Meeting God in the unemployment line
Written by Lea Mathieu
June - July 2009

Dealing with an identity crisis

As I write this in May 2009, I face losing my teaching job due to a budget crisis. In 2008 I left a job I loved after years with the same school district and was able to move to the school my own children attend, with my young daughter in my class. Adjustments are always difficult, but I was getting the hang of the new place when I learned that, as the last teacher hired, I would be the first to go.

Every school in our area is in the same situation, so there are no openings. The range of emotions I have experienced go from bad to worse. There have been crying fits that come on suddenly and last too long. I feel betrayed, unwanted and so, so stupid for ever leaving a secure harbor. I feel invisible when résumés I send go unanswered, and painfully insulted when a colleague asks me with a sneer, "How are you going to get a job? No one's hiring."

I have two master's degrees, am National Board certified, hold multiple endorsements and have 10 years of exceptional teaching experience. And it looks like I'm going on unemployment.

I have been bleeding, kicking and screaming inside because my identity was being taken from me. I am called to teach more strongly than I was to parish ministry many years ago, and who am I without that?

This is where God comes in.

Yesterday was hellish, and today both of my sons were confirmed in church. The confirmands presented verses that summarized their faith, and my eldest chose Jeremiah 29:11: "For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope."

At one point, our minister said something about the young people being "called to be disciples of Christ."

Though intended for teenagers, both pronouncements spoke deeply to the middle-aged woman in the third row facing an uncertain future.

With shame, I remembered my supportive husband trying to console me just yesterday with what I rudely had dismissed as a worn cliché: "maybe God is leading you to another calling."

With even more embarrassment, I remembered standing at a guest pulpit not long ago preaching from my favorite epistle: "Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed" (1 John 3:2).

In repentance, I confess to falling into the decidedly American trap of confusing self with a job title and paycheck. Faith demands instead an embrace of my soul as the eternal God's disciple and daughter with a future of hope that will be revealed in its own time. I've been toying with writing and publishing for years; could I not turn this grave disappointment into opportunity for growth?

I wish I could say I am now suddenly full of peace and clarity, but I'm too much of a control freak for that. I still grieve losing my students and income.

But I no longer mourn the negation of my self, and I do realize, finally, that I certainly never left my safe harbor; indeed, I am moored for all life to come.

And to anyone else in this painful situation, I give my blessing, empathy, and invitation to rediscover your center within the Truth this world can never take away.

The Rev. Lea Mathieu, a public school teacher and United Church of Christ minister, is the author of "The Literate Spirit: Suggested Reading for Believers and Seekers." Information available at http://dailybreadpress.com

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