The first time I got laid off, I ran to a bathroom to cry. I am quoted in a trade magazine sniveling something about, “but I really thought we were doing good work, producing something valuable.” (For the record, the image of me crying in the ladies room was exactly not how I wanted to debut before my “national audience.”) My cynical evaluation of the publicly-traded market economy did not make the article.
I emptied my desk into a small box the final day and shoved it to the back of a closet at home. It had been my dream job. Landing it, I imagined God confirming my life’s value and calling. I was established. I had health insurance. I was even unionized. And I delighted in the work of my hands.
But when the most junior 10 percent of us got cut free, God seemed to hide her face. I was more than dismayed. I got clinically depressed. And that box of horrors remained untouched in the closet for four years, until my sympathetic spouse donned psychological rubber gloves to dispose of the rolodex and notebooks and business cards so we could relocate states away for a new career.
Did I really let that box represent me and the corporation stand in for God, so little valuing me?
I did, in some subconscious way. Perhaps you have, too. We can’t help it. We’re Ah-MUHR-ik-uns. It’s just eh-kah-NAH-micks. (My 11th grade economics teacher punctuated those words by smacking the chalkboard, and I can now pronounce them no other way.) A decade after marrying into the family, I realized I did not know what my Canadian relatives did for a living. I had to ask. Then I spent a whole day marveling at their courage to never need mention it.
Surely we could learn this little thing from our Northern neighbors: We are not our work. Prosperity is no measure of God’s favor (or our value).
I like to think the singer of Psalm 30 learned this. She starts off “established.” But God’s smiling face seems to disappear, and she becomes dismayed, crying out to God. (I imagine her bawling in the ladies room in her first good business suit.) Then something happens – it never says what – to turn that sobbing to some kind of loud joy.
More than a decade after that first layoff, while nursing new wounds from another meaningful job eliminated, I heard a writer in Vitae suggest that a “professional identity” is a now a luxury few can afford.
Accepting that could be a good thing.
But it’s a bitter blessing. Who can receive it?
I thank God Jesus is not my CEO. As 6.6 million lives are rocked with unemployment this week in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic and all we are doing to limit the devastation of COVID-19, here’s my prayer: May we find our human worth more in our being and less in our working.
All of us. Humans valued for being.