It was a typical Monday morning when the senior pastor, with whom I had worked for ten years, knocked on my door and asked if we could talk for a moment. As I listened to him speak, my mind began to whirl, Did he just say what I thought he said? No, there must be a mistake. This can't possibly be happening. After he left, I continued to sit there, stunned. Every muscle in my body felt heavy and sluggish. I continued to say over and over, "How can this be?"
I had just been told that my position as associate pastor was being eliminated due to financial decisions. As I sat there on that Monday morning, my thoughts changed to, How will I break the news to my family?, and the most looming question on my mind, What do I do now?
Joblessness not only creates a financial hardship; it also presents emotional strain and stress. The anxiety and worry of being without work can also lead to a crisis of belief that can affect the spiritual health of the individual. The church must be prepared to minister to this growing segment of our society. Most people have either personally experienced or know people who have experienced the hardships and emotional pain of unemployment. Joblessness presents several challenges, yet also an opportunity for growth for those who are traveling this road.
What are the most challenging issues facing the person who has just received a pink slip? Aside from the obvious financial challenges, there are also emotional, psychological, and even physiological effects that arise from anxiety, stress, and worry. Plus, joblessness can create an identity crisis as the person wonders, "Who am I?"
Unemployment has a way of tearing down the very things we use to shape our identity. From the rubble that remains, we can address what truly molds who we are. Look at these four main identity shapers:
You Are What You Do
When we meet someone for the first time, isn't our opening line often, "What do you do [for a living]?" This is natural when you consider the sheer number of hours we spend at our places of employment. A downsizing or lay-off often means we lose a core way of seeing ourselves.
You Are Who You Know
We derive a sense of self from group affiliation and interaction. When we are used to identifying primarily with the group of people we work with, what happens when separation occurs from that network? To be known and accepted is part of the very fabric of our humanity and its loss can be devastating.
You Are What You Know
We live in an information age. The perception today is that knowledge is everything. Not too long ago in our history, students were told that if they got a high-school education they could get a good paying job. My generation was told that to get a decent wage, you would need a college degree. In many fields and occupations today, you need a master's degree in order to be competitive. It's easy to feel hopelessly behind.
You Are What You Have
Whether we care to admit it or not, many of us derive identity from our possessions and financial portfolio. We live in a materialistic culture driven by marketing that feeds our insatiable appetite to get the latest, the best, or the biggest.
In other words, downsizing can bring one down to size. Joblessness, among other things, is an identity buster. If your job is eliminated, it takes away "what you do." If you don't have a steady job, "what you have" is threatened because of the loss of income. When you go to apply for a new job and find out that there are hundreds who have applied for that same job—many with the same level of education or better—you realize that "what you know" is worth a dime a dozen. Many of our social relationships are linked to where we work, so "who we know" also breaks down, leaving the person feeling alone and isolated.