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Lessons From a Layoff

In a time when we were holding on by our fingernails, God showed Himself nearer, more sovereign than ever.
By Janel Breitenstein


A bright Colorado spring morning found me pecking away in my quiet workspace, seven months pregnant with our first child and blissfully unaware of ... the character development churning in my future. My supervisor leaned into the cubicle and asked if I’d follow her.

Seated in a meeting room with my supervisor and her boss, I reeled at the shocking news.

It’s a layoff. Your position has been eliminated.

I felt stunned. Betrayed. Embarrassed. Expendable. Insignificant. Angry. Terrified.

During the long drive home I prayed in sobbing gasps, crying out to God and absorbing our new reality. No benefits … for the baby’s birth ... without paying through the nose for it ... with money I’m not earning. I made two-thirds of our income. His job’s over next month. Not much chance of me getting a job two months before the birth and an upcoming move. We have a mortgage.

Helplessly, I conceded, Lord, You know! You know.

Godly, concerned friends brought lunch that day and I know we chewed over the words of Job: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). They specifically prayed Job 2:10 for us: “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”

Learning to rejoice through various trials

But the layoff was just the beginning. We learned we owed $500 in taxes that year. Then there was the frightening car crash in my thirty-seventh week of pregnancy that sent me overnight to the hospital. Three weeks later, I experienced unrelated but considerable complications with delivery. My husband and I began a long-standing joke: “There’s no one I’d rather get [insert severe circumstance] with than you!”

At the end of that year, the two of us reflected on those painful months. In a time when we were holding on by our fingernails, God showed Himself more near, more sovereign than ever. He was profoundly both great and good. Our faith, too, was more tangible, more real than before:

… In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory. (1 Peter 1:6-8)

But during those first few days and weeks, it was no small battle to respond in faith rather than fear—a moment-by-moment choice—taking “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). God used that time to alter the fabric of our family’s spiritual DNA with several heartrending, precious truths.

1. Forgiveness plays out the gospel. Very few layoffs are completed with perfect love and justice. But our ex-coworkers, and our children, are witness to how we react to devastating news, to feeling slighted.

Will God’s power and goodness be greater than our disappointment? How little will it take to make us “curse God and die,” as Job was tempted to do (2:9)? Recall Christ’s example on the cross for us: “not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead” (1 Peter 3:9). How will we speak to our children about our workplace, our superiors? Spouses, will your choice of words encourage toward disdain, as Job’s wife did, or godliness?

2. God has purposes for work. It’s hard to walk away from a layoff without feeling like your gifts and contributions are dispensable. Valuable work empowers. It dignifies.

But worth, purpose, and identity can’t be encompassed by a job. Just as God has purposes in employment, He’s got purposes in unemployment. We’re His workmanship, created for good works He prepared beforehand (Ephesians 2:10).

Don’t choose to let a non-eternal entity step into God’s place of defining you. Instead, believe that His purposes for you are good, superior, and fulfilling. Fill your now-vacant schedule with the “good works” opportunities you wouldn’t have had otherwise—even if that simply means a long-needed sabbatical, or the time to enjoy your children.

Spouses, this is your chance to compassionately empower, to speak life-giving words. It’s an extraordinary occasion to affirm your spouse’s value and your unconditional love and commitment, to give him or her special honor (1 Corinthians 12:23-24). “I respect you” and “I’m proud of you” have particular importance now.

3. God is unendingly faithful. It’s one thing to glibly acknowledge, “God’s got a plan!” It’s another to witness that plan unfolding … and even some of its terror.

Our wreck totaled our car. Yet that insurance check paid our mortgage for the summer, and we didn’t need that car since I didn’t have a job! Also, my husband’s insurance allowed me benefits enrollment for more expensive but better benefits––like having a baby with virtually no copayment (phew). His internship was graciously extended, which granted me irreplaceable time at home with my new son.

God isn’t sporadically good and loving; His thoughts are simply higher. Taking my daughter for immunizations isn’t a hiatus of my love; it is loving her—and watching her in pain rends my heart. Would I withhold those necessary immunities from her, when every day I’m sacrificing myself for her needs? Similarly, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).

God’s plan may mean building character of far greater worth than money. It may mean protecting me from what I can’t see. It may mean freeing me to finally attempt something I wouldn’t have otherwise. It may mean a form of good I can’t appreciate until eternity.

If my three-year-old asks to run out into the street to get a ball in front of an oncoming car, there’s no way I’ll let him do it, no matter what kind of fit he pitches. I love him too much. Likewise, God is the all-seeing authority on what’s best for my family.

4. This, too, is a time for gratitude and generosity. We wrestled with questions like, “Should we tithe if we don’t expect to be able to pay our mortgage?”

God answers in Malachi, “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse … and test Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows’” (3:10).

Even in that time of holding my breath while I balanced our checkbook, our family had more than the vast majority of the world: A comfortable home, full stomachs of fresh food, clean clothing, a vehicle, medical care, a college education, a safe neighborhood and nation, our health, and even more intangibles, like a thriving marriage. In our stricken state, our cup still overflowed.

Author H.U. Westermeyer remarked, “The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.” Even times of utter poverty are times of praise and thanks—in fact, some of its purest forms (see Job 1:21).

5. Faith is highly prized by God. God exalts people who trust Him despite their circumstances: Noah, who assumed the expense and labor to build a boat for an unseen flood. Abraham, who was asked to sacrifice his son. David, who surpassed the faith of the Israelite army as a child, defeating the giant Goliath and his army. Mary, who upon hearing life-altering news of her unwed pregnancy, replied, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Will I have such an attitude—and such a reward—when God’s plans and timing for my family detour vastly from my own?

6. “The things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18, ESV). Even in staggering setbacks, our daily lives are still simply a vessel for the true, lasting reality of eternity and of God’s great purposes. We will likely not remember in eternity whether we were able to keep our gym membership, continue on a career path, keep up with the Joneses, take a vacation, or go to the grocery store without biting our nails.

We will, however, see eternal results of financial stewardship, of allowing God to dictate His place and plan for us, of building family relationships whatever the occasion, and of trusting that God will care for our needs just as He feeds the sparrows or clothes the lilies without their striving (Matthew 6:25-34).

Your family will witness your response to hard times. Will you leave a pattern of righteousness, a home secure in love apart from performance—and a legacy of faith?

After all, the lessons for our families from a layoff can be, well, priceless.

© 2009 by FamilyLife.  All rights reserved.

FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family. 



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