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Jun 09 2013

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Faith lessons in unemployment

How does it feel to be laid off? If you can’t answer that question yourself, there’s a good chance you know someone who can.

Countless numbers of people in our community understand what it’s like to be unexpectedly unemployed… including me. After two decades of pastoral ministry I went to work for a para-church organization in 1997. I enjoyed the change of pace. What is more, I loved my work.

But the financial downturn in the economy following September 11th took its toll. I was let go without any notice. I tried to process my anger and emotional pain in the pages of my journal. When you lose your job, you feel like Job. It seems you’ve lost it all. The world looks gray and colorless and tastes like bitter gall.

You seek the Lord, but he won’t speak. You lose your will to pray. And when your “good” friends try to help, you wish they’d go away. Quite insecure, you doubt your worth. You try in vain to hope. You feel alone. You feel afraid (without the means to cope). It’s so unfair to be laid off. You gave your heart and soul. While others loafed, you sacrificed to reach your boss’s goal. Your sleep declines. Your bills add up. Resentment stays the same.

You don’t know what or who to call. You don’t know where to aim. No business card. No payroll check. You have no place to go. Without a job in an upwardly mobile suburb like Naperville Illinois, you’re just a big “zero.”

What made my episode seem all the more frightening was the monster I felt breathing down my neck. His name was Midlife. I just had my fiftieth birthday. At 50, a guy’s supposed to be at the top of his game, but there I was feeling like I was stuck in the penalty box. I had one daughter in college and one about to be. I had a hefty mortgage payment and was suddenly responsible for my own health insurance.

I was uptight and down in the dumps. Needless to say, my prayer life improved. So did my discipline of reading Scripture.

I re-read the Biblical account of Job. His pain far exceeded the trauma associated with losing a job. I was impressed by what I read. Having lost his business, his family and his health, this Old Testament prophet offered me a perspective worthy of being heeded.

“He (God) knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come out like gold” (Job 23:10).

Those ancient words reminded me that God is capable of redeeming the hardships that come our way. I determined God desired my unemployment to be a crucible in which my “mettle” would be tested and my ability to trust Him measured.

Although I’d known it before, my journey into joblessness caused me to remember that it’s not until you lose something you’ve taken for granted that you fully appreciate how good you had it. At the same time, you realize that what seemed so important is not all that valuable when compared to what can’t be replaced. In short, those for whom you bring home the bacon are far more important than the means by which you do it. As a result, I took on several part time jobs.

Picking up my pen, I added a postscript to my journal entry.

“Deep in my heart I know I’m more than a zero. The Lord thinks I’m a “10.” My worth to him does not consist in what I do (or when). He’s gifted me and knows my skills. He loves me as I am. And so, from Job, I’ll take my cues and trust God’s unseen plan.”

It took many months, but I did find another full-time position. And looking back on my adventure in being unemployed, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

 

By Greg Asimakoupoulos

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