Getting a grip on employment trials

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Recession is when your neighbor loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours.” – Ronald Reagan

I don’t know about you, but every day I hear someone reference our “soft” economy. Here in Michigan, where unemployment is just over 7%,  things have been particularly shaky. As our economy has gotten worse, I’ve seen lots of my friends and family experience job woes. Some are out of work, some fear losing their jobs, and others are miserable in their jobs but are afraid to leave when the market is so unpredictable.

Five years ago, I found myself in a difficult situation. I’d taken a big risk trying my hand at professional fundraising with a small nonprofit, and to make a long story very short, I found myself out of work having just purchased our first home, with our first baby only two months. I will never forget what that felt like. At the time I would have never guessed that this period of my life would become the most spiritually vibrant, rich, and even joyful, period of my life.

This week I’d like to tell you what I learned during that period. We’ll dive into how to deal with unemployment, job uncertainty, and feeling forced to stay in unhappy jobs – let’s for the sake of simplicity call these “job insecurities.” If we could sit and have a cup of coffee with God and ask him his perspective on these issues, he would likely not start with our problems, but with the framework through which we see them.

Compared to most of the world, Americans live fairly easy lives. Unfortunately, most of us walk through life with the expectation that it should be easy, but that is not the case. Jesus tells us in John 16:33 that “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.” We know this is true in our personal lives, should it surprise us that this is the case at work as well?  M. Scott Peck put it simply in the first line of his book The Road Less Traveled , when he wrote “Life is difficult.”  The book, which is about mental health (and I should warn you is not a Christian book – he became a Christian after he wrote it), claims that living with the assumption that life should be easy hampers our ability to deal with life’s inevitable trials. By assuming that life should be easy, we cripple our ability to deal with life’s big challenges.

We must remind ourselves that job insecurities are one of the trials that we can, and should, expect to occasionally experience in life. If you ask those around you, you will find that most people, regardless of how talented or dedicated they are, have found themselves suddenly unemployed. 

So what’s the best way to handle these trials? Are job insecurities simply dreadful periods to be endured, or is there a deeper, more meaningful experience that can be gained during them? The Bible tells us in 1 Peter 1:7-9 that there is: 

These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” 

Peter says that the key purpose of trials is to spiritually refine us. No longer can we just talk-the-talk about God’s provision, now we are called to walk-the-walk – to put our faith to the test.  Paul shares Peter’s opinion about trials. In writing to the Romans, Paul says in chapter 5, verses 3-4:

We can rejoice too when we run into problems and trials for we know that they are good for us – they can help us endure. And endurance develops strenght of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation.”

Trials exist to increase our confidence in the Lord. Job insecurities are unique opportunities to put our faith to the test and make us stronger for whatever the future might hold. 

Later this week, we’ll look at what what assurances we’ve got from God, what role we play in getting through job insecurities, what role God plays, and how to turn these trials into joy. But to start, we must look at our trials for what they are – inevitable parts of life that are actually blessings-in-disguise.

If you’d like to dive deeper, consider reading the first chapter of the book of James.

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