"I have something for you," my friend Ruth said with a smile. She handed me a bag containing three oranges and a grapefruit. Her simple gift communicated that she understood my pain.
Ruth had heard about my husband's recent job loss. She could identify with my situation — years earlier her husband had experienced unemployment, too. Moved by her thoughtful gesture, I began to weep.
After 14 years with a Christian ministry, my husband, Steve, lost his job. The ministry had downsized before, so we knew it was possible, but that didn't eliminate the sting.
Fortunately, we were financially prepared for a rainy day. But as the weeks turned into months, discouragement pounded at our door.
Pain and confusion accompany job loss more than I'd ever realized. I'd previously had a cavalier attitude toward people facing unemployment, but now that I was standing in the midst of this emotional tornado, I understood the severity of the situation. Rejections and closed doors shook our confidence and even challenged our faith. And the insensitivity of others needled at our sore hearts.
Through the experience, I gained empathy for unemployed friends and family members and learned how best to respond when someone I care about loses a job.
One of our greatest needs during Steve's unemployment was social interaction. As a speaker and writer, I work from home. When my husband lost his job, we were suddenly under the same roof day and night. We felt guilty spending money on such things as a movie or dinner, and we rarely left the house. As depression crept into my home, it changed from a comforting sanctuary to a prison cell.
If your friend is unemployed, ask him or her over for dinner. The meal doesn't have to be fancy; it’s your friendship and the welcoming atmosphere that help.
Offer to circulate your friend or family member's résumé. Many jobs are found through networking. Employers often prefer to hire someone from a referral rather than off the street. I was touched and amazed by the number of people who were willing to share Steve's résumé with potential employers.
My friend Ruth gave us a gift card to Starbucks with this instruction: "Treat yourselves to an occasional date." Even though we weren't big coffee drinkers, the card was a perfect present. It provided the opportunity to sit in a comfortable, fun atmosphere and feel normal again. I looked forward to those precious moments when I could treat myself without feeling guilty.
During Steve's almost 11 months of unemployment, several people sent us gift cards and checks in the mail. Without fail, a gift would arrive at a point when our hope was faltering.
The monetary value of these surprises was wonderful, but the hidden treasure was the tangible reminder that God hadn't forgotten us. God didn't calm the storm, but through the generosity of others, He provided shelter during the downpour.
Perhaps the most pain during this season came from Christians who didn't understand my crisis of faith. When God delayed in providing another job, I sometimes became angry and confused. It's not as though we were asking God for a new Mercedes. We were pleading for resources to pay the utility bills. Certainly the God who parted the Red Sea for Moses and held back the sun for Joshua could bring a job for my honest and hard-working husband.
Instead of receiving grace, I heard critical comments such as, "Your lack of faith is showing." Those ill-spoken words hurt more than the job loss itself. I discovered when and where it was safe to drop my mask and reveal the turmoil in my soul.
Trusting God and reading His Word daily did not eliminate the pain; I needed people to hold my hand and comfort my aching heart. Your unemployed friend needs compassion, not a sermon.
We will never forget Steve's season of job loss because it birthed a compassion for others in similar circumstances. Look around your neighborhood or church for those facing unemployment. All it may take is a small bag of oranges and a grapefruit to show them you care.Laura Petherbridge is an author and speaker.