Losing a job hits you at two levels. First you lose a steady source of income. (I am assuming most of us do not have large, independent sources of money.) This is particularly scary when you have mortgages to pay off and your kids are in college. It is surprising how fast the savings go.
Here the duty of the church is clear. We are to bear one another’s burdens, understanding that those who have more are holding in trust, resources for those in need (Acts 4:32-37; 2 Corinthians 8: 13-15). Churches should also mobilize all spiritual and material resources to help unemployed folks return to gainful employment.
Unfortunately there is a deeper and more serious assault that comes from losing one’s job. And that is the assault on one’s identity and sense of self worth. I tasted this frightening experience first hand in the early days of my marital crisis. One day you are a preacher and teacher in high demand. The next, nobody knows you. Speaking engagements are cancelled. The phone stops ringing. I had all my theology down pat. It wasn’t of much use in my vocational crisis. If Soo Inn wasn’t a preacher, what good was he? Indeed who was he?
It shouldn?t be too hard to understand this linkage between our sense of identity and our work. After all humankind was created with a vocational dimension ? to tend for God’s creation (Genesis1: 26-28). To work is a fundamental part of being human. No wonder we feel less than human when we are out of a job.
Is there a Christian answer to the psychological damage of unemployment? Two things come to mind.
First, we need to distinguish between our vocational calling and paid employment. God may have gifted you to be a teacher, for example. Whether or not you get a paid position as a teacher does not take anything away from the fact that you are passionate about teaching and that you do it well. Your teaching vocation is not linked to a regular paycheck. Times of unemployment could be times of rediscovering who we really are.
Secondly, we need to say again and again that our sense of self worth must be rooted in God’s love for us. Our significance and identity come from the fact that we are children of God (1 John 3:1). And no one can take that away from us. Again, a period of unemployment could be a time of testing as to where our foundations really lie.
Good theology is fundamental in any proper response to the psychological damage of unemployment. But good theology can only go so far.
What saw me through my darkest moments were a small group of good friends. Some contributed to my financial needs. All accepted me for who I was. I was no lesser in their eyes just because my ministry was severely curtailed.
The presence of unemployed folks in our midst is finally a test of the church community. Do we really believe that all our monies belong to God and are at His disposal for His children? Do we really believe that a person’s worth is rooted in the fact that God loves him/her and not in their earning capacity and/or position? I fear that many of our communities will be tested and found wanting. And that is scary indeed. For in a fast changing global economy, more and more of us will be in between jobs.