‘Life’s not fair!’ I recall thinking as I landed at a wintry Heathrow in 2016. My work permit and overseas posting in east Africa had ended sooner than planned, and my wife and I were now out of work. Later that day I learned that my dear mum was critically ill. She died a few weeks after we got back. And on top of all that, we weren’t able to move back into our home, as it was on a long lease to tenants.
If losing a job is rather like a bereavement, then my wife and I felt triply hit. How do you cope when life continues, but your work stops? What does it mean to be a fruitful frontline disciple if your frontline suddenly changes? What is the Bible’s perspective on all of this? And what practical steps can you take?
Let me give you an outline that may help as you navigate the big questions of job loss – from working out what you’ve lost and what you need to recover, to discerning where God is in your situation. We’ll walk through the following steps together in this article, reflecting on the spiritual impact of job loss, examining some practical steps to take, and considering how to move forward with fruitful purpose as a disciple of Christ.
1. It helps to know your story
2. Redundancy is an opportunity to rediscover your identity
3. As Christians, Jesus doesn’t promise us a life of ease – but he does promise always to be with us
4. There are practical steps you can take to give yourself options
5. Preparation for the future is best done with friends
6. There is hope for a re-established purpose and light at the end of the tunnel
1. Know your story
Many of us describe ourselves by the work we do, but our jobs need not define us. As Christians, we’re called to join God’s restorative, redemptive work on Earth. Our jobs are part of that mission – but they’re not its limit. God has good work for us to do wherever we are – even in unemployment.
Here’s a great example. My wife and I have two friends who, like us, were doubly unemployed at the start of this year, even before the ravages of Covid. Then, just when they were at their lowest, they had a series of visits and telephone calls from needy friends requesting their help.
While they were looking for new roles, they found themselves being busier than ever, spending time with and helping other people. Unemployment did not define them – instead, it became a new frontline. They were able to help many friends in practical ways simply through the gifts of time and listening. Looking back, they simply could not have done that in their previously busy lives. God was at work and he gave our friends a chance to join in.
The bottom line is this: it’s important to ask yourself ‘what is my story?’ What am I living for? Is my work part of an expression of my God-given purpose, or does it define who I am? It’s absolutely right to dedicate ourselves to finding a new job if we’re out of work. But when we see God’s wider story for our lives – including but not limited to our work – it puts joblessness in perspective.
Our purpose does not depart with our jobs. God is still at work in our daily lives and we can still join his fruitful work where we are. That is our story.
2. Rediscover your identity
The chances are that losing your job will prompt a host of emotions. Anger, pain, loss, numbness, disbelief, despair, panic, fear – maybe even relief. It’s a good idea to find a trusted friend you can confide in as you process those feelings. Our emotions can be dangerous if kept bottled up, and it’s often a relief to be able to express how we really feel about losing our work – especially when it’s unexpected and out of our control.
More than that, talking with a friend can also help you explore who you are. What is your identity, and where do your self-worth and purpose come from?
We’re coming up to Christmas right now, when the famous passage from John 1:12 is often read: ‘to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God’. John reminds us that if we are Christians, we belong to Christ. And because our identity is in him, we are part of a far larger story.
3. Jesus: with us
I love the short story of Jesus in the boat with the disciples in a storm (Luke 8: 22-25). Luke takes very few words to paint a vivid picture of the disciples, terrified by the wind and the waves, waking Jesus up from his sleep. Jesus got up and spoke, and the storm subsided. Jesus, the eternal creator of the world, can intervene even in nature. The disciples were panicked by the storm, but Jesus was right there with them.
As a good friend remarked recently, we do not always recognize Jesus in a crisis, but the fact that he has helped us before gives us confidence he can do it again. That is the essence of the faith that Jesus was reminding his disciples about.
We may well not see what Jesus is doing in the unfolding story of our life until long after the work crisis has passed. But he is there, and like the disciples we can turn to him, and trust he will see us through.
4. Practical steps to take
Once you’ve taken the time to reflect on the emotional and spiritual impact of a loss of work, there are several practical steps you can take to maximize the time you have to consider your options.
With a trusted friend, work out how long your current funds will last. You could also consider getting legal advice if your employer is offering you a financial package or if there are benefits you are entitled to.
Again with a trusted friend or support from organisations like the Citizens Advice Bureau or Christians Against Poverty, it’s well worth drawing up a budget covering your necessary outgoings so you can make a short-term plan whilst you start to look for your next role.
As you tackle these stressful tasks, invite God to be present in the work you’re doing. Ask him to guide your hands and mind, and offer the jobs of budgeting and contingency planning to him.
5. Prepare for the future
Having sorted out the immediate issues like legal advice, a budget, and maybe a stop-gap job, you likely have several options ahead of you.
A good place to start as you narrow down those options is with the familiar saying: ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’ I remember overhearing a member of staff in a restaurant sharing this excellent piece of advice with her colleagues. She was talking about her partner, who had just been laid off work. She was clearly confident that the people he already knew in his industry would help him find his next job opportunity. In my experience in business and HR this is often the case.
Rather than rushing to update your CV and applying to all the vacancies you can find, why not pause and, with a friend, list out all the people you know in areas where you might be interested or qualified to work?
Connecting with former colleagues and friends, hearing their stories, and telling them what most interests you can be a much more enjoyable way to identify job opportunities. It can certainly narrow down what could otherwise be a daunting list of possible roles, and can help you avoid the pain of needless rejection from jobs that for various reasons may not be suitable.
Crucially, as you sift through the options in front of you, don’t forget to lift your head up and give yourself a break from time to time. As you think about what role will suit what you want to do next, there are opportunities to use the time you have to develop new habits, and perhaps pursue interests that you’ve not had time for before. And in all of this, ask God to show you the role he has for you on your current frontline. Who might he have put you alongside in this season?
6. A re-established purpose – and hope for the future
A few years ago, I advised someone who was facing a redundancy situation. Several months afterwards, they said: ‘While I wouldn’t want to go through this again, I now have a really clear sense of my purpose; why I am here and what I want to do next. I was really unhappy in my previous role and probably needed a reason to change tack.’
Job loss is almost always hard. It’s right that we express our feelings of anger, fear, and disappointment to God when it happens. And it’s right that we prayerfully dedicate ourselves to finding the right next job, trusting in God’s provision for our daily needs.
But my friend’s response to their period of redundancy illustrates a really important point. Time between jobs is not ‘dead time’. God does not leave us alone while we frantically try to find a new role to restore our purpose. Instead, he goes with us into joblessness and continues to give us opportunities to glorify him – through the way we process loss, talk to our friends and former colleagues, love our families, and search for work. And as we do those things, we can grow a re-established sense of purpose – rooted in our identity as children of God, sent with a purpose into our everyday lives.
Let me share one final thought. In his 2007 presidential campaign, Barack Obama focused on the theme of ‘hope’. As human beings we may well get stirred into action by a crisis or by something that makes us angry or upset, but a great campaign can only be sustained by hope.
Hope means knowing the greater story we are in. It means knowing that as Christians, Jesus Christ is in the boat with us, just as he was with the disciples. We may not hear him speaking above the wind and the waves, but he is there. And it means knowing the purpose we represent: remembering that as disciples of Christ, we have a mission for every part of life – employed or not.
Work Forum Director