Episode 8: Looking for Work? Navigating Seasons of Transition with God - Vernée Wilkinson
If you've left your job, lost your job or been ousted out of a job, now what? Connecting with God can help you get the most out of life in the in-between, transition times.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Genesis 12: 1-3
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions."
Psalm 46:1-3; Psalm 46:8-11
God is our refuge and strength, a very present[a] help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult...
Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
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Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.
Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work
LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.
MR: I’m Mark Roberts
LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work. The topic for our show today is job transition. Let's say you've left your job or you've just lost your job or you've been ousted out of a job, now what? How do you get the most out of life in the in-between? In the transitional times? Our guest today is Vernée Wilkinson. Vernée is going to share about her experience of job transitions. She's been through a lot of job transitions in the past few years. Vernée has gone from a stable job in investment banking to moving to New York City without a job plan to working for a small business in Florida to owning her own business in Boston and now to the non-profit world. And she's really excited today to talk to us about how we can get the most from our job transitions. Welcome to the podcast, Vernée.
Vernée Wilkinson: Thank you.
LA: Thank you so much for being here. So, Vernée let's get right down to it. For many of us, job transitions can be unsettling, they can be scary. Can you talk about a specific job transition that you've gone through that's been both exciting and scary at the same time?
VW: Exciting and scary at the same time. I think in a lot of ways, kind of all of them have been that to some degree, but the one that comes to the front of my mind is years back, when I relocated to New York, and I went to be a part of... At a volunteer project to be a part of a church plant team. So I was moving for the church planting project, and then what I was doing for work was very much the TBD of it all. So that being a TBD and being in my 20s, and in New York, and on my own, and very much the reality of there's gonna be rent, and I will need to be able to feed myself and I'll need to be able to ride the subway, and get around, and all of those things, but not knowing where that provision would come from was really a challenge.
And kind of step-by-step I would get one little part-time job that would tie me over to the next thing to the next thing, until I got something more permanent, and sustainable, but even the permanent and sustainable role that I ended up taking on was something that I thought was gonna be available on move-in day, but it took months for that to really solidify, so I just had to hold on to the faith that it would work out and hold on to the faith and the investment and the relationship that I had built, and the contacts that I had made and just trust God that in due time, it would come together and it did.
LA: When you say you had to hold on to your faith, what helped you hold on to your faith in those moments? Were there particular passages from scripture, something from the Bible that helped you wait out that transition?
VW: The provisions kind of came in pieces. So kind of reminds me of manna, and so for the Israelites it's like, well I would have just enough for the next day and just enough for the next month's rent and just enough to buy a plane ticket home to visit family for the holidays or whatever the case might be. Whatever those in-betweens and next step forward that I was looking for, God would provide it in those kind of small increments, as much as I really was hungry for a provision that was more sustainable or more long-lasting. It came in pieces and like the reminder of the manna and the Israelites with the manna, it was just for that day. If you saved it for the next day, it would spoil. So yeah, just trusting that there would be new manna the next day.
LA: Mark give us your perspective on job transition as you think about... Gosh, this memory that Vernée's invited us into and this scripture about manna from heaven appearing each day. What does that strike in you?
MR: Well, yes, as I was listening to you, Vernée and thinking about how would that feel, I would find that pretty terrifying to be in New York with as much uncertainty as you did. And I was marveling that you were able to be faithful in that. And I was also thinking, your story... It reminds me of Abraham and Sarah, who are called out of one place into the place I will show you, but there's no revelation of what that place is. And the faith that it takes. You mentioned faith but it's in that story too, of simply trusting that God will provide, trusting that God has got my back, that God's not gonna just abandon me.
That's a significant faith, especially for those of us, and I certainly count myself as one, who really would much rather have a lot of manna in the freezer.
MR: No, I realize they didn't have freezers. But really, when I think about it, I say what I'd rather have? God who is ultimately trustworthy or things I can trust in? I know the right answer and I think in the end, I might choose God, but there's something about wishing that sometimes things were more tangibly present. So, I'm curious what else helped you? So you're in the middle of this very uncertain time in place in terms of your job and your longer term income. What else helped you to trust God with that in addition to the biblical story that you've mentioned, were there other things that made that very real to you?
