No Christian is unemployed. If I leave it at this, then I have merely equivocated the term “employed” and left the reader dissatisfied, having received no advice from an entry titled “Advice to the Unemployed.” In one sense, you may be gainfully unemployed right now, but because your vocation is greater than professional employment, you are in another sense never unemployed. In your basic humanity, you are always employed to continue in this life with vigor and joy. In your Christian baptism, you are always employed by God to be working upward, to be pursuing holiness and love and joy and spiritual maturity. So while you are currently without work, there is indeed much work to do.
Work is good. Look for work. During this season of unemployment, get not comfortable with the lack of direction or labor. The lack of employment should be unsettling for you, because work is good. It is right to labor in your city, alongside your fellow man, to be tired, to extend your gifts to others, to help others with their mission, and then to be paid a fair wage for that work. So, while you wait on the Lord, keep the desire to work alive; don’t let the lack of interviews or the lack of a consistent schedule or the lack of colleagues dull your desire to work. And look for work daily, even if it’s not the best option. Get as many options for work as possible, and then choose the best one. Apply to jobs daily. Talk with people. Take every meeting. Hustle, which I will discuss later. Hustle, because work is good.
Major. Minor 1. Minor 2. I have offered this advice over the past few months, and it has consistently been received with great appreciation, but only because I first told it to myself and live it month after month. Do not think you must find that one job which gives all you need and takes all your energy. Think about it this way: first, find a “Major.” Find a first job that provides 60% of your income and takes up 60% of your time and energy. Then, find a “Minor 1.” Find other work that provides 25% of your income and takes up about 25% of your time. This will likely be something you want to be the Major but that has not yet become the Major, perhaps an interest or hobby. Then, find a “Minor 2.” Find a third field of work that provides the remaining 15% of your income and takes up 15% of your time. Again, this may be a hobby, or a small risk you are willing to take. Commit to these for 6 months, and see what the Lord blesses. If you are an artist, go find 20-30 hours of employment a week, doing something. Then, for your Minor 1 and Minor 2, seek to teach art, or pursue art commissions, or assist an art studio, or write about art. It may be the case the work you’ve chosen will stay your Major, Minor 1, and Minor 2 for a few years. This has been the case for me. It may also be the case that your Minor 1 becomes your Major in a few months, and you drop your Minor 2 altogether because your Major and Minor 1 are having greater success than you expected. In this way, you can take a risk in some areas you want success (Minor 1 and Minor 2) without neglecting your responsibility to provide for your family or to do good work. Modern capitalism, and especially the rise of creative employment, is showing us that more people today have multiple jobs than ever before. This diversification of your portfolio is healthy, and it allows you to exercise a variety of strengths without taking risks that could be financially or professionally harmful. I often give this advice to those in their twenties, who have many interests, but also feel the pressure to be responsibly employed. “Yes,” I tell them, “go get responsibly employed in a Major, and then put together a Minor 1 and Minor 2, and see what may happen in the coming year.”
Do good every day. The Lord may not have provided you with gainful employment right now, but he has given you many other things. We cannot determine all the reasons why your job stopped, or what the Lord may do with this turn in the plot, but one of the reasons why he may have taken gainful employment from you is so that you can take greater care of other areas: your family, your city, your soul, your physical health, your church, your other interests. You cannot grow anxious and care for the things God has not given you. God is an ontological master, and that means he cares about the things he brings into being, and he asks you to do the same. Take care of what God has given you. So you planted five fruits and only three have actually survived. Care for the ones that are. Care for the ones God has grown, the ones still there, and see what may happen. This does not mean you cannot replant the others, only that this is what God has blessed and has maintained for you, so do not presume on your own wisdom above his. My mom was recently in between jobs, and she found herself a few months out of work and trying to decide what to do next. She was a model person in this regard: she realized that God gave her this time and space in order to care for her aging parents, in very specific and practical ways. And she did. She was able to serve her brothers and sister in helping her elderly parents transition from their home to assisted living, to adjust the finances, to sell their childhood home (which my grandfather built), and to assist everyone emotionally in that transition. She could not have done this still working, and so we can see in retrospect that the Lord cut that tree so that she could tend to the other.
The gift of time. Work is a gift. Money is a gift. Time is a gift. It’s all a gift, so what do you plan to do with it? God may have taken from you your job and the corresponding income, but he has now filled up your world with more time than you thought possible, and he did it unexpectedly. Surprise! “A gift?” you say. “This is not the surprise I wanted!” Maybe not, but it’s the one you got, and, believe it or not, it’s a gift. So what do you plan to do with all that time? Who needs your time? God has given me and my family a lot of things, lots of money is not one of them, even when I’m working hard, at my Major, Minor 1, and Minor 2. But he has given me abilities and time and other gifts. What am I doing with those? Time is no less of a commodity than money. It is perhaps even more precious because we all have the exact same amount, and that means some big things are expected of our decisions. Who can you love with your time? Go for it, and you may just find that in the path of loving others with your time, you find gainful employment.
Hustle. Don’t get down. What good is that going to do? Take a breath, and hustle. How you leave something is just as important as how you start the next thing. In fact, how you leave your old job is important for how you are prepared for your new job, when the Lord decides to give it. Deal with the disappointment and surprise of the unemployment, and then get a plan and hustle. Keep a good schedule. Time block your responsibilities. Maintain (or get) a healthy diet. Exercise. Take care of your room and your house. Enjoy leisure with friends. See what needs to be done this day, and do it. One of my favorite quotes is from Isaac Watts: “Study without prayer is atheism, as well as prayer without study is presumption.” You should work. You should pray. You should prayerfully hustle. Apply to jobs each day. Use your time well. Read. Search out and take care of your soul. Get in a healthier place than when you left your job, a healthier place than when you were in your last job. You cannot control God’s timing and his gifts, but you can control your prayer life and your work ethic. Do that. Hustle, and go to bed tired six out of the seven days a week. See what comes of your labor.
I got my first job out of college, at twenty-two years old. I was hired as the commercial project manager of a small construction company in Baton Rouge. It was not my first love, or my fifth, but it was work, in a field I somewhat enjoyed and studied in college. And it fit some of my gifts. Some new friends had pulled some strings and gotten me that job, and so I was thankful for them. I was in that job from May 2008 to August 2008. In August, the economic recession hit, and because the other project manager was the veteran, they let me go, along with half the company. I spent the next few months unemployed. Not married. No kids. Living on savings, and wondering what to do. Those were some of the sweetest months of my life. In those few months, I learned to live simply, to hustle, to do good each day, to trust God’s love, to use my time wisely, to enjoy leisure, to manage my finances with greater scrutiny, to pursue other interests I had, to enjoy the gift of time, to ask others for help, to pray fervently, to serve my local church with my time, to build good relationships with men around me, to realize I was, after all, very much still employed by God. It was because of this season of unemployment I read and studied like I never had. I began to love literature, philosophy, education, theology, the local church, and friendships like I never had. It was at the tail end of this unemployment, in November 2008, that I “fell backwards into” education. And things have tumbled into place ever since.