Unemployment has a number of disadvantages.
First of all, money is tight. In my case, I worked four years for the same employer, seeing only one very small raise during that time. When management changed, and it was time for me to move on, I took a 15 percent cut in salary with my next job because I didn’t want to be unemployed at a time when jobs are scarce. That and the move left me woefully unprepared for actually being unemployed.
Second, cultivating a productive daily rhythm which isn’t structured around work isn’t easy — especially for someone with workaholic tendencies. I put together a weekly to-do list and discipline myself to keep regular hours, so I have goals and a schedule, but the temptation to put things off is great. After all, I find myself thinking sardonically, I don’t have anything to do tomorrow. I’ve learned, though, that putting things off leaves me feeling dissatisfied.
Third, and most dangerous for me, negative self-talk finds ways to worm its way into just about everything. The response to being without milk isn’t “I had better put that on the grocery list;” it’s “What a loser! You can’t even keep milk in the house.”
Worse is a thought which is working very hard to become my personal mantra — “What’s wrong with me?” If I let my guard down for a minute, it begins to enumerate the failures in my life, totally overlooking the blessings and accomplishments. Why think of things like awards and friendships and loving relationships with family members when I can think about jobs I’ve lost, dreams I have abandoned and heartbreak I have suffered?
Yesterday, I was sinking for the third time under the polluted water of “what’s wrong with me” when the Black Hills Playhouse came to mind, specifically their production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” There in my mind’s eye was Iah Kinley in the amazing coat designed by Rachel Mathews. There were the brothers plotting against him and Mrs. Potiphar attempting to seduce him. There he is in chains through no fault of his own.
Through no fault of his own.
I know “Joseph” is based on a story from the Bible. I even know where to find it: Genesis 37, 39-45. I first heard it when I was a child. As an adult, I’ve heard portions of it read at Mass. I’ve read it myself. In my own Bible, passages are underlined and I’ve added marginal notes. For example, in Genesis 39, I’ve noted it says five times, “The Lord was with Joseph.”
Considering what the poor man went through, it must have been hard for him to see that at times — which brings to mind a story told about St. Teresa of Avila. Apparently, she was on the way to an important meeting when the mule she was riding dumped her in the mud. She cried out, “Why, Lord?” “It’s the way I treat my friends,” he responded. “No wonder you have so few of them,” she retorted.
Joseph suffered through no fault of his own — at least the biblical account doesn’t report his shortcomings. And in the New Testament, when Jesus is asked why a man was born blind, he said the man wasn’t to blame for this handicap which made a beggar out of him (John 9:1-3). In both instances, God was glorified in the end as the men did their best with the circumstances they were given.
Of course, that’s the lesson. I am to understand there’s nothing wrong with me. I am supposed to trust that God is at work in my life, even if the circumstances are difficult at present. I think I am also supposed to appreciate all of the ways God will be reaching out to encourage me.
The Bible wasn’t the life preserver he threw me yesterday, theater was. I am so grateful the playhouse’s selection committee chose “Joseph” for the 2011 season, so grateful I got to see it twice, so grateful for the amazing technicolor hope the memory of that production gave me yesterday, so grateful for the reminder that the arts are one of the ways God works in this world.
Send me, Lord!