When you’re told you’re special and God is going to use you in wild and world-changing ways—as I had been repeatedly told during chapel for four years—you begin to believe it.
And when you’re told you’re special and then you can’t find a remotely normal nine-to-five job, you start to wonder just how special you really are.
I graduated in December 2012 with a major in English Literature and a minor in Pre-Med, and I thought that my $100K+ Christian education guaranteed me a decent job—full time, benefits, vacation. They gave me a college diploma with fancy Latin words on it that said, “This kid didn’t sleep much these past couple years”—ample proof I would have a pretty decent job while I waited to find out if I got into medical school. Or so I thought.
But then there was no job. Nothing happened for several weeks, despite my faithful completion of dozens of online applications and a well-groomed LinkedIn profile. I spent hours wondering why I wasn’t doing anything with my life and why my stellar college career wasn’t getting me anywhere.
In Exodus 3, Moses leaves Egypt after murdering a man and endears himself to the Priest of Midian by watering his sheep; so much so, in fact, that Moses gets a wife out of the deal. Moses then, not surprisingly, takes up the family business of watching said sheep. This being the same Moses who grew up in one of the most advanced ancient civilizations in history. His education was the old school Mediterranean version of Harvard, he grew up in a palace, and he apparently knew how to throw down because he murdered an Egyptian and scared some pushy shepherds away.
Moses graduated with Latin honors, and he ended up watching sheep. There’s no Biblical record of it, but I imagine Moses had a couple bad days, and I bet he occasionally thought man, this really sucks.
But then we read about Moses’ encounter with God in the desert, the wilderness of Sinai; the beginning of God’s great and tumultuous love story with the nation of Israel, and the start of one of the most fascinating interpersonal relationships in the Bible. God didn’t come to Moses while he was powerful or remotely clean; the Lord who spoke matter out over the dark void chose a moment of insecurity and lack of direction in the life of Moses to end years of divine silence—to speak out through holy fire into the life of a man who had probably been told his whole life he was special, but now sat around with sheep.
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
After God promises repeatedly that things will work out, and that Aaron is going to help Moses, Moses eventually agrees to leave his barren wasteland for the fertile lands of the Nile—ripe for conflict. I wonder if God didn’t just want Moses in the wilderness tending sheep so he could talk to him, but also because God knew the green pastures ahead would be hard, and it’s okay for a person to be directionless for a while.
Unemployment has taught me some difficult lessons. I know the penetrating insecurity of not finding work and wondering if I’m ever going to make use of this life I’ve been given. My heart now has more compassion for people that don’t have jobs or that can’t seem to find something that fits. And I realized just how precious a thing direction is—that inward compass that says yes, this is why I’m alive. Not having that, even for only a short time, can cripple us.
Then there were the constant lessons about identity issues. Every time I got on Facebook or Twitter, I felt like everyone I knew was accelerating towards success, and I was sputtering around in my pajamas. We culturally associate much of our identity with our work, and when we can’t even get a job we are painfully overqualified for, our very understanding of who we are can unravel. There were some awful moments when I was turned down for a job that didn’t even require a high school diploma. Those experiences, when stacked up like up cars in a wreck, can weigh down every part of our being. All the pithy C.S. Lewis quotes and chocolate in the world can’t make a person feel better on those days.
But there is something to be learned from those identity crises, a lesson that is freeing and life-changing: the realization that God loves us regardless of how successful we are or what we do for a living. Moses crossed the desert, broken, leaving Egypt and everything he knew. God came to him in a bush, of all places, and told him to go back and change the world.
These are truths that can’t just be known, but must be endured. Some things are like that in life: we can’t understand until we become—we can’t truly know from a distance the crippling feeling of inadequacy that comes with repeated failures to find fulfilling work. Nor can we experience the overwhelming peace from knowing that God is writing a story in our lives that is bigger and more glorious than our professions or our degrees.
God likes these barren wastelands, because it is there, amid the sheep and the identity crises, that we change. He plies our nature and whispers into our wandering: I am going to be with you. You’re going to feel like you’re making this up as you go, but I’m not. So while unemployment is undeniably awkward and overwhelming, do not feel the time in the desert is lost. For the Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it—even the wastelands.