The Sabbath Swimming Lesson
If you don't know it firsthand, you can still imagine how unemployment can wreak havoc on your future. As you spend money without making it, you borrow from your future supplies. You will be older than ancient when you have enough money to retire. Your mortgage or student loans take on nightmarish proportions. If you fail to pay, your low credit score will make for years of financial misery.
Those aren't problems that unemployment insurance can solve. It won't cover the high-fixed costs of "investments" in education or houses. Going to the unemployment insurance office can make you feel like you're the straight man in a Marx Brothers film. Even if you've had only white-collar jobs, you start to realize that you're an illness or a car wreck away from moving into a relative's basement.
Crueler yet, some employers reject applicants who don't have a job. They may assume your former employer thought you were a liability—you were near retirement, or you were a stress on company health-care costs, for example. Every now and then, I still encounter someone who suggests that losing your job is just deserts for poor work or bad social skills.
But the money part isn't the worst of it. Unemployment shreds your self-respect. It leaves you with oodles of time to wonder why your colleagues or supervisors thought you weren't worthwhile. Workdays at home are like nice damp soil for mushrooming bitterness and anxiety. Volunteering for anything and everything helps, but only during the day.
You might expect joblessness to always be discouraging. But I've seen Christian friends who were strangely at peace while unemployed. They became wiser, humbler, and more prone to talk about God. I think I've become more grateful. God's hands are always supporting us, my friends and I have told each other. It hurts now, but all our anxiety will seem silly in a little while, we've told each other. Isn't this what a real Sabbath does to God's people?
Remember His Faithfulness
When I first wrote this, I was entering my last week of a seven-month job. I hadn't had an interview for a long time, and I assumed that I would also go through the three- to four-month period that was the current average length of unemployment. I didn't think it was possible for this essay to end on a triumphalist note, let alone a triumphant one. But two days after I left the office for the last time, I got a completely unexpected and delightful job offer. Praise God!
I can't go out and gather manna during times of unemployment. Those are the days when I open the cupboard and draw from God's stored-up provisions. I'm trying to act on what he told the Israelites, who were not yet in the land of milk and honey: Remember my faithfulness, which I already demonstrated in the times you were desperate.
"Oh, you'll do fine!" people tell me, when I talk about my once and future job search. "You've got a strong résumé." I suppose most people say these things because they somehow still believe the world is fair. This kind of optimism isn't real encouragement. It's like telling kids to doggy paddle to the edge instead of taking them through the lessons that would help them swim for hours. I know my joblessness was not a cosmic glitch; it was meant to mold me into the posture of faith. God intends to make a swimmer of me, and he was teaching me to rely on him through what seemed like a disaster.
I hope someday I won't be terrified when my career drops out from beneath me. For now, I can look at my situation and tell the truth: Our labor and our circumstances fail to take care of us. God makes their failure holy to us, holiest on the days without manna.
Susan Wunderink is a CT contributing editor.