After several decades in the food manufacturing industry, I rose to a position of respect and high compensation. But the year I turned fifty, my company fell on hard times. Tension began to mount in the factory, especially among those of us on the leadership team. I started to get defensive in the workplace. That’s when I realized I needed to adjust my priorities and seek God’s will for my career.
I began praying first thing every morning. Even before the sun was up I would talk to God. Then I’d journal my thoughts and ask for strength to face the day. One day I told God I felt full of confusion and wasted purpose. “Lord, you who know me better than I know myself, set my feet upon the right path and fire me up with a desire to do your will.” I ended my note that morning with an emphatic “Amen!”
A few hours later, the plant manager called me to his office and gently informed me that the company was downsizing. I would be among the first wave of employees to be let go. I remained outwardly calm. But inwardly, I was happily stunned—not to leave the company but to receive such a dramatic and sudden answer to my prayer! I sensed that God was opening up my future to new possibilities.
The changes and the uncertainty bewildered me though. In the days that followed, when fear threatened to creep in, I recalled what a friend of mind once told me. “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to an all-knowing God.”
Welfare, not Woe. I began searching for another job immediately; I was sure that God would provide the perfect opening. After all, hadn’t he led me out of the last job efficiently? As time went on, no perfect job appeared but I tried to stay hopeful.
In the meantime, I used some of my free time to volunteer with a new junior high group at my church. Although I was one of the oldest volunteers, they seemed enthusiastic to have me. And working with the young people helped me feel younger and more optimistic!
But my most important mainstay was a morning hour of prayer. It was during one of these that a reading from the Book of Leviticus caught my eye. It described a “jubilee” year that the Israelites celebrated every fifty years. The jubilee meant that the Israelites set prisoners free, rested from their labour and dedicated a year for God [Leviticus 25:10-17]. With delight, I realized that I was experiencing just such a time in my own life. It seemed like no coincidence that my fiftieth birthday was coming up. God’s plan was taking place in the midst of my unemployment! I started to have confidence in the biblical promise God makes that his plans are for “welfare and not for woe” (Jeremiah 29:11), despite the uncertainty of my situation.
The next few months became my own jubilee year. I stopped worrying about the job search. Instead I spent more time writing fiction and walking in nature, both of which helped me feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. That summer I attended a silent retreat for the first time in my life. With every passing month I grew closer to God. In my journal I described it like this: “What God wants first and foremost from me is to be with him; to draw near and stay near.” This was a new spiritual insight for me. Up until then I was sure God’s plan for me would be complicated. This seemed so easy, so desirable.
Clinging to the Holy Spirit. As my jubilee year drew to a close I began to hear the prompting of the Holy Spirit in the voices of people around me. One person encouraged me to turn my volunteer work with youth into a full-time ministry. Another urged, “One doesn’t have to be young to work in youth ministry”; still another said, “Money isn’t everything, follow your passion.”
For a while, I resisted these promptings because I had no prior experience in youth ministry. I was also concerned about making ends meet on a much-reduced salary. My husband and I crunched numbers and came up with a minimum wage I would have to earn for us to remain financially secure. Reluctantly I placed it before the Lord. “Whatever your will Lord,” I prayed, “give me a sign and I will follow it.”
That very week a youth minister left our parish for further studies. Recognizing a clear opportunity, I applied for the job. When I was interviewed I explained that I had no experience and would have to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide me. A few days later I was offered the job. What’s more, the salary was exactly what my husband and I had calculated!
Every day that I work in youth ministry, I continue to learn and grow spiritually. Although I have no idea what the future holds, I no longer worry about it. God has shown me, with infinite care and precision, how much he loves each of his children. I now believe that every year, whether a jubilee one or not, can be one of drawing closer and staying close to our Lord and God.
Alice Matisz writes from Lethbridge, Alberta in Canada.