Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lessons from Unemployment: Part 1

So, I know in writing you’re supposed to leave the suspense to the end, and build up and all…but I’ll spoil the ending now: I got a job! In fact, I got a great job. Next week, I’ll be going to Gearbox—a game development company in Plano, TX—to take the position as Producer for one of their games. I’m not sure how I keep landing these dream jobs, but for the sake of this article, let’s say “God is good” and leave it at that for the moment.

What I want to ponder about today is the last two months. Unemployment.

I never had a job in high school or college, other than some light summer internships at churches. I’m not that guy who squeezed every penny out of childhood, making a killing by cornering the lemonade market on my block. I guess I’ve always been fortunate in life, blessed with the ability to follow my whims (and they are many) as I’ve forged myself into this modern-Bohemian-renaissance-man.

But in my adult life, from the moment I left college, I’ve worked. From selling pianos to writing documentation to designing design software to making games—I’ve always worked.

Except for that brief two weeks in 2004, when Ensemble Studios jettisoned it’s QA department overage.

And now. Two months.

Two months without a job teaches you a lot of stuff. Mostly, it teaches you that having a steady stream of money is nice if you want frivolous things…like food and electricity. But it also reveals a lot about yourself.

Over the next few days, I want to drop a few blog posts here with some of my self-reflecting.

First, my blogging will make Carrie happy. She’s been asking me to write more while I’ve “had the time”, and now as my “the time” runs short, I want to fulfill her request.

Second, I know a lot of folks who have also been here with me. Some, simply by following my plight on the interweb, and chiming in with prayers and support. (Thank you, by the way.) Others are with me in the trenches—without work and, subsequently, fingernails.

Maybe, you will find some of what I write encouraging. Probably, you will learn some things about me. Ideally, you will also gain some perspective into how God works, at least from my viewpoint.

UNEMPLOYMENT LESSON 1: God works on a bigger scale than “bill” or “paycheck”.

To say “God provides for your needs” is cliché, but scriptural. It’s also a misunderstanding of the depth of an unlimited creator. God can indeed be a token dispenser, letting a pellet drop down the chute on request. In all our modern complexification of God, don’t discount this simplest of acts on His behalf. I think every parent find simple joy in occasionally being the “dispenser”; taking a moment to give something to your kids in response to their request. God does that too. Sometimes. It’s cool when He does.

But God does SO much more than dispense packages of goodness.

I started unemployment in mid-January with two-weeks’ severance, and a hopeful mis-expectation that I could be working again in that two-week period. I won’t belabor you with details of bad economy, high jobless rates, and such. You know about all that. Just take a moment to do the simple math with me: two weeks does NOT equal two months. I had no known source of income for well over a month of that time. Yet here on the threshold of dream job number three, our family is still eating meat and watching YouTube.

What miracle did God use to cover the gap?

Mana from heaven? Nope.

Mysterious envelopes of cash? Negative.

Lottery-like benevolence? Not on your life.

Kind parents sharing some of their blessing (earned by a lifetime of faith and obedience) helped some. An additional and unexpected two-weeks’ severance from my previous employer, MumboJumbo, helped as well. Taking some initiative to submit our tax refund earlier covered a few weeks. Adjusting and simplifying our family lifestyle minimized bad spending habits. Talking to our mortgage company and asking for some leniency (after eight years of not missing any payments) also made some room.

Then there was a little gig here, and a free dinner there. Small, un-dramatic, practical actions. All chained together.

See, there wasn’t this moment where the Hallelujah Chorus played and we knew everything was going to be okay. We also didn’t spend time locked in a prayer closet, making our requests known while leaving it to the angels to fly down and do the heavy-lifting part (like digging up gold bricks from our back yard. Which would be cool. Don’t get me wrong.).

God is fully equipped and capable of sea-parting miraculousness. He’s done it before and I’m sure He will do it again. But I think the way God loves to work is far less like an award-winning director and far more like an agricultural scientist. Less Ford Coppola and more Washington Carver. God can use the spectacle. I mean…He’s God. The act of scratching His own chin would be spectacular with Him even trying!

But take a good look at the way God works. He took seven days for creation, rather than just saying “BAM!” and have it all appear (which He certainly could have done. Let’s call this the Big BAM hypothesis, for reference.) God didn’t need the leadership skills of Moses’ to get the Hebrews out of Egypt, He could have simply sent down an army of fiery chariots. Or instantly trans-located the Hebrews to Colorado. God didn’t have to use Noah and a flood to remove the wicked from the earth; He could have just pushed a big cosmic “Undo” button. Delete the mistake. Erase the tape. Bleach the stain. He’s God, after all.

In fact, did God even have to send Jesus to die for us in order to save us? No. He could have found a much easier and cleaner way to accomplish that too, rather than go through all the mess of being born, having to make friends, having to deal with surly apostles, and then being brutally murdered by the people He was trying to help.

The problem is, we spend so much energy asking how God did these things that we forget to ask why God did things the way He did. Why does God take his time, when, as God, He doesn’t have to?

I don’t know.

But here’s my guess. God loves us. He wants us to love Him, too. Love is not something that is wrapped up in a box with a ribbon and given to you once to have and to hold. Love is a carefully cultivated garden, won equally through the hardships of weeding and the celebration of flowers in the early bright days of summer. Like a couple married for fifty years or Brothers in Arms.

Love isn’t given once; it’s shared over time. We are temporal, time-bound people. By tomorrow, we will have forgotten the gifts given to us today.

So…God spends less effort on the cheap gifts, like bailouts and lotteries. His time—His love—is focused on things that are far more lasting: carefully pruned relationships with his children. Daily reminders of His love, His provision, and His desire to partner with us in life.

God didn’t give me a job in two weeks from when I was laid off. Though, I started off asking for that very thing in my prayers.

God didn’t respond to my season of difficulty by sending the cavalry and carrying me off to safety, without woe or worry.

God didn’t rain down mysterious blessings from Heaven.

God didn’t swoop in and dramatically save me from unemployment.

It took time. It took the work of my family. It required a patient partnership with a God who could have—but chose not to—instantly given me the Answer Pill.

But that makes Him no less my Savior.

To tell the truth, the last two months were even less dramatic than my writing here makes them seem. Most days were occupied with activities as banal as waking up, checking a job list, sending an email or two, and then finding ways to fill the empty minutes.

But I know God was with me. God moved the big pieces around, while prompting me to accomplish edicts of His Will as grand as getting my car inspected. God interceded in my two months, not with a burning bush but with quiet sustained provision.

Did my faith grow at all these two months as I watched the unfolding of a flower while I desired the explosion of a firework?

That’s the great thing about growth.

Even if I answered “no” to that last question…

…it’s still growing.

1 comment:

Shannon Burton said...

Loved this blog! Carrie sent me here...I hang out with her most Tuesday evenings at Bible Study. We have been praying for your job... and Praise the Lord! We are shouting out with you.