VW: Sure, I think a large piece of that timeframe in my life was that the opportunity that I had at that time was to be a part of this church plant team. So the fact that I was with a community really made a big difference. So as I was struggling to find security and job security and things of that sort, so were some of my other friends and counterparts that were a part of the same project as me. Or when at one point I had ended up in the job that was ultimately my long-term role when I went to go check for my direct deposit it wasn't there, but my community, they supported me and leant me rent until I could cover it and pay them back once my paycheck issue came through. So having a community of support really made a big difference at that time.
MR: That’s great, and that makes a lot of sense that you had a community of folk who could stand with you to help you gain that trust as you went through this season of uncertainty.
LA: And Vernée that was a job transition that you... Or a life transition that you had some choice in, right?
LA: There was an intentionality of going to be with this community. Can you tell us about a job transition that you didn't have choice in. We have many people who lose their jobs unexpectedly or... How does that unexpected job transition or a transition that's not by choice, how does that feel differently?
VW: Yeah, it feels very different when you can sit down with your thoughts and ideas and hopes and dreams and say, "Well God, where are we going, let's look at the landscape, what are my feeling called to and make decisions. Setting your own initiative and setting your own path has a very different feeling than when it's the other way around. And I've very much been in that sort of situation as well. So I had been working with a local non-profit and I came in for my weekly one-on-one check-in meeting and I was told that it was gonna be a different type of meeting.
LA: Oh, gosh.
VW: And in that meeting I was told that my position had been eliminated and was no longer in the budget, and that that essentially was my last day. So I came in for a Tuesday like a normal day and a normal week, and Wednesday I was home.
LA: Wow. How did you even start to process that?
VW: It took a lot, a lot of time and a lot of space to process that, 'cause my work life at that time was very much kind of overlap with my community and my friend group and so on, so it was challenging for all of that to kind of just be yanked away all at once. So a lot of the processing was just allowing myself to feel what I needed to feel. So allowing space to feel insecure, allowing space to feel rejection, allowing space to feel betrayed, and just making room to process that with God.
MR: That makes so much sense. I have a good friend who recently was fired from a job and he felt so ashamed. He didn't wanna tell anybody and he even continued for many, many days to pretend as if he were going to work. Just so the people observing he'd get up and get ready and go. In his case, at that point, he just felt so embarrassed, you know. And also some of the things you mentioned in terms of fear, where is this gonna go and how am I gonna get a job? And so when the transition is forced upon us, it throws in a whole lot of other variables, doesn't it, in terms of emotions and the reality of insecurity and an ability to prepare. It sounds like you were not prepared for this particular reality and all of a sudden here you are in the middle of it.
VW: Absolutely, yeah. It definitely was one of the most blind siding moments in my life, but there it was. So how do you respond, how do you ask of your community, what you need from your community when now you have time out of nowhere, and time is always one of those things that you want more time to do this, and you want more time to do that, and now all of a sudden you have time, but you didn't ask for it, so now that you have it, when you didn't ask for it, how are you gonna steward that time?
MR: That's very interesting. What would be an example of a choice you made to steward your time well, when all of a sudden you had this discretionary time that you really wished you didn't have?
VW: Yeah, a large part of that was kind of taking ownership and realizing it was my time and even though it wasn't necessarily something I had asked for just trying to think of it and receive it differently, think of it and receive it as a gift because you know, you're always wanting an extra hour to the day or another day to the weekend or whatever the case may be. And now here you are with this expanse of time. And I had to think about the things that I wanted and needed. So I would some days, go to a matinee movie, which is cheaper, and it's in the middle of the day, and my kids are at school and I can grab a snack and just kind of make the most of moments in that way. Or I'd realized how much of the fall out from this transition had taken residence in my body, just with tension and like a physical manifestation of sadness and burden, so I just had to own my time and find ways to get physical activity, stretching, breathing, just slowing down and letting my body release in ways that felt right.
And once you kind of hit a note and say like, "Oh that felt good. Maybe I'll do that again tomorrow. Maybe I'll do that again next week, and prioritizing the time that was unexpected time, but start to re-purpose it and reclaim it and harvest it in pieces and give it back to yourself.
