Mar 9, 2009

Faith Without Work

Last fall, my husband and I did something few 40-something Americans envision. We moved in with my parents. After a family tragedy and a looming recession that didn't bode well for either my own or my husband's industry, we decided to take a radical step by leaving Southern California where we had lived for six years—it was time to move back East. Not only did we need the personal support this move represented, we also needed to tap into our primary social and professional networks to find work.

Critical to our decision was the fact that my parents have a large home. There's room to spread out. We've also missed each other and wanted to be together in our time of grief. Finally, we've all had previous experience with communal living and know how to navigate the landmines. Everyone's faith and character is being stretched, and we're each being blessed in unexpected ways.

As to vocation, my approach has generally been to knock on doors until the right one opens. Lately I've done a whole lot of knocking, but no one appears to be home. My patience has been tested, and along with it my faith and self-confidence.  

The first professional step I took after we were settled was to make an appointment with a career counselor. I had read an article that suggested if job seekers aren't getting interviews, their resume needs modification; but if they are getting interviews and no offers, their interview skills need improvement. I surmised that my resume was not working for me and asked the counselor to evaluate it.

He identified an issue I had long suspected as a barrier. My work history has been almost entirely within the religious sector. Together, we worked to downplay a potential negative. We also highlighted non-religious work experiences and contacts. Ultimately though, I must trust God with my vocation: past, present, and future.  In college, I had changed my major for expediency and then had succeeded beyond expectation.  Later, I sailed through many open doors in my industry. That was then—things change.  

The counselor commended steps I was already taking: depending on family at a challenging time, applying for positions via job boards, tapping into both personal and professional networks, cleaning up my online reputation (e.g. changing the setting on my blog so that only the front page comes up in Internet searches and asking other blog hosts to remove attributed comments from theirs).  He also suggested that I make connections through LinkedIn.com (a networking site for professionals) and attend job fairs. 

When I finally landed my first interview, I was nervous. The fact that I had to get out there and sell myself within months of a devastating loss was more than I thought I could handle. I also needed to be careful not to communicate desperation to a potential employer. Thus, I considered the interview primarily as a learning experience. Yes, I wanted the job, but trusting God to care for me as he had always done reduced my anxiety.   

Matthew 6:25-26 tells us not to worry about our lives: what we will eat, drink, or wear. Jesus admonishes, "Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" God knows what my family and I need, and when.

I shed some healthy tears with my family before I left for the interview and was strengthened with the knowledge that they were praying for me. The issues I had been nervous about turned out not to be as awful as I'd imagined. The two-hour process was much less taxing than I'd feared, and I was able to project more confidence than I actually possessed. As anticipated, I didn't do particularly well on a specific skill test, but excelled on another.

I didn't get the position. The closed door told me that I should stop applying for jobs that depend largely on my weakest skill set and focus instead on those that tap into my strengths.

Financial need is forcing many of us to adapt creatively to a volatile job market and tightening economy. The process can be both uncomfortable and frightening. It can also be an opportunity for growth, if we remember who cares for the birds and opens barn doors.

God does all things well in His time.

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