what it's like…to lose a job and try to feed your family.

blog what its like to lose a job in this economyi do not know what it is like to be unemployed and try to feed my family, but unfortunately i do know a lot of people who do. it’s hard enough to lose a job with no christian baggage attached, but add that into the mix and it complicates it even further.  there are so many issues about men providing properly & what “success” means that complicate an already tricky situation.  meet my friend jason*, a pastor who lost his job last year and has been trying to keep his family afloat.  others situations might be different, but some of the feelings of fear are probably the same.

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describe a little bit about your background, faith experience, and how you ended up losing your job.

I grew up in the church most of my life and I decided to enter into the ministry at a fairly early age–16. Thus, the last 24 years, my life has been living out that call. In reality, it is all I know: college, seminary and church ministry.

My ministry job ended in the midst of turmoil and strife. The church was struggling over the human sexuality issue and the church was divided. The fights within the community got ugly at times. It was tough to do ministry. One, you did not know who was remaining and who was leaving. Time was balanced in healing wounds, trying to keep the community together but at the same time moving forward.

In the midst of that, the ministry was attempting a major philosophical switch in the student ministry, and some students and parents did not fully support the change. The church leadership had chosen to go in that direction. When our senior pastor, who was a supporter of the change, resigned i knew my days were numbered. One day I was called into the office to talk about the upcoming confirmation class.  Instead, I was asked to resign immediately. 

what were some of the initial feelings that swept in when you realized your reality?  

There were two initial feelings that came across my mind and these occurred seconds after they told me this while I was still at the table. The first was “what am I going to tell my three kids?”  When we moved to a new state and this church, I promised them that this would be their last move before their school career was over. The second was “What am I going to do about health insurance?” I have family members who have severe pre-existing conditions and we have always had group insurance – it is now gone. Will they survive?

how have some of these feelings shifted as the job search has continued and you are struggling to keep your family afloat?

Throughout this process, we have remained “afloat”. We have kept a close eye on the savings account as it dwindled and had a circle on the calendar when we projected the account would be emptied. As we move closer and closer to that date, apprehension rises.  I have been so exhausted and stressed, piecing together small odd-hour jobs to pay our bills for barely any money per hour, trying to make ends meet.  However, we have remained committed to this:  “we are a family – no matter where we reside and dad is going to do everything in his power to find work where insurance will be provided and you will get the healthcare coverage you need and deserve.”

did you ever go to a food bank?  

No, we never went to a food bank and we never filled out any goverment forms for aid or food stamps. Part of it was pride, some of it was that “there are those worse off then us” feeling, some was the stigma (which is interesting since we served at food banks on the other side). We could not do it; we probably should have to save money but wow, that is the toughest part to wrestle with.

what are some things that friends & family did or said that have really helped you stay the course?

Friends and family members have helped by passing along my resume, informing me of job leads and sharing encouraging words on not giving up. We have had several friends and family members that have given us cash gifts, gas cards and brought over some dinners. In town, we have had friends try to help me land full-time local jobs, even though those were not successful, I did land a part-time job that did bring some money into our accounts and gave me something to do while searching full-time work.  

The best things people said to me:

    • If you have to leave the state to find work, we will be here for the wife and the kids while you are gone.
    • What is one thing we can do to help you right now?
    • No matter what, remember that you are loved. 

what are some things that people said or did that hurt, that you’d put in the category of “this is most definitely not a good idea to say to someone in this position”?

At times, I got tired of giving updates: everyone wanted to know the up-to-minute status.  I was hitting the pavement hard and coming up empty, so it was extremely depressing to give updates with no movement. The one thing that was irritating was when I shared a job that I was looking at that was exciting or promising and people would sigh or go “oh, no.”  The one question that irritated me the most was “You are not seriously considering taking that position are you?”  I wanted to scream, Yes, I will do anything that will support my family financially and provide health coverage for them so they do not die. With our health issues, that’s a reality. 

what are some of the real and raw things that you have cried out to God in this process?

I have really tried to stay positive in this aspect, which hasn’t been a piece of cake. Yes, I am angry and I have asked God: “Why the hell did this happen? Why could I not stay where I was at? Why in the world do we have to uproot my kids? What kind of the world do I live in that I am now worried if I can provide health insurance for my family?  If they get sick and die, God, this is on your hands…”

With all that said, this is the prayer that I have prayed the last 6 1/2 months multiple times a day:

God, I am putting this job search into your hands. I am not going to limit where I send my resume due to location, ministry description or where I am wanting to land. I also am putting this into your hands by asking you to rain down the no’s – no matter how many – till the right yes comes. I pray that there is one offer and not multiple; so this is your will and not my will.

what’s one piece of advice you have for “the church” when it comes to its responsibility in these painful seasons of families on the verge because of job loss? 

We had no church family because we lost it with the job, and that has been tough.  I think the best advice I have is to be there for them, love them and give a safe place to be themselves, with all the ups and downs and not knowing what’s next.  My final advice: Ask questions and don’t assume that you know what they want or need.  Try to find out through relationship.  

thank you, jason, for sharing. i really like the reminder that we should never assume. it’s so easy to give our advice “have you tried this or have you tried that?” instead of listening and asking what our friends need first.

