A few weeks ago, I wrote about Empathy for the Unemployed and got some great response. Today, I wanted to write about the blessings we have found in unemployment. Each of these things has been unexpected and I’m sure I’m going to forget some as I write, but I do want to try to record them to encourage people who are in our shoes (as are almost 26% of the American workforce). For those of you walking with us (Janna, Aaron, Danna, Bryan, Kelli, Marnie and many others), we are praying you find these same blessings on your journey.
First – we have learned that God is faithful. He has been our Provider, our Defender, our Peace, our Saviour, our Healer, our Comforter, our Strength, our Defense, our Guide, our Rock, our Father. He has been patient with me beyond my imagination. I have learned that I can be weak, pathetic, angry, pitiful, petty, doubting, crazy, and divisive and through it all He has been forgiving, patient, loving, near, faithful, peaceful, present, consistent, calm, determined. I cannot wear Him out. I cannot run from His love. I cannot cancel out His goodness. I have written before that I try to press into Him, but the reality of this season is that I have learned He presses into me.
Second – we have learned what we are capable of enduring. We are strong. Stronger than we ever imagined. With God’s help and His amazing grace, there are times where the yoke has been easy and the burden has been light, even when circumstances and situations seemed impossible. It is amazing. There are times where some of our friends or family have been more deeply burdened for us than we ourselves have felt. We know this “burden bearing” is a gift from the Lord and many of you have helped us carry our burden and we are grateful for you.
Third – we have learned to let go. Money is less important. Our plan is less important. Possessions are less important. We have learned the value of the tithe and the offering. I tell you this not so you can think we are great, but so you can be encouraged. We now make about 40- 50% of what we made a year ago. And yet because of God’s provision, we have not missed a payment and have been able to give every month. We have learned how to put the first thing first. Last year we had a “giving goal” we wanted to hit as a family. When Justin was laid off – I wondered if we would miss our goal. We continued to give and when tax season rolled around, I was thrilled and grateful to see we had surpassed our goal, despite our circumstance. It excited me to know that even in our need, God could use us to give. We still had a purpose greater than ourselves. Justin and I have learned that we are merely a channel through which blessings flow.
Fourth – we have learned to see this as a season of opportunity. Although the employment doors haven’t opened for us, the doors of ministry have opened. When you are struggling to find work or make ends meet, people share. They share their struggles. They share scripture. They share that they are praying for you and you pray for them. I have worked in the corporate world for years, and have found “spiritual discussions” hard to come by. Not so during this season. I have had more spiritual conversations out of this than I ever imagined. People relate to vulnerability, in our case more than they related to us when we were “full-time ministers.” It is crazy that in this time when I am not a “professional minister,” I have found personal ministry to be abundant. We have LOVED that part of this road. We pray that connection continues even after this journey is over. We pray we will always be empathetic to the needs and vulnerabilities of others, and that our ministry is more personal than professional from this point forward.
Fifth – we have learned about friendship. There are some people who, much like the Lord has done, have pressed into us during this season. They have overlooked my stress, my exhaustion, my self-absorption, my confusion, and have offered me friendship. There may be times where I can’t give back, even on an emotional level, and yet they are consistent. You learn, walking through something like this, that you have some amazing friends. I sat on the couch of a dear friend this week and for a few minutes I didn’t even speak – I just laid my head down and stared off – lost in my own mind. And she understood. Along with this, we have learned about the Church. The REAL Church, not the church. It is so ironic, as a Communications Director, my job has always been defining and advertising the church to the outside world. And yet, my entire definition of Church has been altered in this time when we have not been “officially” connected to any one church. I always have known on an intellectual level that the Church is the people and not the building. But I now know it on every level. When the Lord again opens the door for us to fully connect with a church, I think we will be more equipped and ready to be the Church than ever before.
Sixth – we have learned about the most important thing. This journey has taught us even more about the glory of God. The goal of our life isn’t earning the most, or feeling content, or buying stuff, or working hard, or raising a great family, or even being great ministers. The goal of our life is the glory of God. So up becomes down when heaven becomes more important than earth. A sweet friend shared with me this prayer which perfectly illustrates what we’ve learned:
Thou has brought me to the valley of vision
Where I live in the depths but I see Thee in the heights
Hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory
Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up
To be low is to be high
That the broken heart is the healed heart
That the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit
That the repenting soul is the victorious soul
That to have nothing is to possess it all
That to bear the cross is to wear the crown
That to give is to receive
That the valley is the place of vision
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells
And the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine
Let me find Thy light in my darkness
Thy life in my death
Thy joy in my sorrow
Thy grace in my sin
Thy riches in my poverty
Thy glory in my valley.
Seventh – we have learned about prayer. People ask all of the time what they can do for us in this time. My answer in the past would have been to ask for prayer, but I think that would have just been a blow-off answer. I don’t know that I knew the value of people praying for us before this time, or the value of my prayers for others. Now I know it. In the movie Shadowlands there was a quote about prayer that has always stuck with me. Someone asked the CS Lewis character if he was praying to get answers. His response was, “That’s not why I pray, Harry. I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.” Yes we have prayed for something and not gotten the answer we wanted for almost eleven months. And if the acquisition of this thing was the only reason to pray, I can see that some people would find prayer useless. But I don’t pray to get this thing anymore. I pray to be able to breathe. I pray because I am helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all of the time, waking and sleeping. And so now, that is why I pray for others. So they can breathe. Because they are helpless. Because their need flows out of them all of the time, waking and sleeping. And I pray that they, like me, would be changed and that this trial would serve to show them the faithfulness of our good God.
I know there are more – but this is a good start. For those of you on this road with us – we love you and understand. We relate. And we are praying.