MR: Folks that haven't experienced what you're describing, might think, "Oh no way. If I lost my job even if I didn't want to, man, I'd be able to get a lot of stuff done." But there's actually research that shows that what you just described is super common even sometimes for people who choose it. So people who retire, for example, from their main work and all of a sudden have all this discretionary time often have a really hard time dealing with it and using it well because maybe they're used to more structure and having to plan and think and all of a sudden with more freedom they're... It's really a re-tooling of how you think about and discipline your time. And it sounds like you did begin to figure that out, like even I'm gonna do something kind of nice for me. Rather than just sort of sit at home and stare at the tube or have a pity party or... I'm not saying you would have done those things, but those are the things that I could find myself doing pretty easily.
VW: Yeah, no, I definitely had my pity-party days as well, but that they were more focused and more in tune with what my kind of deeper needs were 'cause the pity party days are a distraction or just kind of ignoring your feelings and ignoring your needs, but you can put that aside and dig deeper. A large part is also putting aside guilt for doing something for yourself, with your time, 'cause the rest of the world around you isn't necessarily spending their time in a similar way, so not feeling like, "Well, just because I didn't spend the entire day writing my resume, and then the left over hours cleaning the house, from top to bottom, doesn't mean I wasted the day per se." A lot of those feelings and a lot of that can be very gendered like as a woman I should have had a hot meal waiting on the table the second my family came in the door, because I have this time and it's like well, some days I did and some days I didn't.
But yeah, just being generous with yourself and also making your best efforts to put aside guilt so that that time could be reclaimed and re-purposed in a positive and life giving way.
LA: When we think of the story of creation, God had a specific amount of work that he did on each day. And he didn't create the whole entire thing all in one shot. He did a piece on the first day and he did a piece on the second day. So even in that first story, God's big transition of creating something out of nothing, there is this stewardship of time component that lives on through the modern day life transitions is what I'm hearing you share.
VW: Absolutely, yeah. And in some reading and study that I've been going through lately, related to Sabbath and related to absolutely the picture as you're drawing it out there in Genesis 1, the fact that it reads that first, there was night, and then there was day as you go through the accounts, there was night, and then there was day, so the rest comes before the work and I don't think I've ever thought of Sabbath in that way. I think I've always thought of Sabbath as you work, work, work, work, work, you're tired and now you need to rest. But to think of it in the inverse that you're resting so that you're filled and fresh to do the work ahead is a new way of thinking about it for me. You don't work, work, work, and then you earned the rest, it's like you're given the rest out of grace, and then you move forward into the work.
LA: I love the way that you've reflected on it. There's this... Oh, there's this rest before the creation of work which is something that we can either tap into in our time of transition or we can speed through and miss.
MR: And of course as you know the way that the Jewish people figure the day they actually began with the night, the time of rest moving into the next day. So it does seem like that thing you're talking about in terms of that rhythm of work and rest, if you will, was built in not only into the week and the Sabbath but into every single day has that quality.
LA: It's really true, you can think of it on a day-to-day basis if we don't get that rest at night there's not a lot of productive work that we can do during the day. And we could also think of it as the whole of the transition, whether you're in a transition on purpose or a forced transition, maybe there's a rest that needs to happen for you to fruitfully go into the next working role.
VW: Yeah, I completely agree with that, because I think the rest is needed to kind of recalibrate. But I think also you in that rest, like when we rest at night, we dream. So when you're having that rest in between, in your transitions you're starting to think, "Well, what do I want in my new role," or, "Do I wanna think about changing career paths," or, "Is this a time to think about relocating?" So, in that rest dreaming into what the next opportunity and the next experience is gonna be is a huge part of making the most of those transitions.
MR: Vernée, earlier you had mentioned among the emotions that you had to deal with the fear. And I think for me, as I think of transitions and especially ones that I didn't really want, fear was huge. What if I can't get a job? What if nobody wants to hire me? What if I lose my home, or my well-being? What if what if I have to move to a place I don't wanna move? What if the only job I can get is one at a much less salary etcetera, etcetera. And I wonder, for you, what helped you, what has helped you put aside the fear or live through the fear, or at least not be dominated by it?
VW: That's a good question. I would say a large part of it for me has been helpful in a verse in Proverbs, I believe, Proverbs 3, where you're being encouraged to trust in the Lord in all thy ways, and to not lean in your own understanding and that He will direct your path. When I was transitioning from high school to college, my mother encouraged me to choose a life verse. And that verse has always been encouraging to me in transition times.
