Time Magazine ran an article earlier this year showing that losing your job can have worse effects on your mental health than divorce or the death of a spouse. That’s pretty big. The disruption to your inner life, not to mention your external life, can probably best be described as something of an earthquake.
My first reaction to being told was shock. A feeling of hot anxiety worked its way from my abdomen up to my face as I was confronted with the reality of my life being turned upside down.
I’d known of this happening before of course, both in the organisation I worked for and in others. We all know it happens all the time. I was determined to stay rational, and not let my emotions get the better of me.
Over the next few days and weeks, as the rawness started to dissipate, I began to see this as an opportunity to pursue what I really wanted to do: write for a living. I have a conviction that Jesus is relevant to all of life and I want to tell that to the the world.
People at work and elsewhere were great. When you go through a very tough time, you soon see how much your friends really care.
A common question people asked me was how I was feeling. Truth be told, I had mixed feelings. I was sad, disappointed (not angry or bitter; I probably felt those feelings for a total of about a minute) at the seeming lack of thought that had gone into the decision to make my role redundant, but also excited about new possibilities.
When you’re in a job for a reasonable amount of time and you’re enjoying it to some degree, you don’t tend to think about other possibilities in life. Richard Rohr says that until our current way of living isn’t working for us anymore, we will never change. Whilst he said that in relation to destructive habits and addictions in our lives, I’ve found it to be true of my work situation. If I hadn’t lost my job, I would never have gone out to pursue freelance writing with the energy that I have in the last couple of months.
Life is short. Most of you reading this article will get to the end of your lives never having pursued your God-given dreams and talents. That may sound harsh, but it’s true. It’s been true of me. It’s the times in my life that have been the toughest that have been when I’ve grown the most and lived the kind of life that I may not have otherwise. Paul affirms this in Romans 5:3-4. It’s why he says what is just ridiculous to our comfort-seeking Western ears: we glory in our sufferings. If Paul said that in many of our churches today, we would have him diagnosed with extremely low self-esteem and send him off to the nearest Christian counselor!
Good can indeed come out of suffering. Martin Luther King talked a lot about suffering being redemptive, about it having meaning and a greater purpose. But it can also be a time when pat answers are sincerely put to you by well-meaning friends. This is something else I have experienced.
While people have been great during the last few months, a few people came out with the old line that “God has something better for you”. To be honest, I struggle with that. It’s not that I don’t believe it; it’s that I don’t believe it in the sense that most Christians mean it when they say it. It is nearly always meant in the sense that God will find you another job that will be better than what you have now. It is the “blessing” theology that borders on prosperity teaching. For instance, try telling the mothers of the 19,000 children who die every day from poverty-related diseases that God has something better in store for them. They will rightly align you with Job’s comforters.
Having said that, most people didn’t say such things; they were just there for me. And even the people who did say them were very supportive.
So, what has happened since then? Well, it turns out that God did indeed have something better for me (O me of little faith!). I’ve been offered (and have accepted) a job at a small Christian aid and development organisation. I’ll be doing what I have been doing at my current job (even though it was made redundant, I haven’t left at the time of writing), that is, doing theology in the form of creating Christian resources and speaking to churches about the Christian mandate to do justice. And, as it’s a part-time role, it frees me up to spend the rest of my week pursuing my freelancing, for which some doors are starting to open.
As well as that, I did have a strange sense of God’s comfort after I applied for the job. Do you ever have those strange promptings or senses of comfort which seem to come out of nowhere? I had that before I was offered an interview. It was a quiet sense that my job situation has been dealt with. It wasn’t an arrogance that I’ve got this job in the bag, and some may call it just a confidence that I would get the job. But for me it was something deeper. And the fact that I got the job just affirms to me that something else was going on than just a confidence that my application would be successful.
As I think about how things have turned out, I sometimes wonder why God has been so good to me. The human question is to ask what I have done to deserve this. But that question doesn’t acknowledge the very character of God: grace. We simply don’t have to do anything to get the most generous gifts from an outrageously generous God.
In a sense, I can relate to Peter when Jesus allowed him to catch the huge amount of fish by the sea of Galilee. Go away from me Lord, I am a sinful man. There it is again. I don’t deserve your generosity. When I prayed the night after receiving my job offer, the only response I could think of was “thank you.” It seemed so pathetically unworthy as a response. What does it say about humanity that when you have been given the world, all you can say is “thanks,” heartfelt though it is? I am reminded of the Psalmist who says “when I look at your heavens, the work of your hands, what are human beings that you are mindful of them…yet you have crowned them with glory and honour.”
We can never give adequate thanks to God for the things he has bestowed on us. But God doesn’t ask that of us. We are just to be grateful recipients of his grace, and then share that grace with the world.
So, as far as my working life goes, the sun is shining and the sky is blue again. I still have mixed feelings. When I think about leaving my current job I feel sad. Spending almost a third of your life in a place you love, and then leaving it, has a huge impact on you. But I also feel lighter. I’m going to a job I”m looking forward to and I have the opportunity to pursue my dream.
God is good. That’s a cliche. But a cliche is a cliche because it’s true. Grace is real. That’s not so much of a cliche, but it should be. I am just a little bit closer to relating to those unbelievably counter-cultural words of the Letter of James: “consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds.”
Now that my work life has been sorted out for this season, God help me to face whatever my next trial is with the attitude of Paul, the Psalmist and James. And of course Jesus, who faced trials we will never experience, but said, “not mine, but your will be done.” May God give me the strength to follow in those hallowed footsteps, no matter what the outcome might be.