Lessons from this unsettling season
I took a deep breath and teetered into the multi-purpose hall. Armed with my résumé, I was finally ready to meet prospective employers at my university’s annual career fair. Seen as the gateway to a promising career, the venue was buzzing with conversation, the air thick with apprehension. Everyone was decked in formal attire, primed to make the best first impression they could muster. Some booths had snaking queues, brimming with fidgety undergraduates seeking answers to their burning questions. I shambled out of the hall flushed with anxiety and uncertainty, and these emotions have only escalated with time.
With knowledge that more and more of my course mates have secured their first jobs, the tension among friends and within my heart became palpable. I trawled through job portals, and could not pick out a single possibility. “What if I can’t find anything I see myself doing? What if I am left with choices I formerly thought did not suit me?” I asked myself with furrowed brows.
Through a season of waiting, preparing, and dressing up for interviews, God has not only tested my values, but also corrected a couple of misconstrued perspectives.
In the past few months, my heart was sandwiched between applying for jobs and rushing out my final year honours thesis. I was forced to straddle between two critical tasks in my life, causing unease to burgeon. I distinctly remember a tempest of self-ambition and fear that drove my preparation for my first ever job interview, one which required me to present for ten minutes. Knowing that competition was stiff as everyone had been given an identical question, there was a compulsion to head to the library to unearth something original to present — a rudimentary online search was not going to cut it. The entire process was ridden with strife rather than a display of excellence.
A few days after successfully completing the presentation, I recalled the relief that washed over me. As I sat in the taxi, I thought, “Wah, at least that went well.” I was thankful to God that in spite of a string of events occurring in such quick succession, nothing had turned awry thus far. In the midst of expressing my gratitude, His voice cleaved through my heart: “Why are your prayers built on scarcity? Am I not a God of abundance?” These rhetorical questions challenged me when I least expected it.
It struck me that I had been living the life of a slave, as if I were sprawled on all fours, scavenging for scraps. In this restless pursuit for a job, I had allowed my validation to be tied to finding a job that “shows off” my worth as a person. The pressures in finding a good job had me confuse my situational identity with my core identity. What I do 8-hours a day does not shake my security and self-worth; I am first and foremost His precious son, and every other identity follows this. In Romans 8:15 (NLT), it says, “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s spirit when he adopted you as his own children.”
I had disaffiliated myself from sonship, losing sight that God is my good Father (Matthew 7:11), one “who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6 ESV). I forgot who I was, as I failed to fathom whose I was. Our God has memorised our ambitions and abilities, and sees beyond our fears and failures. He has gone before us, even before we applied for our first position, and has promised never to leave us by the wayside (Deuteronomy 31:8).
On the remaining journey in the taxi, God started a gentle process in restoring my identity as His child. If “He covers the heavens with clouds, provides rain for the earth, and makes grass to grow in mountain pastures” (Psalms 147:8 NLT), surely He will take care of my every need.
Steering Away from Death
In the trough of endless waiting, I found myself constantly wrestling with insecurity and doubt. Often I would nit-pick how I did not measure up to society’s standards; I tottered in confusion that I still did not know (with full conviction) what I was looking for at 25 years old. The pessimistic thoughts and words I muttered to myself over and over again slowly assumed control over my life, allowing cynicism to sprout in my life. Negativity crowded out my connection with Christ.
This persisted until a sermon on the power of the tongue shone through the fog like crisp morning light. In James 3:4, it avows that the tongue is like “a small rudder [that] makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong.” My voyage through joblessness has illuminated how the thoughts and words that we tell ourselves should always be kept in check, as they direct the course of our lives; they may seem trivial at first glance, but the Bible has warned of their power.
The “Perfect” Job
As my friends and I chatted over the next transition of our lives, talk about the “perfect” job would eventually emerge. Common sentiments are:
“If only I had that job, things will be perfect.”
“This is the only job I want; nothing else.”
Work today is no longer defined according to lineage, class, or gender, as rarely do we take over our parents’ business. Instead, work is conceived as a means of self-fulfilment and self-realisation. We all have probably conceptualised our dream job on some level, and this is mine: good salary, enables me to travel, project-based, and like-minded colleagues.
As I examined my criteria, I cringed at how self-centred it was. It revealed nothing about my character or personal values; it expressed nothing about standing for Christ in the marketplace. The notion of the “perfect” job — whether it exists or not — is centred on chasing self-glory, to an extent that I had not meditated on how it would glorify God’s name. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 (NLT), it beseeches us, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Work can easily become a lord in our lives, rather than a servant.
The “perfect” job can also be hinged upon maximising our pleasure. We daydream about the wonderful perks of the job: number of leave days, gym membership, leisure expense, etc. In doing so, we omit how our ideal job should most importantly cohere with a devotion to Christ, whatever the cost. In Mark 8:34, Jesus decrees, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” This verse urged me to re-think my priorities: Had I placed anything in front of pursuing Him with all that I am?
When the “perfect” job is concerned, we all have a tendency to be glory-chasers and pleasure-seekers. As Christians, I believe that we have a responsibility to redeem work for His purpose. Thinking about how the “perfect” job would complete us is only going to crush us insidiously; a better conception would be to understand how a particular appointment is “perfect” for Him to do His work in and through our lives, especially in light of our destiny. The first position that you accept might not give you the benefits you’re seeking for, but if your work daily declares, “hallowed be Your name,” you are definitely in a sweet spot.
The long-drawn process of landing a job could unnerve anybody, similar to Peter’s distress in stepping out of the boat and walking on water (Matthew 14). Too often have we focused on the whipping winds and wild waves, causing us to shudder in fear. As you settle into who you are in Him, the scales from your eyes will crumble like dust. May you gaze into His eyes of colour as you tread onto the water, allowing the echoes of self-doubt and temptation of self-glory to fade into the deep end. Your job search has never been an identity search.