“Happy anniversary, Honey, I quit my job!” I shouted as I walked through the door this past Thursday. Welcome to our year of Sabbath rest.
I lied. Only about the shouting, though.
But yes, you read correctly, I quit my job. The notice is in. In two weeks, I’m a free man.
Free to do what? Well, I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.
I should say, though, it wasn’t all roses. It didn’t feel like freedom right after I did it. Rather, I felt a different kind of entrapment. Like escaping from Alcatraz only to free-fall into crashing waves.
I’ve dreamt about this day, but always with an overwhelming sense of dread and fear. The instant after I submitted my letter of resignation I panicked. Oh, my God! What did I just do?! But it was too late. I had already jumped.
* * * * *
It’s only been five days since the decision, and I’ve gone through a wider variety of emotions than I thought were possible for my tiny frame, within extremely short periods of time.
Thursday. It had been quiet all week. Week two at the new office, same company. The office is in the middle of what is traditionally called a Business Park, which, for obvious reasons, is an attempt to pull the wool over our eyes. (For, there is nothing in it that would otherwise make anyone with any sense at all compare it to any park at all.) I felt that every movement, every noise, was a violation of some Unknown Company Policy, and a distraction to all my cube-mates. I attempted to find relief at lunch, going out back to the picnic benches (some of which are actually in the shade). But it was stifling, hot and humid, and cigarette smoke hung heavy around me.
I then tried lunch in the car, but same problem, minus the smoke. Then I tried driving around, but there was nowhere to go except the mall and Starbucks. Then I got really desperate, and drove twenty minutes to get coffee at the nearest small-batch roaster. (And, man, was it good!) But hitting traffic on the way back and stretching my lunch to an hour, I knew I couldn’t do that every day. If you count the time lost, gas used, and wear and tear on my car, it was the most expensive cup of coffee I’ve ever purchased.
In short, the work was more numbing and sleep inducing than ever. All things considered, I felt myself at a brink.
I’m convinced that any job that can be done in this position, for hours on end, is not worthy to be called ‘work’.
I was distracted, dare I say possessed, with finding out what was on the other side of the wall known as Steady Employment. What would I do? How would I support my family if I broke through? Ideas were racing through my head. Ideas we’ve discussed before, but after entertaining each one for a few minutes, it would come burning to the ground. Repeat, for hours, with little work being done, and no one seeming to care.
I drafted my letter of resignation in April, and pulled it back up for some revisions. Changed the date, changed a few words around. It was short and to the point. “Please accept this letter as my formal resignation…” I was sure to leave it with a positive ending. “It has been a pleasure to work here and I’ve learned a lot.”
I pulled it up every two or three minutes to read it. Then, after several hours, I attached it to an email. Then, after two more hours I put HR in the ‘To’ line.
But I couldn’t bring myself to actually send it. If I do, then what? I felt paralyzed.
I decided that the only way to get break through my fear would be in gradations. So, I put my cursor over the ‘Send’ button, and lowered my index finger very, very slowly. *click* Then I’d slide my mouse off. *un-click* Several times. It was now almost quarter till five. I wondered, If I don’t do it now, will I lose this resolve to move on? I was afraid that a night of good rest would make me feel like all was right with the world, then I’d go through the same set of emotions the next day, and the day after, and the day after…
* * * * *
Every time I’ve discussed with others the idea of quitting my job, I’ve met unanimous counsel. “Don’t do it unless you have something else lined up.” Sound, wise advise that kept me out of trouble for a long time. Why give up something that provides security, a steady paycheck, health insurance, employer contributions to my retirement, and paid time off? Don’t be so foolish! And I’d go on, in work I do not enjoy, as so many of us, understandably, do.
But there are certain decisions in life that, no matter how hard one tries, there is no way to prepare for all the contingencies. Take marriage. We flirted, we dated, we spent time together, got to know one another’s families. We even read books, and talked to older, wiser people. We asked every question we could think of, and were asked questions we didn’t think of.
Then we got married.
Our proverbial crumbling of the wall. Gradually, our true selves were revealed. And, wow! was it scary and ugly at times. Prior to living together, we had absolutely no idea what real marriage was like.
It’s the same with becoming a Christian. You can read the books, you can learn about Christians through the media, and you can spend time with them. You can even read the Bible and go to church. But there is no way to be sure that all of this Jesus stuff is true and relevant, solely through question and answer logic. There is simply a moment where you leap forward, not knowing where you will land, or whether His arms will be there to catch you.
* * * * *
*click* I paused, then lifted my index finger as slowly as I pressed it down. Almost imperceptibly. Then before I knew it… *send* …it was off. The wall quaked, crumbled, and fell. I was free. And I jumped. *splash* I had landed, and the waves were tossing me against the rocks. I was treading water with all my strength. Then a sense of dread fell on me, as though my head banged square into a rock. What will Rachel think? What will my parents think? My in-laws?! What about my landlord?! And the list went on.
* * * * *
“Did you do it?” she asked, after a few minutes of silence on the couch, children climbing on my lap and asking me random questions. She could see it in my sunken face.
* * * * *
The next morning word had spread like a virus. I was getting inquiries from people about my decision, before I had even told anyone.
My boss called me early Friday. “Can you swing up for a minute?” I was nervous. I thought about what I was going to say, but it felt like a jumbled mess. How honest should I be? What if he asks me where I’m going, or if I got another job? What if he offers me more money to stay? Will I give in so soon?
“What’s going on here? You’re killing me!” he said, as I shut the door behind me. (Context: I asked for more opportunity. The opportunity was in NJ. He strategically moved me to a department that needed help that I could offer. It seemed like a perfect plan. And I was destroying it.)
I decided to tell him the truth. “We’re going to try and start our own business.”
