The Joy of Graduation and the Crisis of Joblessness

Congratulations, class of 2015. Your day has finally come. The classes have ended. The final papers are in. The exams are behind you. You’re not registering for another fall. You are free.

Over the next several weeks, hundreds of proud, relieved, and ambitious young people like you will walk across the stage, shake a couple of hands, and receive the prized piece of paper declaring, “It is finished.”

For many of you — maybe most — this is the greatest accomplishment of your lives thus far. Four years — or five, or eight — of hard work have earned you the cap, the gown, and the degree. For many, it’s the end of some of the best years of your lives — experiencing freedom and independence, learning from great teachers, joining fraternities or sororities, competing in intramural sports, reading life-changing books, meeting lifelong friends.

Four Truths to Remember While You Wait

For just as many, though, graduation marks the beginning of months (maybe more) of waiting, searching, and doubting. Degrees don’t guarantee jobs. The vast majority will not even help make the big decisions for you. What city should you live in? What jobs should you apply for? How will you know to accept an offer?

And then what if the offer doesn’t come? The graduation ceremony is a massive affirmation that can quickly be undone by dozens of unreturned calls, uninterested employers, and unclear steps forward. Leaving the comfort, community, and identity of campus life can be a violent, confusing crash back into reality.

Here are four things to remember while you wait for the call back, the offer letter, and that first paycheck, however long you have to wait.

1. God has prepared you for something significant.

Every human being, believer and nonbeliever, was made — knit together in his or her mother’s womb — for the glory of God. God says, “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isaiah 43:6–7). God made you for his glory, and God saved you for his glory (Isaiah 48:9–11).

God’s purpose for your life — and it is a real, tangible, actionable purpose — has not changed, and it is not undone by a few months (or even years) of unemployment. Your hours from nine to five are just as gloriously and eternally significant right now as they’ll ever be. Don’t be distracted by what you’re not doing yet. Instead, give yourself to the work for which you were made. What you live for is so much more important than where you work.

“What you live for is so much more important than where you work.”

God gifts every one of his children for one purpose, and then many other, smaller, temporary purposes, including careers. Employed or unemployed, you were made for something bigger than your next job, bigger even than forty years of forty hours a week. God made you for God, not work. Whatever you do while you wait for your next job, do it with all your heart for God’s renown (1 Corinthians 10:31; Matthew 5:16).

2. God lets you wait and wonder — so that you learn to pray.

If you’re feeling discouraged and abandoned by God while looking for work, you have a friend in the apostle Paul. He also experienced an intense period of hopelessness and despair. He writes, “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:8–9).

Now, Paul was facing death, not joblessness. So the differences are real, but the principle is the same. God intends for our neediness to bring us to our knees. A good Father would never watch his kids suffer for the sake of suffering. He might wait to rescue them, though, if he knew it would eventually bring them a better and longer lasting peace, strength, and joy. We all desperately need to learn the futility of self-reliance and the reward of relying wholly on God. Go to him with your questions, your restlessness, and your heartache.

3. Friendship is indispensable, but more demanding off campus.

It’s no surprise that some of our best friends to this day are people we met in college. When you study, eat, sleep, and play in the same square mile for four years, it’s harder to avoid having friends than to make them.

Friendship off campus can be more challenging, though. No cafeteria. No biology lab. No student section. You probably won’t just run into your friends in the real world. Joblessness can be made more painful, then, because it comes with loneliness. You’ll have to be intentional with your friends, set aside time to be together, coordinate schedules, and then make it happen regularly. It’s not convenient, but it’s critical. In fact, God may have given you great friends in college mainly so that you would have friends when you walk through hard things after college — hard things like waiting and looking for work longer than you expected.

“We all desperately need to learn the futility of self-reliance and the reward of relying wholly on God.”

God has allowed others to experience discomfort so that they would be prepared to comfort you (2 Corinthians 1:3–4). And he has sent others to keep you from being deceived by Satan, who wants to murder you on the altar of your work (Hebrews 3:12–14). God will speak through your friends — their knowledge of God’s word, their love for you, their experience in the world, and their hope in Jesus for your future — to keep you in the faith, walking in line with the gospel.

4. Satan will wield joblessness against you, but God wields Satan for your good.

Satan wants to kill more than your vocational expectations and aspirations. He wants to kill you. He is a thief, an accuser, and a deceiver, and he will try to make the most of your unemployment. His goals are to inspire shame, promote procrastination, justify self-pity, fan the flame of fear, make you doubt God’s provision, and undermine your faith. Resist him at every point.

  • Reject shame with the promise of the freedom Christ purchased for you on the cross (Galatians 5:1; Romans 8:1).

  • Put off procrastination with the promise that God’s grace is enough for what you need to get done today, and work harder than anyone (1 Corinthians 15:10).

  • Defy self-pity with the promise that God is orchestrating every season of your life (and every day in each season) for your maximum good (Romans 8:28).

  • Forsake fear with the promise of God’s abiding, empowering presence with you (2 Timothy 1:7; Matthew 28:20).

  • Remember the promise that God knows your needs and will meet every one of them on your way to glory (Matthew 6:32–33).

  • Hold fast to the gospel, “in which you stand, and by which you are being saved” (1 Corinthians 15:1–2).

Satan wants to make war against you in the waiting. He means for it to crush and undo you. But God writes your waiting into the story for your good (Genesis 50:20). Don’t stop. Keep moving forward. Keep praying; keep calling; keep applying. Resist the temptation to retreat in defeat. Instead, defeat the devil and press on for the work — the Work of your life, and the work of your hands.