Let those who boast, boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:24, NRSV)
Pride has taken many forms in my life, but most dangerously in this: I have taken myself far too seriously. You wouldn’t think that a neurotic worrier who spent eight years in therapy would be full of pride. But for years I was utterly consumed with anxiety over what would happen in my life, because I believed that it should go a certain way and that I had both the responsibility and ability to bring that about.
So there’s nothing like having your worst fear come true — 19 months* of unemployment in a bad economy — to show you how small you really are, especially compared to God.
It was kind of amazing.
Before I lost my job, if you asked me about myself, I’d basically recite my resume. And it would have been 100 percent accurate, because that’s what unchecked overachievement and workaholism had turned me into. It had even put me in the hospital a few times.
I couldn’t see myself through any lens but my work — which is a huge problem when work is taken away. And in January 2012, that’s what happened.
I moved to Washington, D.C., and went on tons of interviews, both actual and informational. People offered to put me in touch with someone they knew, or to look at my resume, or to offer me tips. But nothing worked. And more than a few times, I found myself as the second pick in the final round of interviews. It was humiliating.
It was also strangely liberating. I never took time after college to “find myself.” I couldn’t afford it financially, and my workaholic tendencies would never have allowed such a break from my “fix.” I had never experienced adult life outside of doing something. I didn’t know how to just be Juliet.
So I started taking long, peaceful walks around the city, and I started inviting God to join me. That is, when I wasn’t furiously raging at God for so clearly dropping the ball on taking care of me — God had ONE job, right?
But most of the time — when I wasn’t being a completely privileged, entitled jerk — I would find myself looking forward to these walks. Because weirdly enough, despite my fantastic attitude, God would show up.
I’d had some profoundly life-changing experiences of God before this, but through each, I’d also had other things to lean on — family, friends, work, shopping, partying. Though I couldn’t admit it, God was merely supplemental to my life.
But in this new normal, all I had was God. Nothing that had “saved” me before was working: not my excellent resume, nor my well-worded cover letters, nor my extensive network. I was cleaning church offices, yoga studios, and babies’ bottoms to supplement my unemployment benefits. I didn’t have health insurance. And I was in a new city, with still-unfamiliar community.
Gradually, I stopped fighting with God. I wasn’t flourishing professionally and I was squeaking by financially and physically, but spiritually I finally felt alive. It was like a light had been turned on and suddenly, I could see everything so clearly.
… Including myself. And wow, was that uncomfortable.
You see, when I came to faith, I saw it as a choice I had made after carefully and rationally weighing the evidence. But as I see how irrationally God loves me, and how gracious, how astoundingly beautiful and mysterious God is, it’s hard for me to see my approach as anything other than sheer arrogance. This amazing and incomprehensible God was waiting for me to find him plausible? That God doesn’t respond to that with a “ really!? !” is proof of his grace.
God still loved me despite my unfaithfulness. I was worshiping at the altar of my career far more than I’d like to admit, and that god required me to stop being human, even to die, in order to follow it.
But the God who lived through unemployment with me made God’s self small and human, shared my burdens and gladly died first before asking me to sacrifice myself. Instead of a job, financial security, or comfort, God offered God’s own self to a brat like me.
When I finally got out of my own head and my bad “you owe me a good life and a job” theology, when I could finally see that God was not passing me over, but carrying me on God’s shoulders , it changed me. God took me far more seriously than I took myself.
It’s been seven months since I went back to work. I work differently now, with a lot less ego. My greatest fear isn’t losing my job, but being dulled once again to the presence of God in my life and letting anything else shape my identity.
God has become essential and everything else, supplemental.
*Really any number of months of unemployment is terrifying, but 19 was my magic number.
Juliet Vedral is Press Secretary for Sojourners.
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