Depression, coping with job loss takes a spiritual toll

You’ve heard the story before. Mitchell has worked for his company for 20 years. Five more years and he can retire with benefits. Today, he begins work like he does every day: coffee in hand, computer warming up, ledger ready to be filled.

Except this day is different. Just before Mitchell sips the coffee, his boss calls him into the executive suite. The company is facing huge shortfalls in revenue, the boss explains to Mitchell. Lay offs are expected, and Mitchell has two weeks to figure out what his next step will be.

Mitchell walks back to his office a broken man. No retirement. No benefits. In two weeks, no job.

Mitchell’s story is so common in our nation these days, it is almost cliché. Unemployment is above 10 percent. For minorities, the unemployment rate is twice that figure. The statistics of people who are underemployed are astronomical.

I cannot imagine what it is like for the Mitchells of our nation. I can only guess that job loss leads to a deep sense of despair and depression. There is little hope, and resentment sets in. Other symptoms of grief ensue, such as fatigue, addiction, anger or bitterness.

What can Christians and churches do when much of the American populace looks more like “Night of the Living Dead” than “Happy Days”?

For one, I think it is critical for us to pray with a full sense of honesty before God. Many people feel that expressing their true feelings to God is somehow beneath God. Some have learned long ago that being angry with God is inappropriate.

Job shows us a different way. In Job 10, Job (who lost all of his wealth) lashed out in honest prayer to God: “I loathe my life; I will give free utterance to my complaint … I will say to God, ‘Do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me?’”

Job’s honesty is not an admission of doubt; rather, the prayer underscores an intimacy with God.

I can only equate Job’s intimate relationship with God with the relationship I have with my wife. When my wife and I are honest with each other and communicate our frustrations, we develop a deeper sense of trust and loyalty. You cannot be honest with someone whom you hardly know.

Honest prayer in the face of loss means surrendering all that you are to God because you need to trust Him with the full depth of your emotions. This is a scary process because we like to hide such burdens.

But the more we stuff our feelings down into the pit of our stomach, the less we tend to confront our suffering. As the equation goes, “Blocked feelings equals delayed healing.”

Another way of coping with job loss is to find or create support groups committed to helping the unemployed. In my work with caregivers, I found that getting people together with like-minded peers makes a world of difference.

I may not be able to imagine what Mitchell is going through, but there are many people in our community who do. Connecting Mitchell with others who understand job loss can provide Mitchell with a web of care and encouragement.

When we confront the shifting markets and economic disparities that exist in our community, we long for answers and solutions. We get angry with our political leaders — national and local — because we expect them to have answers to complex issues that fall beyond even their level of expertise.

When we turn to God, though, we still cannot anticipate getting easy answers or quick fixes.

But when we trust in God, pray honestly and talk with others who can relate to our grief, we can, at the very least, begin the long journey to healing and some semblance of normalcy.

Published by Joe LaGuardia

I am a pastor and author in Vero Beach, Florida, and write on issues related to spirituality, faith, politics, and culture.

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