In one situation, I had to leave a toxic church-staff job out of fear of going crazy if I stayed another day. In another scenario I got the gut-punch of an ego bruising layoff. I’ve avoided writing about this publicly until now because I’ve needed to work though the personal impact of underemployment without needing any sort of response in return. Plus, I’ve already written about it in my book already and that’s public so…
Religious folk often call these sorts of life events a “severe mercy.” My name for it involves a few more expletives. Of course these “severe mercies” take many forms, not just lack of work. Maybe your severe mercy involves difficult people, sickness or a tanking financial portfolio. In my own life God’s program for life hasn’t seemed to involve me gaining more control, but prying my hands of it. I’m starting to get the feeling that maybe like Jacob, God’s engaging me in a bit of a wrestling match. Though I often prefer control, I’m begrudgingly learning that life on the wrestling mat—though painful—just might be better. Maybe. But Jacob walked away with a blessing, right? Well, yeah. A blessing and a limp.
As anyone who has gone without work for any significant amount of time without a nice fat nest egg or trust fund to back them up can tell you, unemployment doesn’t do your self-esteem any favors. True to my personality type, I enjoy mastering information on particular subjects and during times of under-employment I often lay awake at night with the realization that I’m not mastering a single thing. It’s demoralizing. Some days I find myself wandering around the house in my bathrobe forgetting the last time I showered and shaved. Embracing slovenliness is not the sort of mastery I’ve had in mind.
The one thing I’ve aimed to master though is weed pulling. I don’t mean spraying toxic chemicals onto the lawn, I’m talking about getting down on my hands and knees, plunging a hand shovel into the ground under the root just so and pulling that sucker all the way out. I’m not sure why I get so much satisfaction out of this. Maybe it’s because I can see the results. One moment, there’s an ugly weed terrorizing my lawn. The next, it’s not. I fixed it. It’s a small feat amidst the uncertainties of life. But even this task is seemingly un-masterable. Have you pulled weeds recently? You have to get the entire root. If even a half-inch tip of foot long root breaks off, the weed grows back within four days. It’s an exercise in futility. Yet I go back out there rain or shine to dig out those godforsaken weeds.
I recently told this story to my counselor and she asked me to consider the simplicity and profundity of this menial task. As I crouch down to the ground and let that soil up under my cracked fingernails to try one more time, I’m reminded this is life. Those damned weeds are always going to be there. I’m going to have to sweat to keep them at bay. I’d like to think that maybe, just maybe this is God’s sense of humor and a lesson that once again, I can’t rely on my own self-told, controlled life story.
If you’re looking for a spiritual step-by-step of how much you can glorify God in your unemployment, there’re lots of other places online to go so you can wring your hands in spiritual guilt. I’ve got nothing for you. But I will say, the ego bruising excrement sandwiches of life—like when you don’t make the cut in a layoff, and the daily life lessons of things like weed pulling can produce something good. For me, God is getting my attention in ways that a life of “control” simply can’t.
Most days I’m happy to have a stocked pantry, an agenda for the day, a full tank of gas and chalk it up to being “#BLESSED.” These days though, I’m getting a little more accustomed to the idea that the less than stellar menu options of life and the green thumb disasters may be God calling me to spar with Him a little. In doing so, He’s inviting me to more than mere “control” over my life, He’s inviting me into His presence and there’s no better place to be. But man, that limp sure does smart.
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