When was the last time you were introduced to someone? Have you ever noticed what you do for work is inevitably brought up? Our occupation, whether we like it or not, so often defines us. I am a teacher. I’m a plumber. It puts us in a box. It also gives us a purpose or role. We are providers. But what happens when this is taken away?
Unemployed. No one wants to hear this word. No one wants to be associated with it. But it’s a word affecting many in our society, including myself. I have been looking for work for a long time now, so I know first-hand what it is like. And I’m not alone. Recently I was speaking to a Jesus follower who was struggling with medical issues and perceived loss of skills during his unemployment.
Three words come to mind when I think about unemployment.
Self-dependence is one of the values of our society. Yet by definition, this is not something the unemployed posses. I have a wife and children but I offer little to my family. We’re fortunate but even as we struggle to ‘keep our heads above water,’ I rely on others. I can’t meet that macho instinct to be the provider. Nor do I have the power to get myself out of an endless cycle of fruitless job hunting.
As humans, we long to find purpose. In many cases, our occupation helps fulfill this. The work itself may bring purpose. But often we find purpose knowing we can care for our loved ones. We can afford food, a place to live, etc. We can contribute to helping others. Workplaces can even become places where we live out our faith. Unemployment strips this away.
As someone who has been unemployed for a while, I wake up sometimes wondering what the day will bring. Often I don’t have high hopes. In the world of job searching, rejection has become a friend, an ally. ‘Your application is unsuccessful’ says you’ve been noticed. In a strange way, this is encouraging – a rare acknowledgment you exist. More often job applications are met with silence. Does anyone even notice you?
When rejection is ever present, how can hope exist?
I’m aware the picture I’ve painted is bleak. Is it any wonder that the long term unemployed struggle with their identity and depression? But as a Jesus follower I can’t shake the trust I have in God. He is my provider. I fully believe my situation has purpose because I know God is with me. And he is faithful. Unexpected opportunities have fallen in our laps. There are unexpected gifts that meet sudden financial needs – like when I had an unplanned opportunity to speak which almost exactly covered the cost for some dental work. And God has brought people into our lives that remind us that he is on our side.
Yes, unemployment is difficult but God is there, and he is faithful. And, he is able to take any situation and create good.
The Gospel of the Unemployed
These 3 words – helpless, hopeless, and trust – pretty much sum up the Christian life. To follow Jesus in the everyday stuff of life is to embrace these words. It is to realise our best attempts to reach God are useless without Jesus. Our only hope for a time when all things will be made good is Jesus. And a trust that Jesus is with us, working in the midst of our situations and bringing us to God.
I’m sitting beside a river as I write. I can hear traffic. I’m aware of the music from a gym and the encouragement to do push-ups and lunges. But it is the river that catches my attention. Birds dive looking for food. As the water sweeps over rocks I’m reminded that even though there may be distractions, God’s grace washes over us. It’s strange, the water creates movement, but there is a sense of peace, everything is well. It reminds that our helplessness and hopelessness are met in Jesus. Whether it’s unemployment, or another situation, his grace is there. It helps us put one foot in front of the other and lifts our vision. His grace makes things well. I like how Nathan Foster expresses it:
“Yet grace understands my humanness. Grace gives me space to keep going, appreciate the process, and accept what I lack.”