Finding God in Unemployment

What you can learn when you can't find a job.

When you’re told you’re special and God is going to use you in wild and world-changing ways—as I had been repeatedly told during chapel for four years—you begin to believe it.

And when you’re told you’re special and then you can’t find a remotely normal nine-to-five job, you start to wonder just how special you really are.

I graduated in December 2012 with a major in English Literature and a minor in Pre-Med, and I thought that my $100K+ Christian education guaranteed me a decent job—full time, benefits, vacation. They gave me a college diploma with fancy Latin words on it that said, “This kid didn’t sleep much these past couple years”—ample proof I would have a pretty decent job while I waited to find out if I got into medical school. Or so I thought.

But then there was no job. Nothing happened for several weeks, despite my faithful completion of dozens of online applications and a well-groomed LinkedIn profile. I spent hours wondering why I wasn’t doing anything with my life and why my stellar college career wasn’t getting me anywhere.

The Lord ... chose a moment of insecurity and lack of direction in the life of Moses to end years of divine silence

In Exodus 3, Moses leaves Egypt after murdering a man and endears himself to the Priest of Midian by watering his sheep; so much so, in fact, that Moses gets a wife out of the deal. Moses then, not surprisingly, takes up the family business of watching said sheep. This being the same Moses who grew up in one of the most advanced ancient civilizations in history. His education was the old school Mediterranean version of Harvard, he grew up in a palace, and he apparently knew how to throw down because he murdered an Egyptian and scared some pushy shepherds away.

Moses graduated with Latin honors, and he ended up watching sheep. There’s no Biblical record of it, but I imagine Moses had a couple bad days, and I bet he occasionally thought man, this really sucks.

But then we read about Moses’ encounter with God in the desert, the wilderness of Sinai; the beginning of God’s great and tumultuous love story with the nation of Israel, and the start of one of the most fascinating interpersonal relationships in the Bible. God didn’t come to Moses while he was powerful or remotely clean; the Lord who spoke matter out over the dark void chose a moment of insecurity and lack of direction in the life of Moses to end years of divine silence—to speak out through holy fire into the life of a man who had probably been told his whole life he was special, but now sat around with sheep.

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

After God promises repeatedly that things will work out, and that Aaron is going to help Moses, Moses eventually agrees to leave his barren wasteland for the fertile lands of the Nile—ripe for conflict. I wonder if God didn’t just want Moses in the wilderness tending sheep so he could talk to him, but also because God knew the green pastures ahead would be hard, and it’s okay for a person to be directionless for a while.

Unemployment has taught me some difficult lessons. I know the penetrating insecurity of not finding work and wondering if I’m ever going to make use of this life I’ve been given. My heart now has more compassion for people that don’t have jobs or that can’t seem to find something that fits. And I realized just how precious a thing direction is—that inward compass that says yes, this is why I’m alive. Not having that, even for only a short time, can cripple us.

We culturally associate much of our identity with our work, and when we can’t even get a job ... our very understanding of who we are can unravel.

Then there were the constant lessons about identity issues. Every time I got on Facebook or Twitter, I felt like everyone I knew was accelerating towards success, and I was sputtering around in my pajamas. We culturally associate much of our identity with our work, and when we can’t even get a job we are painfully overqualified for, our very understanding of who we are can unravel. There were some awful moments when I was turned down for a job that didn’t even require a high school diploma. Those experiences, when stacked up like up cars in a wreck, can weigh down every part of our being. All the pithy C.S. Lewis quotes and chocolate in the world can’t make a person feel better on those days.

But there is something to be learned from those identity crises, a lesson that is freeing and life-changing: the realization that God loves us regardless of how successful we are or what we do for a living. Moses crossed the desert, broken, leaving Egypt and everything he knew. God came to him in a bush, of all places, and told him to go back and change the world.

These are truths that can’t just be known, but must be endured. Some things are like that in life: we can’t understand until we become—we can’t truly know from a distance the crippling feeling of inadequacy that comes with repeated failures to find fulfilling work. Nor can we experience the overwhelming peace from knowing that God is writing a story in our lives that is bigger and more glorious than our professions or our degrees.

God likes these barren wastelands, because it is there, amid the sheep and the identity crises, that we change. He plies our nature and whispers into our wandering: I am going to be with you. You’re going to feel like you’re making this up as you go, but I’m not. So while unemployment is undeniably awkward and overwhelming, do not feel the time in the desert is lost. For the Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it—even the wastelands.


Luke Walker


Luke Walker commented…

Oh... Father do that thing you do when we do those other things that aren't too bright....

Bud, point number 1... I can give you about two dozen biblical references about not going into debt. That right there effectively disqualifies you from giving career and financial advice.

