Thursday, August 1, 2013

Lose Your Job? God Has Other Plans II

Fr. Dale Matson

In 2011 I wrote about the problem of unemployment for older Christians in the workforce using myself as an example.

Recently the issue of unemployment for older adults was addressed in a New York Times article by Alina Tugend (July 26, 2013).

Although Alina herself, is in the vulnerable age demographics of many unemployed, her pedigree of degrees from Yale and U.C. Berkley and current job with the N.Y. Times will probably insulate her from the fate of so many others her age who cannot find employment.

If I were looking for helpful suggestions on finding employment from her article, I would not be encouraged or comforted. “For those over 50 and unemployed, the statistics are grim.” She quoted Nadya Fouad of U.W. Milwaukee. “Helping people figure out how to cope with a future that may not include work, while at the same time encouraging them in their job searches, is a difficult balance.” Where is the hope in a statement like that? Don’t you think that would be double minded advice at some level?

Calling yourself “semiretired” may be a way of coping according to the article but ultimately it is nothing more than denial. "And even more, 'they should know the problem is not with them but with a system that has treated them like a commodity that can be discarded,' said David L. Blustein." Calling yourself a victim will not help either.

One gets the sense that Alina is treating unemployment of older folks as someone on the outside looking in. Unemployment is not some unmentionable disease contracted by the lower classes and those with limited skills. Her understanding is more like my young family doctor who tells me that my arthritic pain is a normal part of aging. So just accept it?

Those in the article, who counsel job seekers, tend to see a job as a means of identity formation and sustenance. “Is it the high social status? The identity? The relationship with co-workers? It is important to examine these areas, perhaps with the help of a professional counselor, Professor Fouad said, to discover how to find such meaning or relationships in other areas of life.”

How about this advice from the Triathlete Scott Tinley instead? “Your job determines how you live. What you do away from your job determines who you are.”

When I interviewed returning adults for the Masters/Credential School Psychology and School Counseling programs at Fresno Pacific University, I hoped for a sense of service to others and particularly, Christ in others. These were older adults who had not found their niche, were burned out in other professions, were not challenged any longer or wanted a job with meaning. We actually had two bartenders retrain as School Psychologists. Their crisis was a life crossroad.

I was disappointed when the first questions to me were, “How much money can I make?” or How soon can I get out of the program?” I encouraged those folks to find other paths for retraining.

As someone who has been there, treating the job search as a spiritual task is my best advice. As Christians we are called in our final Eucharistic prayer “And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” (BCP 366) What is God calling you to do? Don’t look at it with limitations “...For man this is impossible but with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

Above all, don’t be discouraged. In my preparation for my transition from an unemployed skilled worker to a reemployed professional, my continuing consolation from God was, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  (Philippians 4:13). Biblical abundance does not mean being rich. It means having enough. I retrained for the Priesthood beginning at age 60. I had lots of jobs and three great careers. I had been led to each one by God.

As a suggested devotional during your search, read Voices of the Saints by Bert Ghezzi. I will not say, “Good luck.” I will say, “God speed!”

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