By Karen Swank
This past Friday, I joined the ranks of the unemployed when the shelter where I worked did some downsizing. I had never been laid off before; that meeting was short, to the point, and absent the drama one might imagine. Driving home that afternoon, I texted my kids. “On my way home. Unemployed. God is good.”
The “God is good” was not so much a celebration (who celebrates losing a job?) as a reminder to myself: the One who has carried me through to this point has not suddenly decided to drop me on my head. In the days and nights since then, He has reminded me of the abundance of His power and presence in my life. God really is good. I don’t know what this next leg of the journey will look like. I don’t have a map. I have questions without answers. The beauty of having walked along so far with Christ: I don’t need to know; I don’t need a map; I don’t need answers. I have the two important answers: God is good, and I am His.
I do have an agenda for now: do what I know to do, to the best of my ability and with all my might, and rest in Him for all else. So far, I’ve got a good handle on that. Will I lose my grip on it at some point? Meh. Maybe. Probably. But I know where to go to find it again, should that happen.
Looking back to my twenties and early thirties, I know this about myself: I have enormous capacity for laziness, depression, and selfishness. The Lord has done a great work in me since then, and I don’t fall in the ditch so quickly or willingly anymore. But now is the time for special vigilance on that front. So I’ve been pondering how to structure my time while I’m off. Maybe I’ll transition into the next thing so quickly that I won’t have needed a plan. Maybe. But if it’s not quick, I will definitely lose ground without some structure.
Here, then, is the list, not necessarily in any meaningful order:
1. Get out of bed in the mornings. Does this seem obvious to you? It wasn’t always, to me. Life and Holy Spirit have taught me well that sometimes getting out of bed is actual spiritual warfare. No sleeping in for me; that slope is too slippery. I should probably include showering, dressing in something other than pj’s, and making myself generally presentable under this heading.
2. Get enough sleep/rest. In a previous testing passage of my life that was a jumble of multiple part-time jobs, I worked a whole lot of sixty- to ninety-hour weeks. I learned a lot about how to keep pressing forward. But I also learned that my emotional, mental, and even physical stability are greatly compromised at that level of exhaustion. I once ruined two keyboards and a telephone inside the space of one week with the combination of unsteady hands and persistent bad judgment on where to set cups of coffee. That’s the most benign example of how it compromised me. REST MATTERS.
3. Work out. Oh man. I don’t even want to write that one. It’s been so long since I’ve made any serious effort at exercise. But during the aforementioned Working Too Much period of my life, I was doing serious cardio- and muscle-building workouts pretty much daily. It definitely gave me more energy for the battle. It certainly helped preserve my mental health. I think it also preserved my physical health in a major way.
3. Seek employment daily (Sundays excepted). Gotta be that drip of water wearing down the stone. I love to work. I hate looking for work. Looking for work when “I feel like it” is not an acceptable approach, since I detest the process.
4. Open my Bible daily, for more than just five minutes. (I have an amount of time in mind and the worst thing I can do is distract me and you by publishing that.) In every jam-packed portion of my life, I have longed for more time alone with the Word. This is the perfect time to let God reorder my thoughts and priorities, which He’ll do if I’ll let go of doing that myself and just focus on knowing Him more.
5. Spend time daily in prayer and worship. This is different from the point above. I have come a long way as I’ve sought to “pray without ceasing” as Scripture instructs us. That being said, I pretty easily slip off into forgetting God is Right Here With Me Every Second.
6. Write daily. Stephen King is one of my favorite writers (haven’t read him in years, as part of an ongoing conversation with God about the darker spaces of my heart.) To the point: in his book “On Writing” he speaks to the would-be writer about setting aside a space and a serious amount of time every single day for writing. Write it and then throw it out if you must, but write…that’s the basic message. More recently my editor at wrecked.org urged bloggers to write daily, not just when the mood hits. Teachers told me from the seventh grade all the way through college to “keep writing.” I’ve let a whole lot come between me and my writing. This is definitely a “no excuses” portion of the journey. I need to write daily.
7. Create order all around me. I remember complaining to my marriage counselor long, long ago that I didn’t understand why having a clean house should make a difference in my mental state (yes, people, I am a recovering disgusting slob). He talked to me about order. He was, of course, right…I think of how deeply satisfied and peaceful I feel after a good deep-clean. My (also unemployed) son and I will be investing a set amount of time per day in creating order in our surroundings. We’ve already started that, and the results make me smile.
8. Stay in touch with people. Withdrawing tends to be my default setting when I am busy, stressed, or working something out. God created us for fellowship. Fellowship is not only potlucks after church. I need my family, I need my friends, I need my church. And they need me. Holing up does not honor God, and it puts me in danger of wandering off into dangerous places in my mind.
9. Accept help. In another conversation with that same marriage counselor mentioned previously, I complained (do you notice my pattern of complaining?….but then, if you know me or read me regularly, that does not surprise you, right?…) that I didn’t like asking for help, didn’t like needing help, didn’t like the indignity of it. He asked me, “Have you ever helped someone in need?” Welllll….yes. “How did that make you feel? Did you like it?” Welllll….yes. “It felt good?” Um, yes. “So why do you want to deprive others of feeling good?” Uh, so I will accept help!
10. Give. It is absolutely never true that I have nothing to give. If I can live without giving, I am definitely ignoring Holy Spirit’s voice in my life. I can give of my time, my talents, my compassion, and yes, even of my funds. I live in the U.S.A. This makes me, even when I’m what feels like completely broke, fairly wealthy compared to the world. I can give.
11. Practice gratitude. I do this as a daily list. Sometimes it’s brief. Sometimes it’s obnoxiously long. Putting it on a page and sharing it with others takes it to a whole differ
ent level, from “nice idea” to “life changer.” It shapes my thoughts and attitudes. It holds me accountable. It rescues me from jumping willingly off into deep, dark pits.
12. Celebrate life. Under this category fall things like laughing, singing, dancing, noticing beauty, creating beauty, nurturing growth, learning, stomping out deadly lies, trying new and/or uncomfortable things, and intentionally seeing the best in people (and speaking what I see.)
Why do I share this stuff? Well it’s partly my own writing therapy exercise. But I’ve also noticed that the Scripture that says, “There is nothing new under the sun” is really true. If I need to think this through, maybe one of you out here does too. If so, be blessed. If not, thanks for putting up with me!
Karen Swank seems to see God best from a falling-down position. She loves working with teens, who tolerate her goofy perspectives well. She laughs too loud, dreams outrageous dreams, and is learning that she can’t save the world all by herself.