This is the time I have been working and hoping for; this is also the time I have been anticipating looking back from. I left full-time employment in 1997, and — an M.Div. and Ph.D. notwithstanding — have only worked part-time since. I have been blessed to have the financial and emotional support of loved ones; I know this time could have been even harder. And yet, seeking full-time employment since 2009 and not finding it has been hard enough. In the last year alone, I made the short list for five jobs and did not get one.
Until this one. I am happy to say that UNC Hospitals has taken me on, in a weird kind of studenty-work called Supervisory Education. It is a transitional path that takes one from clinical pastoral education (CPE) and chaplaincy to becoming an ACPE-certified supervisor of persons in CPE. So, it’s sort of a job in that you are doing chaplaincy as well as on-the-job training to become a supervisor and drawing a stipend; and it’s still an education and training path.
I could be bent out of shape over the low pay or the studenty status — demeaning for a Ph.D.? Or I could be grateful to have full-time, meaningful work with pay and affordable benefits that is in line with my vocation, that will both challenge and feed my spirit.
I choose gratitude. Gratitude has been my life-raft through the long white-water stretch of unemployment. During the time when I was underemployed, I did find some work here and there, and I did get some writing done, but most importantly, I think, I had time to wonder, “How do I want to look back on this time?” and to try to live into the answers.
I knew at some point the job search would end; I intended it to end this year. I would either find full-time employment in my field, or move on to some kind of secular job. At that point, when I looked back on the time between, how would I feel? Would the time I spent feeling anxious feel like wasted time? Would I feel that I had used the time like a well-earned sabbatical, learning and resting and growing and preparing?
I knew how I wanted to feel; I knew how I wanted to have spent the time. And it was hard to stay in gratitude for the time off when I wanted to be working, feeling fulfilled and like I was contributing to our family. I was and am so fortunate: my beloved often reminded me that I was contributing. My kids grew old enough to be grateful for the time I had given them.
When this position came available, I did everything I could think of to prepare not only for the interview but to accept it should it be offered. Knowing I would not be able to care for my hot mess of a puppy, I found Bo an excellent new home with stay-at-home people who had other dogs and a fenced yard and who loved him on sight.
And, knowing time for a wedding would be hard to come by after I started working, my beloved and I took the time to get married in Pennsylvania. News I had gotten this job came the day before our wedding day: I can’t fully describe the relief I felt in that moment, the joy. To feel that I would be able to keep my promises, to be completely unencumbered by doubt and grief going into this sparkling day, to have this joy to share — so much yes!
So, dear reader, I put the question to you. Where in all of that was the answer to prayer?
Was I some kind of good person who had worked and struggled long enough, and God threw me a bone? The job was the answer to my prayers?
I have to say, no. I don’t think so. I don’t believe so.
If I have said that I do not believe in a puppeteer God who gives people cancer or takes their babies because heaven needs another angel, then I also have to say I do not believe in a God who gives people jobs.
Where, then, was the answer to my prayers?
Do I even believe there is such a thing as answers to prayers?
I know I don’t know who or what God is. I can only perceive in limited ways. So, here is a limited perception. My tradition tells me that God is love. Recent interpreters of my tradition have told me that what we call “God” is more a verb, than a noun … so, it’s more accurate to say “Godding is loving,” than to say “God is Love.”
I have perceived this loving in the support I felt from people around me, tangibly and intangibly.
I have perceived this loving as the instinct arising within me to turn from my anxiety over what wasn’t toward gratitude for what was and is.
I have perceived this loving as the strength given to me to keep my heart open — to strangers, to oppressed and hurting people, to my children, to my beloved, to God — even as my apertures kept trying to close down to keep out the pain and fear and loss that fills the world around me, and that my own psyche manufactures.
These have been answers to prayer. These have been the oils of gladness that have kept my scarred heart supple enough to open to the joy of today.
May you find your prayers answered, with whatever you need to keep your heart open to live and love another day.