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How unemployment has affected my relationship with God

By Stephen Rhymer,

I grew up in a church family. I went to church, Sunday school and vacation Bible school. I did my catechism, served as an altar boy. Christian service was a big part of my life.

About the time I had spinal surgery several years ago, I realized that somehow God and I were no longer on the same page. Too many things were falling apart. When I prayed, I wasn’t getting that sense that God was there for me.

Out here in Oklahoma, churches teach that if you pray and really, really believe, God will answer your prayers. So pray. And pray some more. Then, wait. It’s kind of like Dorothy and her ruby slippers.

When things started going south for me, lots of friends told me they were praying for me. I became a link in several prayer chains. I received e-mails and cards full of assurances that God had a plan for me, that the best was yet to come, that I should keep praying because God would hear me and make my life wonderful again.

Funny thing, though: My life kept spiraling down.

And down.

One day I was told rather pointedly by one of those prayer-chain leaders that I was the obvious problem because either I wasn’t praying correctly or I hadn’t really accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior or I hadn’t confessed all my (impressively numerous) sins or God was testing me as he tested Job (I love that one).

And, of course, I was told to be patient, as God works in mysterious ways and on His own timetable.

OK. I read and re-read the Bible till my eyes hurt, meditated, prayed till my knees hurt, fasted – all in attempt, like ET, to “phone home.”

Finally, I had to pack it in and call it a day. The phone kept ringing, but no one was home.

There is a God, of that I am sure.

I am also sure that God isn’t the God of tele-evangelism or the God of my phone-chain-friends’ churches.

After a lifetime of religious education, reading and soul-searching, God has become an on-again-off-again God to me, who capriciously grants only those prayers that appeal, and then only when God feels like it.

A God who permits suffering under the guise of “teaching a lesson” or “testing” is a God who just isn’t that interested.

If not, then explain Somalia or the Sudan or the drought that’s killing the Southern Plains despite governors’ requests for national days of prayer for rain.

Before you start with the comments and e-mails, hear me out.

If God were the tele-evangelism God, unemployed people wouldn’t have to beg for even the most menial jobs, for food so our children don’t go hungry, for medical care … for help with the most basic human needs. We wouldn’t be made to feel ashamed, be told we’re lazy and undeserving, to be told we’re to blame. We wouldn’t feel forgotten.

Which brings me to a greater question.

While my co-sufferers and I wait patiently for a message from on high, what are the Christians who have a direct line to God doing to help us?

How do these folks who wear their faith on their sleeve – bragging of their personal relationships with their personal God – make the laws that cut safety-net programs exemplify Jesus’ teachings? In Oklahoma, the Legislature (most profess their faith regularly in public) cut the top unemployment benefit from $430/week in 2010 to $358/week in 2011. And, as best I can discover, single Oklahoma adults who are not disabled don’t qualify for food stamp assistance, no matter how little money they make.

Aren’t these the same folks who a few years ago wore bracelets and T-shirts and lapel pins asking “WWJD – What Would Jesus Do?”

That’s a no-brainer. It’s the shortest sentence found in the Bible, in the New Testament, Gospel of St. John.

“Jesus wept.”

Stephen Rhymer, a 59-year-old former public relations official from Edmond, Okla., has been unemployed for two and a half years. Read more about him here. Read about the “Help Wanted” project here. Visit the project home page here.

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