Out of Work & Struggling with Discernment

Dear Father Edward, I have been out of work for a while. I know God is not in the employment business, nor is he that concerned with how we make a living. His concern is for our soul. That said, I’m told I will know God’s will … and that he is leading me to something just right for me. But how do we know the direction he’s leading us in? And how do we pray about this … and how do I keep from worrying? What if I just don’t feel anything as to what to do? Why is God silent? Is there a way to “hear better”?

I’m sorry to hear about your difficulties finding a job. Unemployment is never an easy situation, especially when there is a family to be supported. Moreover, people often peg their sense of self-esteem to a job. Work, in fact, has a spiritual dimension. Pope John Paul II’s 1981 encyclical Laborem Exercens observes: “Work is a good thing for man — a good thing for his humanity — because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being.” Through our work we contribute to building society and helping our neighbors. The Catechism in No. 2427 notes, ”  Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another.” In this sense, God is certainly concerned about how you make a living. Any work that truly improves the community and the individual is an activity worthy of respect. Even the humblest job can help a person grow in virtue if he undertakes it out of love for God and others. More than a few unsung saints have spent years toiling in disagreeable jobs in order to provide for their loved ones.

Now to your question about God’s will. That is often one of the biggest question marks hanging over us. Let’s say that it is good to remember who you are. You are a beloved son of a heavenly Father. You are made in his image and gifted with an immortal soul. That is the heart of your identity. God cares about you and your well-being. “Your Father knows what you need” (Matthew 6:8). Reminding ourselves of God’s providence can help to stave off worries and feelings of despair. Then too, we have to “pray always without becoming weary” (Luke 18:1). Prayer demands perseverance because God has his own timetable for responding to petitions. He often speaks in a whisper, so he wants us to make an effort to listen to him. If you have more time on your hands right now, consider dedicating longer periods to prayer and Bible reading. Attend daily Mass, if possible. Learn to guard the spirit of silence in your life by limiting the use of media and other distractions. In this way you give the Holy Spirit the space he needs to work in you. The Spirit also needs something to work with. That is why it is good to have a strategy for job hunting. Program your time well. Tap into your network of friends and business contacts. Keep an eye on helpful job-posting websites. Pursue every worthwhile lead. Be flexible. Also, consider doing volunteer work; it helps us put our own challenges in perspective when we attend to the needs of others.

Be alert, too, to how your next job could be integrated into your spiritual life. Downtime between jobs can help to teach us more humility, more patience, more gratitude. That means that we might re-enter the workforce as better people. At that point we can perhaps see better that our work is a way to give glory to God. For now, don’t lose hope. God has a plan for you, and he will reveal it in his time. I’ll keep you and your job search in my next Mass intentions. Best of God’s graces to you!

Yours in Christ, Father Edward McIlmail, LC

Father McIlmail is a theology instructor at Mater Ecclesiae College in Greenville, RI.

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