In March of 2013, I had my first experience with “real” unemployment. Not the fun, summertime-in-high-school unemployment. The kind where you have a family to feed and creditors still expecting to get paid. It was a relatively short period of joblessness (just over one month) and, frankly, a rather mild experience overall. I attribute at least a small part of that to the decisions I made throughout. Here are a few things I did that I believe helped to stabilize our life and marriage during this particularly treacherous time.
1. I didn’t panic.
I was deeply concerned about how I would continue to provide for my new wife but I knew my world would not change overnight. I tried to remember that what she needed most right then was for me to keep my emotions in check and make wise decisions. By God’s grace, this allowed me to provide stable leadership at a crucial time.
2. I took responsibility for my future.
There were lots of people I wanted to blame, but instead of playing that game, I took ownership of my life. At first, this was the more difficult road because I couldn’t shift blame onto anyone, but once I was truly convinced that I could determine my own future it was incredibly exciting. There were still frustrating moments but an element of fun and dreaming was added to the job search.
3. I made communication with my wife a top priority.
In tense situations, people who are on the same team can sometimes start working against each other. Honest talk is the only way to avoid that. I wrote Susannah a letter acknowledging that things could get tense between us, that she might be prone to skepticism about how I was spending my time during unemployment. I asked her to voice feelings like this and thanked her for being my partner. Beginning a difficult season like this kept us on the same side.
4. I stopped making payments on my student loans.
If I'd had credit cards I would have stopped paying on those too. Consumer debt payments were not a priority for us while I was unemployed. Our priorities were food, housing, utilities, and gas. I didn’t want to feed my creditors before I fed my family. Now, I must admit that I found after-the-fact that student loan lenders can garnish wages on delinquent loans without a court order. It takes a while to get that far, however, and this is not a technique available to other lenders or debt collectors.
5. I treated finding a new job like a part-time job.
Not like a hobby and not like a full-time job. It was obviously too important for just a couple of hours a day or week. At the same time it was so emotional I think I would have ground my soul to powder if I'd tried to work at it 8-10 hours a day. I spent 4-5 hours a day making my list of options and placing calls.
6. I spent time developing my passions.
I worked on my preaching and spent time writing and developing my website. Since I had extra time, I tried to see that as an opportunity for growth. I knew that idleness was the surest path to depression or hopelessness but that hard work on something I love would give me hope and a sense of purpose.