Illegitimis non carborundum!

A friend recently told me a story of his fiancée, a teacher at a small Lutheran elementary school in the Midwest. The school that employed her had long required that all of its teachers be trained at a college associated with the church, and because the training received at this college was tailored specifically to students wishing to teach in parochial schools, the degree is naturally very specialized. Trained teachers graduating from the school are issued “calls” by the synodical higher-ups and head directly to the school chosen for them by the administrators. There, they begin to teach for as long as they are needed—usually until a new call comes from somewhere else. For teachers within the church, the call has always represented a mixture of the sacred and the secular: while administrative in a practical sense, its focus has always been the divine.

Recently, however, it seems that budget woes necessitated the cutting of staff and thus the termination of calls. And so my friend’s fiancée lost her job.

The hybrid nature of the call makes it difficult to say whether this is right or wrong—or even “possible” at all. From an administrative standpoint, of course, you can’t have workers without wages. From the standpoint of the church, however, terminating a call in this manner makes it seem as though what was thought to be a divine charge is in fact subject to the very human limitation of dollars and cents. Doubts begin to arise: Is it possible that what I viewed as divine is really just a decision made from the top of a low-rise office building somewhere? I can understand not being needed here, but not being needed anywhere?

While we know that things given to us from above are frequently taken away or trampled upon by men here below, all of this can be confusing for a young teacher who has just lost her job and is about to be married, too.

To make matters worse, apparently some of the teachers terminated in this manner have been replaced by graduates of public teacher-training schools, who do not have the training that this young woman took the time and trouble to gain. The result of this decision to replace a specialist with a generalist is a double-edged sword: while our friend will now have a much more difficult time finding a new job in the public sector, her replacement is filling one of the few positions that are (purportedly) left open to people with specialized degrees. Setting aside the questionable legality of firing one teacher and hiring another for (presumably) lower wages, imagine how this must make someone in her position feel: Am I just too expensive? I only did what I was told. Has my church really gone from the divine call to the bottom line?

And, of course, What will I do next?

Back on the East coast, another friend of mine recently lost her job as a result of a layoff after years of devoted service to a local art institution. Like the young teacher mentioned above, her job loss was purportedly due to budget cuts, but in this case I suspect that supervisor insecurity had quite a bit more to do with the decision. Adding insult to injury, the same institution that could no longer afford to maintain her position suddenly discovered the funds to hire a new curator as well as advertise for a new staffer whose full-time duties will represent less than half of the work formerly done by my friend.

Once again, I can easily see how resentment might set in. Both of these women had jobs with purposes. In their own way, both of them thought that they were serving a higher calling—whether God on the one hand or the public good on the other. Then, suddenly, it seemed as though their chosen calling no longer had room for them. To see your position filled by a younger, less capable individual after you’ve gone only rubs salt in the wound.

In today’s troubled economy, I could tell you ten more similar stories for each of the two included here. The stoic in me is tempted to throw up my hands and say, “Well! These cases are nothing special. When the economy gets bad, people lose their jobs. There’s no sense in getting upset about what you can’t change.”

But of course, no one gets upset for the utility of it. We get upset because we’ve been hurt.

Honestly, I think this is one of the most overlooked aspects of any job loss scenario. Yes, there’s the fear of what comes next and the question of where the next dollar will come from. There’s the bitter reality of having nothing to do with your day, except perhaps fill out more job applications. There’s the difficulty of explaining to friends and family that you’re still looking for a job. Watching your still-employed friends struggle to understand—to come up with a new, less patronizing form of “I’m sure something will turn up”—is no doubt an almost unbearable indignity.

But on top of all of this, there are the moments when you’re alone with yourself, asking what you could have done better and where it all went wrong. You did the work. You weren’t a slacker. You loved your job—maybe even loved the people with whom you worked. Maybe even looked forward to Mondays, if such a thing is possible in the adult world. Yet in spite of this, you feel that you’ve been rejected, cast aside by your church or your museum or your restaurant or your firm. This, in turn, makes you question not only yourself, but also an institution you held dear.

All in all, that’s a lot of pain.

However, hope can be found even in rejection. I’m a strong believer in the old saying that when God closes a door, he opens a window. We can never really know why something happened the way it did, and sometimes it will be years before the benefit of such a snag will become clear. In the meantime, trusting that everything happens for the best will reorient any negative focus and help alleviate some of the pain. Although sometimes our superiors make what seem like bad decisions about our lives and leave us without control, we can at least control our attitudes and any decisions we make after that.

And if that doesn’t do it for you, I encourage you to adopt the somewhat more vinegary motto in the title instead!

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