. As I tried to process what was happening through my sudden mental numbness, it began to sink in that I, my wife of 22 years, and my three children were now on our own.

There would be no office, no salary, no insurance (at least, no affordable insurance), no bylines, no vacations, no interesting discussions of cultural events and trends, and no deadlines (except those relating to severance, insurance, retirement funds, and the like).

Paradoxically, I have discovered that while holding a job is busy, life as a “recently employed” person is much busier. My work now is never done, and it comes at me from all sides. Besides tending to issues of severance, unemployment insurance, and COBRA, I’m busy polishing my C.V., sending faxes, alerting friends and members of my network of my new status, applying for jobs, or (more likely) trying to find out whether there are any jobs to apply for. It’s exhausting, no doubt worsened by the disorientation and depression that are natural parts of the grieving process you must walk through.

Unemployment is humbling, as you pray “Give us this day our daily bread” with renewed vigor. Suddenly things like salary, career fit, and responsibility become secondary to practical matters like location and benefits. You’ll take a long look at a position you never would have considered before, if only to report something positive to your sighing wife.

After less than two weeks of converting my thinking from being a “productive member of society” to someone who looks to government and private largesse to survive, I’m in no sense an expert on joblessness (and hope never to become one). But as a follower of Jesus Christ, I do see the spiritual value of this experience. Here are some of the lessons I am learning. They’re helping me get through each day, and perhaps they will help you, too.

1. It’s okay as a Christian to acknowledge that unemployment stinks.
And it does—everything from the dehumanizing application process of the state unemployment office to the sudden, drastic budget cuts to the well-meaning comments of friends who, trying to share your burden, only discourage you more.

2. God is in control, and He brought this stinky situation into our lives for a reason.
Joseph said to the brothers who sold him into slavery that “what you meant for evil God meant for good.” God redeems every circumstance for his children—even unemployment. He has a good purpose in this, and I can move ahead with confidence—not in myself, but in him and his goodness.

3. My desire is to respond to this new chapter of my life like a Christian.
What difference does Jesus Christ make when the chips are down? Can people see any difference in me, or am I just like everyone else? Am I only a fair-weather follower, or am I willing to follow Him wherever He leads—even to the unemployment line? I’ve been writing about faith in one way or another for a long time. Now it’s time to start living it. I recall something that the late Tony Snow discovered when he battled cancer. He got a surge of excitement when he realized, “You have been called.” Unemployment, just like employment, is a calling.

4. I have decided not to become angry or bitter.
That goes for those who decided to let me go, those who let me down in the job search, or God, who allowed this all to happen. Anger and bitterness are misplaced responses when you understand that when “the worst thing that could happen” happens, God is still there.

5. Somewhat in contradiction to No. 4, unemployment, as bad as it is (and it is bad), is far from the worst thing that could happen to you.
Right off the top of my head, I can think of two things that are worse: death and divorce. By God’s grace, neither of those things has visited our home, so I can honestly count myself way ahead. While God could allow those things, too, and still be a good God, He has not, and I am thankful.

6. I am learning that none of the good gifts I have received belongs to me, and God is well within His rights to take them back.
When He decides it’s time to do so, there’s much less pain if we offer them up willingly rather than cling tightly. In His own time, our loving God will have them anyway.

7. This suffering is building my character and preparing me to stand with others who suffer.
The illusion of self-sufficiency is being quickly dissipated, and that’s okay. God comforts me in my affliction so that I can comfort those in their affliction (2 Corinthians 1:4).

8. Our family has been blessed by the kindness and thoughtfulness of many others.
Our daughter’s music instructor graciously waived the fee so she could be in a garage orchestra. A college student in the neighborhood who cuts our grass offered to continue even though we cannot afford to pay him every week. Friends across the street are picking up low-cost groceries for us at their church. Another friend is buying more memory for our ailing computer. Others are praying for us and telling us about job possibilities. One is helping my wife with her resume. While it is no fun to be in this position, we are grateful for the kindness made possible because of our extremity.

9. I recall that I will be rewarded for my faithful obedience as I traverse this valley of gloom.
The reward may not be a better job with higher pay (though it just might). God can do anything, and I pray He will be glorified by changing my circumstances for the better. If He does, praise His goodness; but if He doesn’t, praise His goodness.

The reward may simply be more of Him, and that will be enough, both now and in the future. As Romans 8:18 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Amen.

Stan Guthrie lost his job at Christianity Today International in May, along with 30 other company employees. Now a CT editor at large, he is pursuing a freelance career consisting of writing, editing, speaking, and teaching. He and his wife, Christine, and their three children live near Chicago.


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