Point 2: If you ARE unemployed, why are you writing a blog versus finding a job?

Point 3: Moses is turning over in his obscurely located grave. His education cost nothing (aside from burnt tax money). His calling was PRESENT when he murdered the Egyptian (you can note this because of the reason WHY he murdered the Egyptian). By extension, he could have started the Exodus right there. He didn't exactly need the "consecrated shephers staff of Midian" to do the job. But instead of listening to God, he elected to "throw down". The years of spiritual silence for Moses were not due to his former status-- it was due to his sin. And the end of it did not come about because Moses was broken, directionless, and watching sheep, rather it came around because (go back a chapter) the pharoh bit the big one, and the new pharoh (historically probably Ramses II) made life even more miserable for the Isreali people-- their cries and supplications reached the Lord, who, albeit pretty much scrapping Moses 40 years prior, now needed someone to get the job done.

By the way. See Moses. See Moses Screw Up. See Moses Screw Up A Lot. Screw Up, Moses. Screw Up. This dude literally blows it quite a few times (usually in the temper department) before he's done with his "career". Each time, there's a period of silence that lasts so long that, collectively, he ends up "retiring without benefits" if you know what I mean. (If you seriously don't know what I mean, go read a Bible, and consider what it would feel like to work non-stop for 120 years, and then get laid off at three-weeks severence pay)

Be really careful telling folks that God will take care of their problems, or call them out of the desert. Work (regardless of the type or genre), even if it is hard to find, is the vehicle through which we fund our service to God. Some work is needed in order to effectively minister! If you are having trouble finding work in your field, volunteer your services. Learn to market yourself. Paul made tents the whole way through Corinth, Athens, and Rome. Peter continued fishing after the ascension, as a means of support. He didn't have a popemobile.

In short, PEOPLE! If you're employed now, but lack direction, DO NOT QUIT YOUR JOB and go into some barren wasteland filled with sheep (if it has sheep... is it barren?) in order to find God. You have a purpose. Take the weekend to recalibrate, figure it out, and then WORK towards it. Unemployed folks: Stop being still and knowing He is God. You know He is God. He knows He is God. I know He is God. Knock it off. Instead of trying to calibrate at 0 velocity (ever try turning a skid steer when it wasn't moving?), get off of your holy kiester and go do SOMETHING (not caring what) productive. Then, once your family is taken care of (different topic, differnt time), maybe then you'll be "purposed".

By the way, not being persnickty here... but I've lived through this four times. Corporate buyouts, layoffs, company bankruptsies... and every time, I'd get up, dust myself off, and go get a new job. No unemployment lines. No depressed moping around. No "sabbaticals". And no, I don't live in a big city. Middle-of-Nowhere PA, actually, where everyone says "gee, jobs are just so hard to find. Yeah, I'd move if I were you...". Is it hard to go from managing 70 guys and servicing 28000 customers to selling things door-to-door? Yep. NOW is the time to be still (shut yer yapper) and know He is God, and do whatever (again, WHATEVER) you do as if you're doing it for the Lord.

Garrett Lemons


Garrett Lemons replied to Luke Walker's comment

The irony of this opening prayer is fantastic.

Point 1: He never mentions debt in this entire article, so this point is immediately irrelevant. Nor does he offer career nor financial advice. Instead, reading comprehension shows that he’s offering some insight into what unemployment has taught him about God, and how that has influenced his perception of other people who struggle today.

Point 2: While I happen to know he’s not unemployed, it doesn’t matter. Writing a blog doesn’t take THAT much time even if he is unemployed. Job searching is absolutely maddening, no sane person keeps it up the entire time they’re awake while unemployed. What a ridiculous question.

Point 3: You make some excellent points here, but the tone with which you say them are incredibly unchristian. And to assume Moses’ education cost nothing is to limit your understanding of cost. Sure, it didn’t cost him any money like the system we have today, but to see your people in slavery costs more than we can ever really know. I agree his calling was present, but the Exodus could not have started right then and there. God had to reveal himself to the Egyptians as larger than their gods (which he does before the real Exodus) first, it’s His nature. Also, there is Biblical precedent for God removing people to the desert to teach them something about Him and themselves (Jesus, the Israelites after being scared to enter Canaan, etc.). To assume Moses was sent to the desert solely as a result of his sin is to ignore this Biblical precedent.

The fact Moses continuously screws up following the burning bush incident shows human fallibility, but God never responds in silence. In fact, to use something you so bluntly said, “go read a Bible.” Moses talks with God nearly face to face multiple times over the next forty years, many times after he has sinned drastically (I think of Numbers when he strikes the rock instead of speaking to it).

