Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Our town currently has an unemployment rate of about 12%. That’s actually good news. For a while it was upwards of 18%, and our neighboring communities even breached 20%.
Many of my friends are unemployed. These are good people, hard workers who are not too proud to do what needs to be done to provide for those they love. But times are tough. People are forced into early retirement. Buy out packages are meager, but they’re better than getting laid off completely. People here are trapped by the decline of the American motor car, a slow famine twenty years in the making.
It’s hard to go without a job.
Unemployment is a kind of desert because you find yourself going nowhere and finding nothing to do. For some, the busy stage only lasts a little while. You get laid off, fired, or finish school, and you immediately set to work finding a job. You’re industrious. You’re serious. You set your home page to monster.com or findjobs.com; you work on your resume; you faithfully collect the classified ads; you look for the right kind of work.
This is like the entry into the desert. You’re prepared for what you think might be out there. You’re even a little eager. You know it may take a long time to get through it, but you’re counting on your good attitude and your determination to get you through.
After a while, though, that initial burst of discipline wanes and you check the internet less often: the postings are all the same since last week anyway, right? You only get the classifieds once a week. You’re less picky now, but less determined too. You wonder whether all your efforts have paid off or ever will. You begin to think the right job will come along at some point, and when it happens it happens.
This is the early-middle of the desert trek. The realization is sinking in that you don’t have as much control as you thought you did, but there is also a nagging doubt as to whether you’re quite as capable as you thought you were. You begin to feel twinges of anxiety, but you push them aside thinking: It’ll all work out.
Somewhere along the way, people begin to offer first suggestions, then criticisms. They nag. They poke. They tell you things you already know and offer opportunities you’ve already exhausted. You resent them for it. You’re still not hungry, but you’re not optimistic anymore, either. You’re a realist now, and you know you’re not likely to cross the vast desert any sooner because of their nattering.
Then you get hungry. Then you starve. Then you see your children hungry and forlorn, and you get desperate. You work anywhere for a few bucks. You think back on all the things you had and didn’t appreciate. You remember the things you had that could have been sold for more. Thinking in the moment, you hit yourself for your prior generosity and for your prior contributions to others when what you should have been doing was planning for the security of those who love.
Now you’re really in it. This is the desert of unemployment. As you look around, all you see is more desert. You’re out of determination. You’re full of panic. You don’t know which direction to turn.
From time to time you’ll see someone else in this desert. They may offer advice or give direction, but you don’t want that. All you want is for them to take you with them. If they have employees, you want them to employ you. If they have just found work, you want them to put in a good word for you. If they are unemployed like you, then you want them to like you, but you also want to keep them from dragging you any lower.
There is good news in the desert, though. There’s help for you from those around you, from your church, from the people who love you, if you can accept it. And there will be work, too. None of my friends who were unemployed two years ago are still unemployed now. Those were tough years, to be sure, but the nice thing about years is that they always come to an end.
Just like the desert.
In the meantime you’ve got to focus on why you’re stuck in the desert in the first place. For the ancient Israelites it was because of a lack of faith and an abundance of complaint. For many today, they are in the desert of unemployment because of the way they conducted themselves as their last job. Few are ready to admit this publicly, but for most they acknowledge (at least to themselves) that there was something they weren’t doing well that they should have been. Maybe, in better times, that wouldn’t have cost them their job but now it has. And yet, regardless of why you find yourself now jobless (and in full view of the things you’ll need to change in order to get and keep the next good job), you must still ask the all-important question of what God is trying to teach you through your experience. For Israel, His gift of manna and quail taught them daily dependence upon His mercy.
What are you learning? Or have you thought only about escape and forsaken encounter completely?
Remember, God may not have caused you to enter the desert; but while you’re there He is certainly trying to teach you something. Best to learn it quickly, so you can come to rely on the strength that lesson will provide while you find your way out.
This post is from Seasons of Christian Spirituality.