One of my regular readers left a couple of comments on my Easter post, The Promise of Easter, that were deep enough in scope that I thought it best to respond to it with a full post rather than with just a comment. The subject of her question is just that important.
One thing before we get started: this is a BIG topic, so this will be a LONG post. Anyway…
“What about doing some research to see how folks are using their FAITH to deal with the recession – whether they have an income or don’t…How to not give up when you get tired of stressing over income generation and feeling something is wrong with you…?”
Angela has been dealing with the unemployment issue for at least three years. Most people see unemployment as mostly a statistic—one the government confidently and regularly reports is getting better. Those statistics, I believe, mask much bigger issues. The number of people who are chronically unemployed, or chronically underemployed, is well in the millions and the options for these people appear slim.
The real story on unemployment
Some reports are showing the number of combined unemployed and underemployed is in the neighborhood of 17 to 18% of the workforce—that’s one out of every six adults who want a job. Another telling factor is a recent survey showing that 25% of working age adults went without health insurance for some part of 2011. It’s an outstanding bet that many of those people went without coverage because they were either unemployed or underemployed.
But let’s get past statistics—most of us know people who are in this situation and often we know more than a few. Maybe you’re in it yourself, and if you are you’re hardly alone. There are millions of people who’ve lost well paying, fully benefited jobs they held at the beginning of the recession, and are now doing a balancing act that includes part-time, temporary or contract work mixed with periods of complete unemployment.
Age doesn’t seem to be a barrier either, though it does seem most acute at the extremes. A report out just this week indicates that new college graduates face the prospect of a 50% unemployment/ underemployment rate upon graduation. And if you’re over 50, or even over 40, the loss of a job can mean the loss of a career.
How do you cope with that, either through faith or by tactical means?
Clear the decks—your life has changed
Denial can be your mortal enemy. Many people who lose their jobs continue on with life as they always have, confident that they’ll soon get another job that will restore their lives to “normal”. But if you lose your job, normal might start looking very different, and this is especially true if you’re middle aged or older.
That may mean changing your lifestyle, maybe even radically. That includes spending less money and maybe even selling off some expensive possessions. It’s quite possible that your new normal life won’t allow you to keep your home or a late model car, and if that’s the case, the sooner you deal with it the better off you’ll be.
Stay out of debt!(!!!)
One of the first things people do to maintain their lifestyles after a job loss is borrow money, reasoning that it will “only be temporary”. But debt isn’t temporary–it’s cumulative–which is to say that it grows and grows. If your unemployment becomes chronic, any debt you take to keep your old ship afloat will soon become an unsustainable burden.
Get a part-time job and keep busy
There are at least two reasons for doing this; one is that it can be vitally important to your sense of self worth to work at something productive, and the other is that it gets you out and about and meeting people in the real world. Applying for jobs on the web that never get back to you can wear down your self-esteem so you need to be out doing “real” things.
Here’s a bonus third reason: some part-time jobs offer health insurance. I’ve compiled a list of some of the larger ones in my post 20 Part-time Jobs With Health Insurance.
Angela has an interesting story on her site about a young man for whom a part-time job became something more. We never know where opportunity will come from, and sometimes it can start with a part-time arrangement.
Get healthy (seriously!)
Unemployment is stressful—chronic unemployment is really stressful. You’ll need to take that very seriously. Eating healthy when no money is coming in is almost impossible, but you can offset this by eating less, which will also help your finances. The other half of this is exercise, and that can be a major stress reliever. Walk, bike, jog slowly, but do it every day if you can. Not only will it help you maintain your health, but it helps you to connect with your body and with the world around you.
Get new skills
The first suggestion on this is usually to attend some sort of school, but that costs money you probably don’t have. That shouldn’t stop you. Part-time jobs can be a chance to learn new skills, but you can also consider doing volunteer work.
