The first time I was unemployed was a bit of a shock but not too unexpected; I’d just left uni and took a while to find my first real job. The second was a bit worse – I’d got engaged a week earlier – but I managed to find something new before the notice period ran out. It was the third one that really hurt.
We were living in south Wales and I’d been offered the Dream Job: marketing manager of an arts festival that I loved and had attended for years. The interview was odd – conducted in the car, over the phone, while trying to direct my wife out of Cardiff and onto the M4 – but for some reason they offered me the job. My wife found a job in Chelsea and we found a flat in London Bridge, 10 minutes’ walk to Borough Market, 15 to the South Bank, 20 minutes to the office. Everything was coming together; after a succession of short-lived jobs this, finally, was the job I’d be in forever.
Or, as it transpired, for eight months. I remember the day clearly; my manager took me for coffee and stumbled, nervously, over her words. Some people say it feels like the world caving in, that they’re unable to process the words they’re hearing, but for me it was the opposite – I felt totally lucid, understanding exactly what this meant. It meant I was about to leave the job I loved. It meant that in the middle of a recession I had to find a job, in a niche market, or we wouldn’t be able to afford our rent. It meant having to tell my wife that having given up the job/church/friends she loved in Swansea to move 200 miles east, I’d now lost the reason for us doing that. We ended up living on one salary for two months, which in central London, with no savings, is a long time.
When I had a job, I thought if I was ever unemployed I’d have a great time; I’d write a book, spend whole days writing songs, visiting all of the great free things that London has to offer. But when I was unemployed, I actually spent the whole day applying for jobs, any job, and worrying about how we were going to pay the bills.
Being unemployed is hard work.
So, how was my faith in this? Well, first there was the “Why me, God?” phase, then there was the anger, which lasted a bit longer. Eventually I was able to step back from the emotion and realise that complaining to God was pointless. Was my faith in the way in which the world was created dependent on my career going well? No.
But between those times there was something else, another time where I wrote a lot, cathartically rationalising my feelings through the crafting of sentences. I fell back on God; prayed and sang more than usual.
Richard Rohr, a Catholic priest and author, talks about liminal space. The word ‘liminal’ comes from the Latin limens, meaning ‘threshold’. It’s the idea of being in between things, and not knowing the next step. For Rohr, it’s a “unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be… when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else”. Sound familiar?
But Rohr also says that: “Nothing good or creative comes from business as usual. Liminal space is the ultimate teachable space; maybe the only one.” He says this is where we get formed, and this was certainly my experience. I don’t want to make it into more than it was – it wasn’t a revelation, or some clear, loud, booming Word From God – but it certainly helped me. It was a refining of my faith, a realisation that I was in this for the long haul, and that my faith wasn’t dependent on things going well.
I wouldn’t exactly recommend unemployment as a path to spiritual growth, but if you find yourself in this liminal space there’s something to be said for staying there for a while and embracing it, learning from it rather than immediately moving onto the next thing. Maybe the next time you have a dark night of the soul, consider pressing the snooze button in the morning.
(Photo via Creation Swap)