He doesn’t say that God will take care of their problems, he says that God says He will be with us through it all. Work is not the only way we fund our service to God. We must give of ourselves 100%, financially able or not. I can’t afford to give vast sums of money to missionaries I know, but I can write them encouraging letters reminding them of the love of a fellow brother in Christ or go feed homeless people showing the love of Christ. There is more to a relationship with God than the money we can put into it, and it’s incredibly narrow minded to assume so.

He never says to quit your job and head into the wasteland, what an awful extrapolation from this article. He is saying, with Biblical precedent, that if you find yourself in the wasteland God will find you there. It’s a deeper statement than the workforce, so don’t restrain it so tightly in your understanding. “Being still and knowing He is God” does not require actual loss of movement, it involves an inner peace which Brian talks about this article. I’ve been searching for a job almost daily for over a year since graduation, including some times where I have been interviewed four times and failed to be hired, and yet I know God has a purpose. But I’m not still, far from it. That is what he is saying in this article. Be at peace while going through the motions of actively seeking a way out of the desert. But, Biblical precedent here, sometimes God will keep people actively searching in the desert for up to forty years in order to teach them things about Himself. Sometimes doing all the right things still ends up running out.

Congratulations on having made it through the desert four times and for easily finding another job. In my job search and with talking with elders in my church, it is increasingly easier for professionals with experience to get another job quickly. Those of us leaving college with a degree, and yes some debt because that’s the system we live in today, and very little business experience can’t break into those fields so easily.

If I have come off as harsh, please forgive me, but your response and tone were completely uncalled for, not to mention entirely extrapolated from things never said in this article. God bless you and have a great day.



Krystal commented…

*insert all of the stereotypical whoa-this-is-totally-my-life-and-I-really-needed-to-hear-this stuff here*

But seriously. English major, class of 2013, that's me. Same boat, my friend.

But here are the things I know are true: Things will happen. God is good and he knows our hearts.

That, I hope, is somewhat encouraging for you.



Ben commented…

Thanks Krystal, that is encouraging.

I have been in a similar boat too. I graduated at the end of 2008, but I haven't been able to find a solid job in Marketing. I've had solid temp jobs since graduating. Sure, I graduated during the worst economic depression since the great depression, but I saw people working and, yes, people around me were succeeding. That's the hardest part. It's hard not to feel like something is wrong with you or you just aren't following/knowing God's call for your life when others are succeeding so easily around you and you can't seem to find anything no matter how hard you try.

This may be a little early to say this, but maybe God is teaching something to our generation. Maybe God wants a generation that hopes and trusts in Him even more than the generations in the past have had to (or just like generations in the past have had to). As I'm finding out during this difficult time, God wants all of your heart -- not just some of it. And He wants you to truly believe and put your hope and trust in Him. I've been living a life where I'll trust in Him, pray to Him, He'll make me feel better, and then I'll go out like Luke said and try to do everything on my own. Then I'll fail. Then I'll come back to God, but in real life, when others are around, and people around you are saying "just get a stinking job! do it! put your head in the dirt and do it! get off your butt! why aren't you trying hard enough!" it's hard to trust that God is there, see's that, and still has a plan for you.

It was hard making it through college on my own.... It's been hard getting a job on my own.... Maybe God is stretching my faith a little further? Maybe He's stretching your faith a little further? I've never lacked food, a place to live, or even at least some people around me to help me and encourage me. I've never been lacking. I thank God for that.

I'd also like to encourage those who've had to live off unemployment for a while. God sees you where you're at. He understands, and He is providing for you. We live in a different time than in Paul's day where you were taught skills when you were young by your father because you probably had to make a lot of stuff and farm and all that. I was never taught anything like that. I don't have skills like that. When unemployment's high, it makes it even harder to find work because when so many people are looking, if you don't have the skills or know the right person already, you probably won't get the position (unless God makes it happen, and even when you have the right stuff, He probably already technically did make it happen).

This time has taught me to depend on God. Lean on Him every day. Sure, I still go out, network, apply, search -- do whatever I have to do to find a paycheck. I've also learned to be thankful -- thankful for the things that God has given me. I can't begin to understand God's ways. All I know is that He does have a plan for your life and you were not an accident -- you're not just another warm body sucking up air. If you're reading this, you were born for a purpose. That purpose may be great or it may be small, but it's still a purpose none-the-less, and our act of service to God is just obeying Him wherever and whenever He leads us.

Jeremi Crews


Jeremi Crews commented…

This website IS SO AWESOME!! AMEN

Jessica Lebens


Jessica Lebens commented…

So needed to hear this today...thank you for being bold and writing what others need during their desert times.

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