From Unemployment to Over-employment: A Means of Healing and Grace

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Being out of work can be a terrifying, unsettling experience. It can make one feel incredibly vulnerable—so vulnerable, in fact, that when work is found, it can be challenging to listen with patience when coworkers complain about their jobs, or the boss, or the people they serve.

Last year, I wrote for The High Calling about being out of work while I was grieving the death of my son. Although circumstances were difficult, I was cautiously optimistic that God would open the right door for me, as I believe he has always done. This year, I have more work than I can handle, though much of it isn’t in my primary area of interest or giftedness. By training and experience, I am a journalist and book editor. I love journalism, and I love helping authors bring their visions to completion through editing. But when I was job hunting, publishers of newspapers, magazines, and books were shedding employees like Persian cats shed fur. My efforts felt about as productive as collecting fur balls and pasting them on a naked cat.

Capitalizing on Secondary Skills

What I needed to do, and fast, was tap into my secondary skill set. Because I possess the kind of food service background that is common to college graduates, I got a reference from my twenty-something niece and took a job as a banquet server in a high-end restaurant. Then, after reading that education jobs tend to be “recession proof” and thinking it might be good for me to invest in the lives of young people, I bolstered my volunteer teaching experience with a short community college course and got certified to substitute teach. Consolidating these skills, I began “subbing” in the culinary division of my county’s vocational school district.

The restaurant pay was abysmal, and the work was back-breaking. It had the advantages, however, of being physically demanding enough to quiet my anxious mind and celebratory enough to penetrate my enduring grief. I kept at it until I landed a better position with a caterer I admired. Eventually I got so busy with teaching and serving that I stopped applying for jobs in my field. Then one day last fall, when I was working a lavish party overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, I ran into a teacher whose assistant I had subbed for on occasion. I reminded her that I was available again during the 2009-2010 school year. When her assistant didn’t return after a maternity leave, I landed the job as her replacement with an eye toward getting full certification myself in a Journalism- or English-related field. My foot is now planted firmly inside a door that may house my future.

There’s Theory and Then There’s Reality

My workday begins at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 1:30 p.m. I cater parties on weekends and during the Jersey Shore’s busy summer season. Theoretically, these two jobs enable me to continue my work as a freelance writer and editor. Realistically, neither provides health insurance or other benefits, and I am often mentally drained after a morning of working with teenagers. And then there are those distracting complainers to deal with. Although my career has involved a lot of adventure and risk, my coworkers often express boredom. I offer solace where I can, “for just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows” (2 Cor. 1:5). I also view my attitude of gratitude as an asset to be capitalized upon and shared with others.

A year ago, I was unemployed and unsure of the future. My family and I were living with my parents and my grief over the death of my son was fresh and debilitating. Now, we’re settled into our own home again, and I’m working for employers who regularly tell me how much they value my contribution. Solitary mental work would not have been best for me in this season of life. I know this because so often when I sit down to work at my computer, my mind finds its natural resting place in grief. Interactive, physically demanding work, it turns out, was the cat’s meow. Or, more precisely, the Lord’s provision.

My grief has not lessened, but I’ve learned to live with it and to compartmentalize it. Work has been a means of grace for moving forward.

Questions for personal reflection, online discussion, or small groups:

  • Take a moment to reflect on a particular challenge in your work life. What secondary skills might you be neglecting to make use of in order to address it?
  • Do you complain about this challenge or other vocational challenges to your peers or coworkers, and have you thought about the impact of your complaints on those who are unemployed, suffering, or under-employed?
  • Can you connect dots in your life to see God’s provision, or do the challenges blind you to his mercy? Take a few moments now to consider his provision and to thank him for it.