The painful process of leaving the past behind and embracing the future.
by Candace Simar
“This is your thirty-day notice.” My young boss tilted back in his chair and stretched out his legs in front of him. “Your job is being eliminated.”
Everything slipped into slow motion. The blood drained from my face.
“It’s a money-saving decision.” He acted embarrassed. “By combining departments, we can save on management costs.”
I wondered what I had done wrong, if I had unknowingly crossed an invisible line that pushed me out of existence.
“It’s nothing personal,” he said.
It felt very personal. We sat in silence. I could feel his relief when I finally stood to leave.
“What are you going to do?”
I had no idea.
My husband sympathized. Words caught in my throat and came out in a near whisper. No matter how hard I tried, I could not bring myself to speak of it to anyone else. Not my mother or my sister, not my adult children. The hurt was too deep. Not even the benefit of a pink slip; just a casual remark on a Friday afternoon that ended my career.
My devotional reading that morning had been Psalm 37:25: “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.” I felt forsaken in spite of the psalm.
I stayed indoors the entire weekend, unable to eat or talk with anyone.
On Monday a co-worker empathized with me, saying how much she would miss me, how my work was valued and appreciated. I choked back tears.
It wasn’t fair.
Swirling emotions exhausted me, and I counted the hours until I could punch out and go home. Marking my desk calendar with a pencil, I then counted the remaining days until I could leave forever. It seemed impossible I could survive twenty working days, the embarrassment and shame, the rumors.
Without future projects on my desk, there was little to do. I dared not complain; I needed every cent I could scrape together before unemployment cut my wages in half. There were bills to pay. How would I manage?
Reluctantly, I took monthly reports to the main office. My boss’ door was closed, and relief washed over me. Jennifer, his secretary, accepted the files from my hand, but her eyes flitted to the floor, and her hands fluttered in embarrassment. Her silence brought a choking lump to my throat.
I had to speak. “You’ve heard they cut my position?”
“Yes.” She laid the folder on her desk and looked at me. “There are other jobs open in the company.”
The hurt cut deep. I had been in management for fifteen years, six years in my present position. I had worked hard to get to the place where I didn’t have the physically demanding job of working on the floor, the rotating shifts, the lifting. At 51 I had physical limitations beyond my control.
I wanted to tell her that I had never received a single disciplinary action in my years of employment, that I was Employee of the Month only three years ago, that two months ago I received a glowing evaluation from my supervisor. How dare she be flippant about my loss?
I seethed with anger but knew anything I said would only make it worse. I returned to my too-clean desk.
I struggled when co-workers sympathized with me and struggled even more when they were unsympathetic. But worse were the people who said nothing at all. I felt as though I were on death row or had something contagious. People avoided me, not knowing what to say. Perhaps they were understanding. Maybe they felt I deserved to be cut, that my work was unnecessary. Maybe they were afraid if they showed concern for me, their own jobs might be in jeopardy.
I packed my grandchildren’s photos that stood beside my electric pencil sharpener, my continuing education information, my Employee of the Month plaque, and my personal reference books that cluttered the shelf above my desk. It was too soon to take my personal things home, but I couldn’t stand to see them in the office that used to be mine. I cleaned out file cabinets and cupboards, filled out paperwork, and finished up a stack of employee evaluations.
A friend told me that God gave her a verse when she left a job with less-than-friendly feelings: “If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them” (Luke 9:5).
I could never do that. Shake the dust off my feet? I cared too much about my work to leave with a bad attitude.
“Think about it,” she said. “Maybe it just means it’s time to start something new. Isn’t there something you’ve been dreaming about?”
I did have a secret ambition. For years I had spent my free time working on a historical novel. Vacation days were filled with writing conferences and museum visits. Physical challenges limited my energy, and many times I asked God to give me more writing time. Maybe this loss was God’s way of making my other dream possible the dream of being a published writer.
But even the lure of other possibilities didn’t take away the agony of losing my job. Every day I clung to the comfort of my devotional book. Every day the assigned Bible verse spoke to me and gave me strength.
I investigated unemployment insurance and perused the want ads. So what if I had been Employee of the Month? Now I was unemployed, unsure what my future held.
My boss called me one afternoon. “When is your last day?”
“March 19.” He should know.
“It doesn’t make sense for you to quit in the middle of the month.”
I wanted to remind him that I was being downsized, that I hadn’t quit. For a moment I thought he had changed his mind and would let me keep my job. My heart pounded.
“Would you consider working through the end of March?”
My heart sank. Everything in me wanted to refuse, to throw it back in his face. He hadn’t thought through the merge and wasn’t ready for me to leave. Why should I help him out?
Promise from God
Surely God couldn’t expect this of me. How could I endure two more weeks of agony? My devotional reading that morning had been Psalm 55:22: “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.”
I felt God’s promise that He would help me through the remaining days. I remembered my friend’s verse about shaking the dust off my feet and knew I didn’t want to leave with a bad attitude. I gulped back the anger and agreed to stay until the end of the month. Then I sent up a desperate prayer for help.
Anguish and exhilaration
I found solace in writing and journaling. Late into the evenings and early mornings I sat at my computer. A writing magazine sought essays for an anthology. The response to my submission was positive and immediate. I polished poems and short stories that had gathered on my desk, and friends in my writing group urged me to submit them to magazines. I applied for a writer mentorship program and wrote a grant requesting money for a novel workshop. For once, I would have time to do the things I wanted.
While I felt such anguish about my job loss, I also felt a growing exhilaration about new possibilities.
Perspective and strength
Finally, my last day arrived. My devotional reading that morning spoke of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness, when the Spirit led Him into the desert to be tempted by the Devil for forty days. At least my ordeal hasn’t lasted that long, I thought. On a whim, I picked up the calendar and counted the days from the first notice to my last day on the job. Because of leap year, it was exactly forty days.
This put things into perspective and gave me strength for that final day of work when I couldn’t keep the tears out of my voice and when my mascara washed away before I even got to the office. All the goodbyes, the consolation of friends, the avoidance of some, and the grief culminated at the end of the day. I was exhausted. It was over; I had made it with God’s help.
The next morning, my designated Scripture passage was Luke 9:5: “If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” I knew it was no coincidence.
It was time to let go and start anew. Mentally, I shook the dust off my feet and turned on my computer.
Scripture quotations were taken from the New International Version.