“Doing what?” Yes. What? Good question. So far my plans were loosely strung together.
“Making high quality things… out of wood… selling them…” Yes, sounds promising. Doesn’t it?
No counter offer, as there was nothing to counter. Just “good luck.”
* * * * *
All weekend my emotions swirled between relief, regret, fear and excitement. We talked about what was next. About what it would mean to focus through this time.
Friday night, I woke in a sweat, feeling only blackness ahead, and a vague plan of how to proceed.
By Sunday night, after numerous weekend conversations, and a less than promising handing in of an application at an upscale restaurant, I felt more discouraged than ever. I felt so stupid. How could I be so stupid as to quit my job, without even the promise of part-time employment?!
We were tossing around different ideas, trying to gain focus. Some ideas were too big, while others, paltry and small. But all revolving around wood, leather and fabric. I felt crushed, ready to throw in the towel, crawling back to my superiors at work and begging for a reversal. I made a mistake! I wanted to shout.
Within minutes of leaving my parents, and feeling at my lowest point, we drove past three pallets that were in excellent condition, ready to be piled on top of our roof rack. I pulled around and grabbed them.
For some reason, this small provision was so encouraging. It felt like God’s way of saying, “I will provide everything you need, just when you need it. Do not be afraid. I will guide you through this time.”
* * * * *
This is day four. Again, it all seems mysterious, but I feel more peace today than since Thursday, 4:46 pm. I feel excited. I feel ready to fail, and to learn from my mistakes.
I am typing this at work. (Shh…) Being somewhat on the ‘other side’ of all this now, I look around me and see the sadness and shallowness that is this job. I see hunched shoulders and sallow faces, glued to double screens, clicking away in the dead stillness. Muttering a few remarks to people as they stop by. Smoking on breaks. Guzzling caffeine (guilty as charged) to stay awake. Leading dormant, subsistent lives, plugged into the Machine to benefit the few at the top, all for a paycheck that feels inadequate in light of what is required of us.
This is not criticism, but only empathy. I know we all have more inside of us. We all want more to our existence than this. But for varying reasons, not least of which is provision for self and family, we continue on.
Maybe some people enjoy this. I don’t know. But I wonder if there are others who want to break free.
* * * * *
I wonder at times if Christians have taken Genesis 3 to mean that this sort of existence is acceptable because of the Curse. In other words, “Tough luck, kid. We weren’t meant to enjoy what we do. Work’s going to be toilsome and you just need to suck it up.”
Yes, it’s true that work is toilsome. But so is gardening. So is raising children. But alongside the toil there can also be the satisfaction in fixing a leaky pipe, watching a child blossom into a follower of Jesus, or harvesting vegetables after a hot summer of weeding. Cannot work be both toilsome and enjoyable? Or is soul-sucking employment part of the Curse of Genesis?
* * * * *
This morning I began listening to the audio version of Rosaria Butterfield’s The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert. I was not expecting to find anything in it relevant to my situation. Anything that would encourage me. I had simply heard friends recommend the book, and since it was being offered for free, I decided to give it a listen on my drive in.
Rosaria was teaching at Syracuse University at the time. She was asked to be the Advisor of Undergraduate Studies, but others advised her to not take the position, as it would take time away from her writing and research, and embed her in University politics. She decided to not follow their traditional advice, and to take the job. She says:
Success comes when we build on our strengths… Doing something I loved and was good at helped me to get my writing and research done in an efficient and focused way. Although risky, working from my strengths turned out to be a good risk, and I’m glad that I took it. I felt vindicated in the principle that risks are worth taking and that gain is only sweet if you have something to lose. [….]
Where everybody thinks the same, nobody thinks very much.
At the time, Rosaria kept a quote from an unknown author on a ‘stickum’ on her desk, which read, “I would rather be wrong on an important point, than right on a trivial one.” She goes on to say:
This quotation reminded me that when you make your mistakes in public, you will learn that they are mistakes, and being corrected, you will grow. It also reminded me that being wrong and responding to correction with resilience was a higher virtue than covering up your mistakes so your students, and the watching world, assumed that success meant never being wrong. [….]
I’m a former gymnast and marathon runner, and I have always found flexibility and a steady pace to be more useful than perfection, or bursts of speed. Winners have always seemed to me people who know how to fall on their face, pick themselves up, and recover well. It has always seemed to me that without the proper response to failure we don’t grow, we only age.
I was not expecting to hear anything regarding risk taking, this early on in a book about a former lesbian’s conversion to Christianity. But there it was, as though God was speaking (again) through her, into my time and place of need.
* * * * *
There is this ever increasing sense that God is guiding me very specifically through this time. That he is giving the ideas and encouragement, one at a time, just as I need them. There is a childlike trust that I can pursue my ideas (his ideas?) with vigor, and run into slammed doors and fall on my face. And that he will pick me up, watch me stand there for a few minutes while I wonder which direction to go, then, just when I turn to retrace my steps back home there is some movement in the distance, some sound, some inkling, moving me forward, towards I know not what. A sense that he has us on a journey, and that I do not know what tomorrow holds, but that regardless of whether I have steady employment, this has always been the Christian’s lot in life.
Give us this day our daily bread.
Lead us not into temptation.
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Food, drink and clothing. The things my mind immediately runs to in all of this. How will I provide? How will he provide? I want to know. I feel that I need to know. But this knowledge is not necessary. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5, 6)
Even if all this ‘fails’ in the human sense, God is leading and working through it. May I be humble enough to accept my mistakes, to learn from them, and to recover well.
* * * * *
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! […] Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
– Psalm 19:13-14
[…] establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!
– Psalm 90:17
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.
– T.S. Elliot, Ash Wednesday