This week marked the start of the fall semester for undergraduate classes started at Cairn University, where I obtained both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. It’s also the first time in five years that I haven’t been present in the stuffy gymnasium for the annual convocation chapel. In some ways I’m not missing much by not being there since the message that the university president gives is always the same: We may have doubts and anxieties regarding new classes, professors, or environment, but we should take solace in knowing that we are where God has put us and He has designed for us a purpose in these new adventures. This week has also been my first week of effective unemployment. This summer I finished my graduate work and should be receiving my degree in the mail some time in the coming week, but with that degree I lost one of my jobs as a student worker at Cairn (which I loved). My other job as a substitute classroom aide (which I loathe) hasn’t offered me any jobs since school districts haven’t started classes yet. So for the last several days I have sat at home, run some errands, and spent a good deal of my day in front of my computer researching jobs and sending out applications to various opportunities.
For those of you familiar with C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, there’s a character introduced in The Silver Chair named Puddleglum. Puddleglum is a rather doleful sort of creature, ever observing the world as a glass half-empty, but always willing to “put a bold face on it” despite his negative perspective. While doing a study of The Silver Chair with our youth group, my friend and co-leader coined the term “puddleglumming,” to describe a state of mind or attitude in the manner of Puddleglum. Well, as August wound down and the end of my employment at Cairn came closer, I found my heart and mind on a tumultuous sea of anxiety, stress, and even depression. I was, in essence, puddleglumming it (and excelling at it, I might add). While I never articulated it, I realized – at least subconsciously – that there was a comfort in the rhythm of academia and being a regular part of university life. Even going into this week and realizing that come Monday morning I wouldn’t have a job to go to, was very disconcerting; as if not being a student or an employee anymore somehow diminished my purpose in life.
I had something of a moment of clarity the other day in which I remembered Jeremiah 29:4-7 which says:
“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (NIV).
God essentially tells Israel to go into 70 years of exile – otherwise known as the world’s worst time-out – by putting a bold face on it. Now, I am by no means being exiled or punished by God, I’m merely going through significant life transitions. However, the point I’m attempting to pull out of this text is that it is good for me to search for a job and to anticipate significant changes, but until those changes come, I need to make the most of what I have and flourish where I’m at. To put it another way, I’ll reference Star Wars Episode I (may God forgive me). At the very beginning of the film, Qui-gon tells Obi-wan Kenobi to not be too mindful of the future at the expense of the present. My point being, that it’s good for me to pray about and apply to different jobs, but the prospect of taking up a new job or having to move shouldn’t prevent me from investing in my relationships and responsibilities here and now.
It’s not just a matter of responsibility and professionalism either, it’s a matter of culture care as well. It’s a matter of faith, and expressing and exercising my humanity. To illustrate my point, there’s a fantastic scene from the Star Trek film First Contact in which Jean-Luc Picard explains that humanity forsook money not just because it had unlimited resources, but because it was more important that individuals and society as a whole focused more on personal growth and development than they did on obtaining more and more wealth in comparison to their neighbor. I love that scene because it’s such a beautiful ideal, but I realized that this time of pseudo-unemployment is an opportunity for me to grow and develop. To better myself as an individual by investing in worthwhile ventures that also happen to be pleasurable.
What I initially went into with fear, trepidation, and even a sense of failure, is really a gift. It’s a chance for me to reconnect with God with undivided attention; to better myself in a way that we are rarely given. Because realistically, we all have hobbies or well-intended products, but after an eight, nine, or even twelve hour day at work, what kind of time do we have left to dedicate to those projects? What kind of attention can we give to our physical, spiritual, emotional, or intellectual well-being? We’re a work-addicted society that sacrifices more than we know or care to admit as we work ourselves to death.
So, as this week and maybe next week passes and I begin to live off my savings, I’ll continue to research and apply to jobs. I’ll continue to write and drum. I’ll continue to read and study on the back deck or take a nap in the hammock. I’ll do all of these things and possibly then some, because as a wise man once told me, “God’s got this,” and with that in mind, I’ll keep calm and put a bold face on it.