In the midst of plague, students of all kinds have graduated into boneyard job markets. Especially seminary graduates, who seek ministry or academic positions like crappie thrashing over a few pieces of bread. My own situation is not dire, but I too struggle to find work to feed hungry bills until student jobs at the university (hopefully) reopen in the Fall. The sparrows, Lord, the sparrows. They seem enviable.
It is true, however, that even birds must vie for territory, must scavenge to build and to feed. The observation is somewhat encouraging. The hunt for a job or program is substantial work itself, so elements of a Christian theology of work—its value, God’s partnership, its essential place in humanity, etc. —can be applied. Of course, the lack of pay is no small difference. As dead ends and rejections mount, as bank accounts dwindle with each sun, the pressures knot our shoulders and thoughts. What encouragement can be given to graduates or students in the midst of historic trouble?
Here and generally, we should be wary of quick and ubiquitous consolations. They are often misapplications or neutralizers of sanctification. The impulse to regulate another person’s response to hardship or suffering is often idealistic or, worse, selfish. Or a consolation may be true and pertinent, but the language is just rubbed to death, scentless and ineffective. For these reasons, my ear tends to resist the trotting of well-trod phrases (though I often fail to keep them from leaping off my own tongue) like “God will provide,” “remember the sparrows,” or “worry isn’t productive.” But maybe I’m alone.
Yet, Jesus’ admonition about greed and anxiety in Matthew 6 allows no wriggling out of this truth: God is a Father that cares. He listens, he responds. If God provides for robins, jays, and chickadees, Jesus said, then he will provide for us. Sometimes we must humble ourselves to receive a stale truth because it is the substance that will sustain us another day. Sometimes we must wrestle with old clay in order to make it usable again. Indeed, we often are like that.
Other encouragements are available, too. Here’s another from the same sermon: narrow your vision. No, not to Jesus (directly, at least). “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own”(Matt. 6:34). Every so often we need to wear the ol’ horse blinders so that yesterday and tomorrow don’t spook us. Focus on today. What sanity! On the other hand, what insanity—tomorrow will take care of itself? I think Jesus includes actions we do for the sake of tomorrow in a daily focus. He isn’t suggesting inconsideration of tomorrow, but that worrisome energy be devoted to immediate agency. Write that statement of purpose, send that resume, make that phone call, contemplate that theological or pastoral idea, mow your neighbor’s lawn, pray. Tomorrow (or some future day) will take care of itself because you took care of today.
Today’s work may mean that you apply for that cashier job or (God forbid) that night stock position, or whatever else that you can find. Perhaps you feel a little bit of embarrassment or shame at the thought of doing some kind of work. You would never think less of someone else, but you think that you should be past (or if honest, above) a certain kind of job or position. Of course, disappointment or dislike are acceptable feelings. But if you feel shame, be careful that your value hasn’t entwined with your professional aspirations. Not all jobs dignify humans, but all humans have dignity in their jobs. Even if you don’t prefer a certain job, you can trust that your work there matters because God has entrusted it to you.
May I suggest one more encouragement? While you pursue your goals, be open to the possibility of transfigured dreams. We pursue work that we love and/or that God has gifted or called us to. The poet Christian Wiman has written that “God doesn’t give a gift without the obligation to use it.” As an aspiring writer, I have taken great encouragement from these words. But Wiman follows up that statement: “How one uses it, though—that’s where things get complicated.” Without the healthy realism and ambiguity of the second sentence, I suspect that what we instinctively embrace in the first sentence is not purely the obligation of a calling or gift but also our ideal form of its expression. As disciples, we must be open to the possibility of God’s redirection. Perhaps the pursuit of a particular career or ministry is difficult because of Divine friction. We are creatures of inertia, and redirection is grating. The only thing to prepare us for it, I think, is regular prayer and surrender, small acts of undesired obedience. Difficulty may mean the opposite, of course. Endurance and grit may be the correct response to resistance. Nevertheless, we must maintain pliability.
These few thoughts are mostly spoken to myself but offered to you with this prayer: Father, may these words have their intended effect. Be tangibly present to new graduates and forthcoming ones in their heightened challenges. May they say with a psalmist that you have granted their heart’s desire. May you fulfill their petitions. Guide them into positions of service and guide their wills to serve where you position them. Let them be like babies who do not concern themselves with too much. Pray for us, Jesus, as we pray in your name. Amen.
 Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2013), 42.