What might God be teaching me in this difficult time?
It’s been 11 weeks, and at last negotiations have wrapped up. Letters have been signed and forms submitted for my layoff from my employer of 33 years. Now I can breathe.
None of the members of our team had retirement in their sights. But management had other ideas and the Covid pandemic furnished the perfect occasion for a re-org. Our layoff was unceremonious and messy, like an acrimonious divorce – but in God’s kindness my story ends well.
What saddens me, however, is how common the layoff experience is becoming as we struggle through the second wave of this pandemic.
…the axe fell on the lot of us in one terse Zoom call.
Thousands of jobs have disappeared in the travel, hospitality and entertainment industries, as well as in retail, culture, manufacturing, transportation, higher education and municipal services. Christian communities are of course not immune – our brothers and sisters in Christ, including some who work for churches and other Christian organizations, are also facing job loss.
Many are primary breadwinners. Many, like me, are older workers whose chances of securing comparable new employment are slim.
Bitter as my layoff journey has been, it has, nonetheless, brought with it some valuable spiritual lessons.
Grieving the losses
Job termination means a loss of income, but it doesn’t end there. Layoff also entails loss of structure and routine, social connectedness, and often our sense of identity and purpose. Any one of these is a tough blow to absorb, but taken together these losses can be devastating.
Like an astronaut suddenly ejected from the bustling starship, I felt myself cut off, untethered, adrift in a dark and silent void – and it was terrifying.
Layoff is not the time to keep a stiff upper lip. But neither is it time to spend entire days on social media decrying the injustice of it all. Most laid-off workers must act quickly to refresh resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and embark on a job search.
But at some point grief will hit with a sucker punch.
Much has been written about the various stages of grief, but for the child of God there is an added dimension – we grieve before our Father. We lift up to Him our shock, anger and disillusionment.
I might feel betrayed or hung out to dry by my employer, but am I ever abandoned by my Father? Never.
We may not come so boldly to God’s throne of grace – I came limping – but we do come. Like David of old we pour out our pain before Him and invite Him into our grief journey. Layoff has taught me to do this.
"Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me" (Psalm 23:4). This verse also applies to the death of a career and of the dream of a secure retirement. I might feel betrayed or hung out to dry by my employer, but am I ever abandoned by my Father? Never.
Early in my layoff I heard the words of James echoing in my heart. "Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray" (James 5:13). And so I prayed. I fasted lunch and took to my knees. I wept, agonized, declared victory in the battle.
In the beginning I prayed heartily for God’s vengeance. But in His faithfulness the Holy Spirit steered me away from those soulish prayers, and directed me rather to Scriptures that brought comfort, hope and direction. Day by day my petitions were being realigned to the Word of God.
I learned that praying with an open Bible is critical if we are to receive God’s comfort and if we desire to pray according to the will of the Father.
It isn’t all about me
Layoffs, especially re-orgs, typically affect groups. In my case the entire team of 18 was terminated – the axe fell on the lot of us in one terse Zoom call. We had clocked an average of 25 years of service in our unit and had become a close-knit bunch. Even so, the temptation to go quiet, to just withdraw from my colleagues, was strong. Too messy, too much bother. I’m exhausted.
But the Holy Spirit who indwells the hearts of all believers does not allow spiritual abdication.
I remembered the challenge of wise Mordecai to his young cousin Esther whose beauty had propelled her into royalty in ancient Persia. Plans for the annihilation of the kingdom’s large Jewish population were rapidly falling into place, but Mordecai discerned that Esther’s timely intervention could foil that death scheme. "Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" he urged her (Esther 4:14, NKJV).
If I cherish the notion of a large, reputable company as my provider, I will most certainly despair.
I was the only believer in my department. Could it be that God in His foreknowledge wove me into this team to shine His light in this turbulent season?
He persuaded my heart that indeed He had, and that it was time to step up and partner with Him. Our unit was unique in its culture of sharing. Still, my co-workers expressed gratitude each time I pushed H.R. for answers, posted an employment opportunity, shared insights from my accountant husband and told them I was praying for a favourable outcome for each team member.
"You are praying – for me? Wow. Thank you so much."
Paying the bills
To be accustomed to a monthly pay deposit in my chequing account, only to see that well abruptly dry up, was scary. But it did beg the question: Who is the source of my provision?
If I cherish the notion of a large, reputable company as my provider, I will most certainly despair. If, on the other hand, I recognize early on that my heavenly Father is my faithful provider, and my employer is merely His intermediary, I will be better positioned to face the loss.
Here again, an open Bible is key. Yes, the coming days will see my husband and I tighten our belts. We may even sell our home. But my soul has been comforted by God’s promises of provision. The God who redeemed us has promised to feed and clothe us as we make His Kingdom our highest priority and greatest treasure (Matthew 6:25–34).
As we fix our hearts and minds on these truths, it will matter less and less what vehicles God uses to supply our needs.
The next chapter
In one of my favourite scriptures the Apostle Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, tells believers we are in fact "God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10, emphasis added). Never have these words been more real to me. God has prepared specific good works, specific tasks that have my name on them!
In Acts we read of Dorcas who "did many good things and many acts of kindness" (Acts 9:36–39). Indeed, this is a recurring theme throughout Scripture. God prepares individuals for specific assignments. From Genesis through Revelation we can trace God’s hand training, shaping, equipping and guiding His children.
He prepared Noah to spare a remnant of the human race, and Moses to lead His people out of bondage. He prepared Peter to lead the church in Jerusalem, and John to record the revelations of the end of the ages. Many of these individuals were well into their senior years when God tasked them with their big assignment. God’s preparation spanned a lifetime.
A layoff may signal a transition into an entirely new season. It is certainly a summons to press in close, a clear call to seek the Lord for discernment and direction. What assignments has my heavenly Father prepared for me? What good works has He prepared me for?
The end game
"No guilt in life, no fear in death – this is the power of Christ in me. From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny" asserts the modern hymn "In Christ Alone" (Townend and Getty, 2001). In the loss of a steady income, Jesus commands my destiny. In the death of a career, Jesus commands my destiny. And in the midst of an unanticipated life transition, Jesus commands my destiny.
He is at work in my life, causing me to desire to do His good pleasure – not mine! He is sovereign, and He is sorting all the pieces of this puzzle for my good and for His glory. And He is using the pressures of this temporal life to transform me to look more and more like His Son, and in so doing draw others into His embrace and care. Today my heart is filled with gratitude – our gracious God does all things well.
Evelyn Pedersen is a writer living with her husband and caring for her mother in Mississauga, Ont.
Resources on unemployment
Help! Covid 19 left me unemployed. An insightful reflection by pastor Brad Larson. → WWW.THEGOSPELCOALITION.ORG
5 ways to make the most of unemployment. A helpful article by pastor Tom Nelson. → WWW.THEGOSPELCOALITION.ORG
Helping the unemployed during the Covid-19 pandemic. Eight ways believers can support each other. → WWW.AU.THEGOSPELCOALITION.ORG
Dealing with job loss and unemployment stress. Eight very practical tips to help laid-off workers weather the storm. → WWW.HELPGUIDE.ORG
Retirement Stewardship. An immensely helpful blog by retired telecom engineer and IT strategist Chris Cagle with links to many other helpful books and resources. → WWW.RETIREMENTSTEWARDSHIP.COM
Rethinking Retirement: Finishing Life for the Glory of Christ. A 30-page booklet by pastor John Piper available for free download. → WWW.DESIRINGGOD.ORG