Coping with unemployment: ‘Be not afraid’
The Catholic Church has always extolled the virtue and dignity of work. Popes have written about it. Catholic social teaching explains the theological foundation of it. We even have a patron saint for workers in St. Joseph. So what are we to think when we suddenly find ourselves out of work?
This is a difficult question for both men and women providing for families, and especially stressful for single-income families, or singles who are their own sole support. But just as the Church gives us a framework for understanding the value of work, the Church also helps us understand and appreciate the time in between jobs.
Getting the news
After working at a law firm for a number of years, I decided that I wanted to leave. I saw a job posting for a legal position at a hospital that I was qualified for. The problem was that the hospital was one of the biggest clients of my practice group leader. Applying for the job would mean that he would find out that I had applied within hours, creating an awkward situation at work. So, trying to be as forthright as possible, I brought the job posting to his office and asked whether he would support my application.
He said yes. He thought it would be a great position for me, and he said he was willing to give a positive reference. Unfortunately, even though the posting had been public for only 48 hours, the hospital already hired someone.
After that, my practice group leader offered some good insights about my strengths and where he thought I might be best suited. We both agreed that it was not in a traditional law firm. And although I wanted to stay at the firm until I figured out where to go next, he wanted to put a time limit on it. He did not want someone “hanging on” who was not committed to the firm. I had three months to figure something out.
Trust in the steadfastness of God
At his inaugural Mass after being elected pope in October 1978, St. John Paul II exhorted the world: “Do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power.” He continued, “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. … Do not be afraid. Christ knows ‘what is in man.’ He alone knows it.”
This is good advice any time, but especially when facing a job loss. “Be not afraid!” The Lord knows the potential you have within you. He has sustained you and used your gifts for good throughout your life. You can be confident that he will use your gifts again — and probably will create opportunities that you cannot currently imagine.
When dealing with a job loss, you have to trust in a deeper way. For me, it helped to think about the past: I had done well in school. I had begun to build a successful law practice. I married a terrific and supportive woman. I knew that God would help me transition to a new position because he is always faithful. Yet even though I knew that intellectually, I had to work hard not to fear an uncertain future.
Open wide the doors for Christ. … Do not be afraid.
Recalibrate your understanding of work
In addition to learning to trust more, I also learned that God’s faithfulness might not look like what I expected or wanted. I came to terms with the idea that I may need to take a job that doesn’t seem “just right.” I entertained the idea of working in a different field. I also considered taking a “lesser” job for a while.
These lessons are hard to learn when you are trying to get a new job. The clock is ticking, your family is counting on you, and nagging self-doubt or other thoughts quickly creep in. When that happens, it is useful to think deeply about your work: Why do you do it? Does it fulfill you? Could being forced to change jobs actually be a blessing in disguise?
I did not learn this lesson well. Although I put some parameters on my search — I knew I did not want to work in another law firm, for example — I looked at and applied for positions I did not really want simply because I needed “something.” I was relying on my own efforts and understanding rather than asking what I was being called to do and reflecting on the true purpose of work.
Work honors the Creator’s gifts and the talents received from him. It can also be redemptive. By enduring the hardship of work in union with Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth and the one crucified on Calvary, man collaborates in a certain fashion with the Son of God in his redemptive work. He shows himself to be a disciple of Christ by carrying the cross, daily, in the work he is called to accomplish. Work can be a means of sanctification and a way of animating earthly realities with the Spirit of Christ. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2427)
Work is a path to sanctity. We are given the opportunity to be co-workers with Christ and to share in his work of redemption. Losing a job gives us the time to reflect on the plan God has for us. Be attentive to how God might be asking you to serve him and be sanctified in the process.
An unexpected blessing
God has a great sense of humor. A month after I left the firm with no job and no certain plan, we found out that we were expecting our fourth child. The prospect of adding another member to the family made me both afraid and motivated. I did what had to be done and started my own law firm. Although I had never planned to own a business, I was suddenly an entrepreneur.
In starting my own business, I imagined how St. Peter felt when Christ asked him to walk on the water (see Matthew 14:28-31). I was eager to take the first step, but I felt inadequate to the task. Yet as God sustained us over the course of the following five months, I heard the Lord’s voice in prayer: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).
It can be difficult to trust, particularly when our livelihood is at issue. But God calls us to trust and to allow him to work in our lives. How do we do that on a practical level?
Find prayer Support
For married couples: When you are going through the uncertainty of a job loss, spouses need to come together. The two of you vowed to love and support each other. Going through the process of a job loss as a team can actually make your marriage stronger.
For singles: Seek out a Christian friend and pray together. There are many novenas to St. Joseph that you could use, or the Novena for Work (CDmag.net/36EXtln), which uses the words of St. Josemaría Escrivá, that I particularly like.
Whatever form it takes, regular on-going prayer support with someone who knows you and your situation is essential.
Try to enjoy the downtime
It’s counterintuitive to give thanks when you lose your job, but losing a job gives you time to pause and take stock of things. It is, in a strange way, a privileged time. This downtime should focus on two things.
First is your prayer life. How many times have we made excuses for our lack of prayer life? “I just don’t have time,” we say. We excuse ourselves by saying that “I’m too busy at work” or “I can’t add one more thing to my day.” When you lose your job, you have no more excuses. You have time, and it is important to use it well.
Second, seek to better serve your family and beyond. You have time to play with your kids. Your kids will always remember the time you spent with them. Or find special projects that you can do to assist someone else while you revise your resume and search for jobs.
Build your skill set
Think of the time between jobs as a time to develop your talents and to discern how to use them. As the Catechism reminds us, “Work honors the Creator’s gifts and the talents received from him” (CCC, 2427). During this time, build your skills and develop the talents God has given you. There are many free or low-cost ways to do this. Audit a class on Coursera (Coursera.org), take a seminar from the Small Business Administration (SBA.gov), or take a class at a community college.
Be not afraid. Rely evermore on God and his steadfast love, and rejoice in the time he has given you to reconnect with him, your family, and the true purpose of work. The loss of a job can be just the catalyst you need to grow closer to God and to learn how to sanctify yourself through your work. By persevering and using the time well, you will honor God in your work and allow him to shower you with blessings.
Be not afraid. Rely evermore on God and his steadfast love.