But as I've carried it with me, it's also kind of evolved with my story 'cause I had one way of thinking about it when I was 17-18 going from high school to college. But I have a different way of thinking about it now, and I used to think about it, well, kind of like you poor mortal being, like you can't understand what's going on, but trust God in his understanding and he'll direct you in that. But I'm thinking of it differently now where it's like...
No, I do understand in some more challenging transitions and just the challenges of work spaces and career journey for myself and other black women in the workplace. I do understand systemic inequity, I do understand the pay equity gaps, and I do understand just the challenges that in many ways the workspace isn't built for women of color, even though we're trained for it, it's not necessarily built to encourage us, affirm us and set us up for success. So, in that understanding, I can understand that, but the verse is telling me not to lean into that understanding and I have to lean into God's understanding, and God's understanding of the plans He has for me, and God's understanding of... How he delights in me and God's understanding of the legacy of faith that's been passed down in my family. So it's not about what I don't know, in my own understanding, it's just that sometimes the things that I do know can be painful realities, but I have a larger and more hopeful reality that I could lean into God's understanding for my life.
MR: So, you're not denying the painful reality? You see it, you know that it's true, but that's not the whole story. You have a larger story of God's care and God's trustworthiness in the promise that God will make your path straight if you trust in Him. And so it sounds like it gives you a way to have on the one hand perspective about the challenges in your life, that are very real, and in this, in the case you described very unfair and wrong, but not to be stuck in that because of the larger story of who God is and your ability to trust in God. Is that... Did I get that right?
VW: Right right.
LA: It sounds like such a tall order Vernée. How do you do that practically on-the-job in your workplace?
VW: How do you do that practically? It's a tall order and then you serve it up with a tall order sort of question. I think I just do it practically one day at a time. I think 'cause a large part of what I felt to be the most recent challenging job transition, that I had on paper, it was being presented to me, as budget cuts, but I knew the work that I had done, I knew some of the challenges that I was in facing in... I knew some of the challenges that I was facing in board meetings and staff meetings, and other conversations. So a lot of it for me is just being honest about pain points but also know that I'm not in pain points alone whether they be physical or emotional or even career-related.
I serve a God that experienced and lived pain but also overcame pain and hardship as well. So that's not necessarily how I can pull it into each day, I guess on a practical level, but I guess what I'm saying is that I have to find ways to be able to zoom in and zoom out of the story to make the work and my life journey and my career journey sustainable and life-giving.
LA: What I'm hearing is that even though there's some elements, you're saying maybe there's some injustice that led to this forced job transition, even knowing the systemic pressures that are against you in the workplace, you have this ability through your connection with God, through scripture, to just zoom in and then zoom out to God's bigger story for you.
VW: Yeah, and I think something I've been thinking about is just being generous with the time of those zoom in and zoom out spaces. Don't kind of rush it, if you're having a tough day or you're kind of reflecting and processing the challenges that you've been through and you're sitting in front of these truths of pay equity and discrimination, and being overlooked and being undervalued in the workplace as many women of color are, it's not just data points, we're real people. So you can look at the data that's kind of like the zoom out perspective and then when you sit down and think about it, you're like, "Oh well, this is actually what's happening to me," or you're not necessarily in the subset of those data points just being honest about, "Well, maybe this is something that's happening in my work place," or, "Maybe this is something that's happening to my neighbor or a family member, and what is my role in those spaces where injustice is a reality?" We all have a role in those spaces.
MR: You know Vernée, among the things I'm appreciating in what you're saying is this your... It is this back and forth. So, it's easy sometimes to get really stuck in the injustice when it's real and awful and really just sort of almost get trapped in that story. Then again, there are some, and sometimes Christians will say, "Oh you need to remember God's faithfulness, and God's mercies are new every morning, and basically chin up." That was pretty much the way I was raised that it was acceptable to be sort of down-hearted for a very short period of time and then you needed to perk up and look on the bright side.
Literally, I was told, "Look on the bright side." Count your blessings. Literally, I was told so many times, and it's not all together wrong, it's just that one or the other alone, isn't right. And as you were talking, I was thinking of the text in Lamentations 3, that "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to the end," is an amazing affirmation of God's goodness and grace and faithfulness that comes in the context in Lamentations 3 of this gut wrenching tirade basically about how poorly God has been treating me and my suffering and how bowed down, I am in my soul. And I just think it's such a great example. And then you see Psalm after Psalm where it's like, "God you're faithful and good. Oh God, where are you? I can't believe you abandoned me but I know you're faithful and good, but where are you?"