Consider working for free—just a few hours per week—at your church, the library, a local school, a non-profit agency or even for a small, local business. You may get a chance to learn how to use a new software program, as well as an opportunity to obtain references and new contacts. You might even convert your volunteer work into a paid job. What do you have to lose?
Find what it is you really want to do
My final suggestion on the tactical side…you probably have been working to pay your bills up until this point, but now that that situation is gone, it’s time to focus on what it is you really want to do with your life. Most people don’t seriously consider this during their working lives, but this is an opportunity to do it. Start gearing up to do something you like doing, something you’d do even if it didn’t make any money for you.
And here’s something most people don’t like to think about (but you must!): if you’re middle age, and draining your retirement accounts to survive, you may not be able to retire. But you might still be able to semi-retire, and that won’t feel nearly as bad if you’re doing work you actually like. This might very well be another part of your new, normal life so it’s well worth embracing.
Some form of self-employment may the better route here, and I have a whole category of of posts on this topic. Sometimes the best way to deal with unemployment is self-employment because you can’t be fired, you won’t be forced into retirement and you have an opportunity to grow the business in a way you might not be able to do with a job. Consider it, even if you never have in the past.
Faith in the face of chronic unemployment/underemployment
Crisis can be a time when our faith is at its strongest, but if it lasts long enough, and especially when it goes on for several years, we can sometimes feel abandoned by God. It’s a constant struggle to remain faithful in the face of a relentless, daily struggle just to survive. Making it worse is that you can be surrounded by people who are doing much better—people who are not in crisis—and asking yourself, why me Lord?.
How do we reconcile those feelings with the idea of a loving, merciful God? Are we being punished for a past sin? Or for not having enough faith in the midst of our troubles?
What we have to understand is that crisis is as normal in life as blessings are. Consider what the Bible says about this…
Peter gives us this message:
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”—1 Peter 4:12 (NIV)
And in the Book of John, Jesus tells us:
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”—John 16:33 (NIV)
Jesus is telling us in very direct language that we will have trouble! He doesn’t say may, might or could possibly—he says that we will. Having trouble doesn’t make us weird, cursed or condemned—its part of the package we call life. And He has us covered, no matter what we’re experiencing. In Matthew 28:20 he gives us these very comforting words: ”…and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (KJV). Always, as in always and forever.
Along the same line, Job experienced an avalanche of troubles few of us will ever know, but here’s how his story ended:
“After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.”—Job 42:10 (NIV)
No, we don’t like crisis, but its part of our lives and we can never know when God is preparing us—through our crisis—for something better.
In my own life I’ve found that it helps to focus heavily on the last time—or several times—we faced serious troubles. They may not have been employment or finance related, but crisis comes in many forms. It could have been a health issue, a legal matter, a broken relationship or just about any problem we can imagine life can throw at us. The fact that you’re reading this article means that in some way you’ve overcome what ever problems you’ve faced in the past. God has delivered you through those troubles, and He will deliver you again!
I’d like to leave you with the lyrics to the song Hold Me Jesus, by Rich Mullins. Maybe it’s been around for a while, but I just discovered it, and find the words to be a real comfort at a time of trouble:
“Well, sometimes my life
Just don’t make sense at all
When the mountains look so big
And my faith just seems so small
So hold me Jesus, ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace
And I wake up in the night and feel the dark
It’s so hot inside my soul
I swear there must be blisters on my heart
Surrender don’t come natural to me
I’d rather fight You for something
I don’t really want
Than to take what You give that I need
And I’ve beat my head against so many walls
Now I’m falling down, I’m falling on my knees
And this Salvation Army band
Is playing this hymn
And Your grace rings out so deep
It makes my resistance seem so thin
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace”
(Suggested reading: Psalm 23. Though it’s often recited at funerals, if you read to the words carefully, it seems to me it’s more about how God navigates us through the trials of life. Read it from that perspective and see what it says to you.)
If you fall in the chronically unemployed or underemployed group—or if you’ve recently triumphed over it—what advice do you have for others who are still dealing with it? How has your faith helped you along the way?