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other what it’s like posts so far:

coming next week or so:  what it’s like to slip off the slope, what it’s like to get sober from sexual addiction, and what it’s like to get a divorce in the church.

23 Comments

  • Perhaps the most broken thing in our political ideology is the idea that help is available to someone in Jason’s situation, and he refuses to take it out of some sense of…something. I can’t even fathom what would make a father choose his own pride or self-reliance or whatever it is that’s stopping him from taking TANF and food stamps at the possible cost of the lives of his children. Has he passed on Unemployment Insurance as well? If so, that’s even more convoluted: UI is something that you pay for while you have a job to help you when you might not.

    Taking government help, especially in Jason’s case does not mean you’re lazy or weak or unable to provide, it means that you’re at a down time in your life, and you need the social safety net to keep you from falling so far that it kills you or someone you love. There’s no dishonor in accepting help.

    Jason says that he will take terrible, awful jobs to try and keep his family afloat, but he won’t take government money. What does that say to his children? “I love you, but not enough to sacrifice my pride (or whatever it is that’s keeping him from accepting TANF)?”

    Kathy, I don’t know you, we’ve never met and this is the first blog post I’ve ever read on your site (Rachel Held Evans linked me here), but if you can, I would implore you to go back to Jason and urge him to take assistance. This is the health of his family at stake, and sacrificing that for no good reason (and there are no good reasons) is the definition of the word tragedy.

    Reply
    • hi eric, i appreciate your concern, but i wanted to just point out that this is almost exactly what i don’t want to happen when people share–an immediate response that invalidates someone’s vulnerability. my guess is that isn’t your intent and i don’t think you probably meant to come on so strong, but i wanted to provide that feedback as a possibility to consider because i try as best i can to keep this space as safe as possible for others to share the hard stuff and i’d put my money on that feeling pretty crappy for jason. these issues of help and services are very complicated and like so many other issues, it’s easy to think we know what to do but it’s usually quite different when we are the people actually walking in these shoes. peace.

      Reply
      • Kathy, I’m sorry if that’s the impression that I gave. I don’t mean to criticize Jason — I certainly don’t understand what things look like in his shoes. I cannot. It simply breaks my heart to see someone whose family is in, by his own admission, grave danger and to turn away any help that is freely given during that time of trouble. I would feel the same way about watching a man who is starving turn away a loaf of bread or a man who is dying of thirst turn away a gallon of water.

        Reply
        • thanks, eric, i appreciate your heart and no question it can all be so confusing, these complicated situations. i am definitely pro-services and accessing as many community resources as possible and part of the work that we do is help people find the help that they need, but it is true, there’s a certain population of people that really fall through the cracks on this one and there just aren’t as many resources as for others. a t the same time, there still are some, no questions asked (like our food bank) and i love that. peace.

          Reply
  • Eric:
    I appreciate your words. However, there are a few things that may have not been conveyed in the story. I (Jason) could not qualify for TANF or food stamps because we had money in the savings that we were living off of. If we could have had food stamps and housing assistance, that would have helped immensly and would have stretched our savings and extended the date of where we were in trouble.
    I was working 60+ hours a week but with that pay, we were still making about $1,800 less a month then needed; so each month, I made a transfer from savings to checking to live. i am thankful that we had money in the savings (it is now gone).
    With me being a church employee, I (as all church employees) do not qualify for unemployment, or unemployment insurance. We were looking and applying for healthcare through state assistance but we did not qualify because we had health insurance; so to get insurance; we had to go without health insurance for six months. That was not a possibility so, we took on COBRA which is extremely expensive.
    So, in our case, there really was no government assistance available to us. The only thing that we could have used that we did not use was food banks and free community meals. If we used those, it would have saved us some money. But, there are two things (and please, you are free to disagree), one: the food banks and churches are strapped, so if we took on that assistance, we may have taken away from someone else in a worst situation and two: some of my family has dietary conditions and there is not much help in that area with food banks and community meals.
    I think working 60+ hours a week, looking at jobs all across the world and making sure that they have health insurance shows them that they are first and that it is important to work hard and have determination – a spirit that will not be broken.

    Reply
    • I was going to point out some of the same things …people who work for nonprofits (churches, Christian schools) do not have government unemployment insurance (sadly). “Jason'” , I think your nobility, courage, love,and grace is shining through, hang in there, it’s not easy to share so vulnerably and get pushback right away.

      Reply
  • So much love, courage, and pain all wrapped up in one … My heart is with you and your family …

    Reply
  • Your story is uncannily similar to ours…so sorry for the pain you & your family have been through. Thank you for sharing. God bless you & yours.

    Reply
  • Eric:

    I appreciate your words. However, there are a few things that may have not been conveyed in the story. I (Jason) could not qualify for TANF or food stamps because we had money in the savings that we were living off of. If we could have had food stamps and housing assistance, that would have helped immensly and would have stretched our savings and extended the date of where we were in trouble.

    I was working 60+ hours a week but with that pay, we were still making about $1,800 less a month then needed; so each month, I made a transfer from savings to checking to live. i am thankful that we had money in the savings (it is now gone).