And so that kind of... I mean what you're talking about seems so much a reflection of what scripture invites us into but it's hard to do when we want to be people who lean one way or the other. And I'm at least wired to lean one way and I expect some of the other... But you're talking about this sort of dialogical faith, conversational faith mode that just, I think is very biblical but also very wise.
VW: Yeah, I would agree with you, Mark, with the count your blessing sort of mentality, that's very common. That's very much in a lot of ways, kind of what I was taught, like be strong. We have a lot to be grateful for. There's food on the table, all of those things, but especially as you reference the Psalms and thinking about David and the Psalms that he's written and the story that David has with God, it's the story of peaks and valleys, and peaks and valleys. But nonetheless, that's the lineage that God chose to be a part of. God is connected to David story and David's bloodline on purpose, so I think there's so much he's telling us there.
LA: Vernée if there's one of our listeners who's going through a time of job transition, either on purpose or forced, what is the one best piece of encouragement you could give that person?
VW: The thing that's sitting on the top of my heart at the moment, is "Be still and know that I am God." In transitions there's a lot of expectation and a lot of desire to kind of, "Okay, what's next? Let's get back out there," stay in so-called tip top shapes, stay on top of the game, pretend you're going to work after you've lost your job, that's just trying to stay in the mix of things when your situation is telling you, "You're not necessarily in the mix of things right now." And that that is okay. And to give yourself space to sit with God even just to take sometimes moments to sit sit in a quiet room and see what comes through in that room. Or a challenge that I'm trying to take on from time to time, is be on the train, but not be occupied in another activity, whether it's a book or a podcast or music on my headphones.
Like What if I'm just still, and what if I pay attention to the passing humanity at each stop? What if I see some sort of pain in somebody's experience if I'm slowing down to notice what's going around me, maybe I could pray for that person instead of shuffling past them or not even seeing them at all. So justallowing and embracing pieces of stillness and also the peace of stillness.
LA: That's really wise.
MR: It's such a... Yeah, you know your quotation Vernée from the Psalm, Psalm 46 I think, that invites us to be still and know that God is God. Earlier in that Psalm it's like the mountains are shaking into the sea and the sea is churning and it says, "The nations are in an uproar, but be still and know that I'm God." So it's interesting that that invitation doesn't come like when you're on retreat and it's really quiet and beautiful and wonderful. So, by analogy, that's not just an invitation when your life is really together and everything's going great and you're settled in, it's in fact that invitation comes in that time of turmoil and tumult. And so the invitation to be still and be with God and then to be reassured that the Lord of host is with us that God is with us, God is with me in this time.
But if I can't be still, then I'm not gonna be able to attend to God's presence. I'm gonna get too wrapped up in the mountain shaking, and the seas foaming and the nations being in uproar. So that invitation is such a precious one that we need to be able to hear and then respond to in God's grace.
LA: Mark what piece of practical advice would you give a listener who wants to respond to that invitation?
MR: Well, it's really just picking up something Vernée said earlier, and just to underscore it, because she mentioned community. I think both in scripture and certainly in my own experience when I've gone through difficult transitional things or difficult anythings, to have others with me, other Christians... I mentioned this friend who lost his job and was so ashamed. And eventually he did share that with some of us who love him and care for him, and could hear his story and be there for him and walk with him.
And I think just practically even if there's just one person we can initially share with somebody who can listen, who can pray for us that's such an important gift that God gives us in these transitional times so that we can... So that we can be still and we can remember God's faithfulness. So that would be mine, find at least one other person with whom you can share this part of the journey with.
LA: I love it, and if I could harp on one piece that we've mentioned is, I just love Vernée how you mentioned the time component, allowing yourself space and time, the actual minutes and hours in the day, to block off, to experience God, to tune into God's word, and to tune into your own healing and re-evaluation of yourself in times of transition. I love that. This has been such a fantastic conversation. Vernée, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today.
VW: Thank you for having me.
MR: Yes indeed, thanks Vernée.