Baseline Weekly - Resilience Through Relationships

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”

- Matthew 1:23 (NIV)

“If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!"

- Ecclesiastes 4:10 (NIV)

In April 2020, I was told that my position at APU would be ending in two months as the university leadership had decided to shut down the Strengths Academy of which I was the Director. I was disappointed by the decision; but, being an optimist, I comforted myself with the belief that God would soon open up a new door since I was intentionally seeking God's will for my life. Yet, 15 months later I was still looking for a full-time job and had no idea how much longer God would have me marching around the “desert” of joblessness and deep inner life work.

When I started this article, I was intending to share how I had experienced God’s care in both practical ways as well as deeper spiritual ways. In particular, I wanted to give testimony to the healing power of intimacy with Christ ”in the midst of” difficult circumstances as well as the critical role of asking for emotional support of friends. I felt that my affirmation of God’s goodness and healing would be more relevant if I shared from the position of still being in limbo, rather than out of the wilderness because testimony’s from a place of “knowing how the story ended” can feel a little too "neat and tidy" for how it feels along the way. Fortunately/unfortunately, my circumstances just changed as a few days ago I was offered a good fitting job at a great institution. So, my anxiety about wondering if I was ever going to get a job again has ended, but my testimony from being “in the midst of” difficulty has been thwarted.

Yet, as I’ve been thinking and feeling about my change of circumstances I realize that God's faithfulness was still worth sharing about and the road ahead feels like it's a new challenge for which I/we are going to need God and friends as much as we did before. You see, the new position is in Washington DC and that will require a major relocation for my wife and me while leaving our daughter (Kyra) at APU for her final year of college. In all honesty, I (we) feel a bit overwhelmed at the moment, even though we are thankful that God has provided this wonderful opportunity.

So, even though my context has dramatically changed in the last week, I still feel the lessons that God has been teaching me through joblessness remain important for me (and maybe others) going forward. Let me share some lessons God has been helping me to learn:

Lesson #1: My identity and security are found through intimacy with Jesus, not by my efforts or favorable circumstances.

I know everyone reading this blog post already "knows" this truth, but God wanted to bring this lesson deeper into my heart and not just remain in my head. For many of us, our jobs consciously or unconsciously become a cornerstone of our identity. Not only do we get a job title and a paycheck, but our jobs also give us a rhythm to live by and a community in which to belong. I was surprised by how fast I shifted from feeling like an insider at APU to an outsider. No one was shunning me, but in my heart, I felt like I didn't belong there anymore and I began grieving the losses in many areas of my life. At the same time, the pandemic began impacting more and more people and everyone began dealing with their own versions of anxiety and isolation.

Consequently, after several months of job hunting with very little signs of progress, my usual upbeat optimism began to wear thin. After contracting and recovering from Covid over Christmas, my body decided that it would be a "good time" to reactivate my anxiety disorder just to add a little more stress to my life. Though I had navigated periods of anxiety before, I was deeply discouraged by the return of this distressing addition to my life when I was already feeling like a downer and a drain on my wife and friends as I continued to fail at finding work.

I intellectually knew that my identity and value as a person was not in what I accomplished, but in simply being a child of God, but I still felt ashamed that I was falling apart in so many ways. As I cried out to God and tripled the time I spent reading the Bible, praying, and journaling, I still wasn't finding the relief or comfort I longed for. The gap between my theological affirmations and my in-body experience grew further and further apart. At some of my lowest points, I was forced to acknowledge that if God didn't intervene, I couldn't think or willpower myself out of the anxiety pit I was stuck in. This place of extended desperation led to my second lesson.

Lesson #2: Asking for and receiving support from friends is a central way God expresses God's nearness.

If you haven't noticed already, I suffer from a severe case of "performance orientation." That means, without the redemptive grace of God reminding me daily, I will attach my self-worth to what I am able to contribute at work, in my family, and in my friendships rather than on the freely given grace and mercy of God. In my broken mindset, I only feel emotionally secure when I believe I'm giving more than I take from others. (Wanting to bless others is great (and from God), but finding my identity in my performance is toxic (and from the devil)). So, as my unsuccessful job hunt continued month after month and my anxiety disorder got worse and worse, I felt deep-seated shame rise in me, and I felt tempted to isolate myself because I didn't want to burden people with my struggles and discouragement. Ironically, my fear of rejection began to lead me away from others rather than towards them.

Fortunately, through timely reminders from friends and counselors, I decided to take the risk of directly asking for emotional support from friends rather than withdraw and hope I could "fix myself" on my own. Though I felt extremely vulnerable every time I called, texted, or emailed my friends for support, God used those interactions to both deepen my friendships and also help me see that experiencing God's nearness was oftentimes linked to my experiencing comfort and connection with flesh and blood people. While I confess I still prayed for God to instantaneously cure my anxiety and provide a job, I was slowly learning to receive love and comfort while still being "in the midst" of painful circumstances.

Thankfully, God has used medications, counseling, and friendships to greatly reduce my anxiety (though it's still a part of my life) and as I mentioned earlier, I just got a job! My circumstances have significantly improved, but I know there's a new set of opportunities and challenges in the months ahead.

As I wrap us this blog entry, I know I will need to keep prioritizing intimacy with Christ, without it being linked to my performance. I also know I'm going to need to keep asking for emotional support from friends and family as we make the transition to Washington DC and my new job. I confess I still feel some fear and anxiety mixed in with the excitement and gratitude for God opening a new door, but I'm learning more and more that God wants