    With me being a church employee, I (as all church employees) do not qualify for unemployment, or unemployment insurance. We were looking and applying for healthcare through state assistance but we did not qualify because we had health insurance; so to get insurance; we had to go without health insurance for six months. That was not a possibility so, we took on COBRA which is extremely expensive.

    So, in our case, there really was no government assistance available to us. The only thing that we could have used that we did not use was food banks and free community meals. If we used those, it would have saved us some money. But, there are two things (and please, you are free to disagree), one: the food banks and churches are strapped, so if we took on that assistance, we may have taken away from someone else in a worst situation and two: some of my family has dietary conditions and there is not much help in that area with food banks and community meals.

    I think working 60+ hours a week, looking at jobs all across the world and making sure that they have health insurance shows them that they are first and that it is important to work hard and have determination – a spirit that will not be broken.

    Reply
    • thank you for sharing, jason, and i think it’s so easy for people to make assumptions. i hear that a lot–“well, can’t they just get this benefit or that benefit?” with no care to the reality of what it actually takes to qualify. on an unrelated to you note, when it comes to others understanding the complexity of these issues and the desperate need for better advocates, i think everyone should spend some a little time at social services, too, to see what it really feels like and is. it can really change our perspective.

      Reply
    • Jason, thanks for sharing and understanding the words in which they were intended. I’m sorry for misreading your situation. I didn’t realize that you were already working when you were unable to get government aid (just how low those thresholds are is itself a topic of conversation for another day, but one that should be had nonetheless). I confess that I read into your situation brokenness that I see in my own circles often — the idea that accepting aid from the government is somehow a weakness or failing. That idea is so harmful, because it creates the idea that those who must accept government help are unworthy and thus unloved or unlovable, and I see that to be a great tragedy.

      I can understand and respect the reasons why you chose not to go to food banks, especially with food sensitivities in the family.

      My prayers are with you and your family, Jason. I wish I could provide you more than that.

      Reply
    • Whenever I contribute to our local food pantry, I think of those with different food sensitivities, allergies, what-have-you. I think about this because of my own allergies. It makes me wonder what these folks do. You kind of answered that.

      I wonder if there is a way that an allergy-free food pantry or soup kitchen could be set up. I am not an organizer, but I might like to help out in some way in this effort! I’m going to give that some more thought! Thank you, Jason for your inspiration!

      Reply
      • thanks, jean, for sharing. it is so true, we have a few friends right now on the edge of homelessness who have kids with severe food allergies and it is so tricky. keep us posted on what gets stirred up for you!

        Reply
  • Wow, Jason! That’s terrible. So part of the group decided to go a new direction, and fired you?!!! If these people really were your “church family”, they would not have left you and your family high and dry.

    As part of church leadership and church boards for many years (no longer, thank goodness), I was appalled at the lack of job security and benefits for most church staff. Someone would be expected to pull up stakes and move their family across the country to take a position, but could be let go on a whim, with no job, no income, no insurance. Church family, my foot! That looks more like a “religious” lynch mob.

    My suggestion for anyone working on a church staff – Get a Written Contract that specifies how you may be terminated, and that provides for a continuation of health insurance for at least a year after termination (paid by that church), or until you get another job that provides health care insurance. Also make sure you have a decent retirement program, and are given regular sabbaticals, or at least vacation time. If the church can’t or won’t provide those benefits, find an employer that does and work there.

    Reply
    • that is such a good suggestion, sam. because i am an idealistic person my feeling is that it should naturally be part of the process, that we’d never send someone out without health insurance, but my experience has been that almost always it goes down the way it went down for jason, maybe with 30 days max but no more.

      Reply
  • Wow, what a challenging, challenging situation. Especially with health concerns. My prayers go out to you Jason, and to your family, and to your friends. May you always have friends. I am so glad to be living in Canada! On the healthcare front that is, and I think on the “working for church or non-profits’ where I think, if you are employed by them and they and you pay into unemployment insurance, you can collect when unemployed. Kathy, on another bit, I’m not sure i understand how Christianity links to “there are so many issues about men providing properly & what “success” means that complicate an already tricky situation.” This statement to me doesn’t come from the gospel or link directly to Christianity, but to the western/developed “gospel” or dogma. Am I missing something? I would think this is more North American baggage, or even gender-relate baggage, not necessarily Christian?

    Reply
    • that’s a good question, and sometimes i just make assumptions and then realize it’s not very clear. i do think that many of those issues are very strong outside of the church about “success” and what it means to provide, but i also think within the church it can even be stronger, the pressure. and yes, it’s probably a pretty healthy combination of north american baggage, gender related baggage, with a sprinkling of christian added in there. thanks for sharing, and yes, oh how i wish that many of my friends had access to what you have in terms of health care. it’s terrifying to live here without insurance, and even with insurance, it can often bankrupt people.

      Reply
  • So sorry for the loss of your job, Jason, I can’t imagine what it must be like–especially with family members in dire need of health care. Praying God wraps his arms around you and your family during this tough time

    Reply
  • “try to find out through relationship” is such good counsel for just about any situation I can think of ….

    Reply

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