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The right path to meaningful work

Revisiting the Jonah story sheds light on the job search path.

From the November 2012 issue of The Christian Science Journal

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Many people at one point or another find themselves thinking that life seems unsatisfying or incomplete. They start to wonder, “How did I get here?” and “Why is everyone else’s life so much better?” Those kinds of questions began to define my own outlook.

Like so many recent graduates, I spent my first year after college looking for employment. Despite my sending out hundreds of applications and résumés, only some temporary work came my way. My income was very low, and I moved back in with my parents when I could no longer support myself financially. I was very grateful for their help and love, but all that I could focus on was the fact that I wasn’t moving toward any of the goals I had set post-graduation. I felt stuck, without inspiration or hope of a solution.

By the end of that year, I was accepted into a summer internship program, where I had the opportunity to immerse myself in Christian Science study. This study, and the rewarding work I was doing, did much to dissipate the cloud of frustration and sadness that had formed in my thinking. But as the summer drew to a close, I was headed back home—without any job prospects. 

After the time spent doing the internship, I felt more confident in turning to God for answers, and I sent out a heartfelt prayer for guidance. To my surprise, this prayer led me to the book of Jonah in the Bible. The details of Jonah’s story were familiar to me, but how could this account of a man trying to avoid God’s commands be helpful? Especially when I so desperately wanted to be directed somewhere.

Well, it was an enlightening read. Not only did Jonah run away to avoid a difficult task, but he also sought to “flee … from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3). Christian Science has taught me to think of God as “all-loving,” the way Mary Baker Eddy defines Him in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (p. 587). So why would anyone want to run away from an eternally loving presence? Jonah’s efforts to do so land him in the belly of a big fish, a place where he feels uncomfortable—and trapped. 

Divine Mind does not create—or even know about—an unprogressive, stagnant situation, so to get stuck in a cycle of self-pity and ingratitude was believing I could be outside of God's presence.

This reasoning prompted me to examine my own negative way of thinking. It appeared that I was in a “belly” of sorts. However, I couldn’t deny that there was a lot of good in my life and much to be grateful for. Seeing these blessings, rather than what seemed to be lacking, I realized that I was certainly in God’s care. Divine Mind does not create—or even know about—an unprogressive, stagnant situation, so to get stuck in a cycle of self-pity and ingratitude was believing I could be outside of God’s presence.

When Jonah finds himself in the fish’s belly, he starts to pray right away. He knows it’s not the end of the road, because God has preserved his life, saving him from the violent storm at sea. This allows him to see that even when all appears completely hopeless, God is still upholding him. He prays a prayer of thanksgiving to God for hearing his voice. This understanding sets him back on the right path, and God instructs the fish to let him go (see Jonah 2). Jonah goes on to follow God’s instructions and learns other important lessons along the way (see Jonah, chaps. 3, 4).

What a lesson for us, too, to see that like Jonah, when we are in an undesirable position, we don’t need to focus on the ugly surroundings or any material picture. Instead, we can lift thought to the understanding that “salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9) and trust in God’s guidance.

There are many people in the Bible who follow similar trajectories, all finding that turning to God for help moves them out of any hopeless situation. Can you imagine Daniel thinking some of those “Why me?” thoughts when he was thrown into the lions’ den? “I’m not strong enough to handle these lions … I don’t have the right skills or experience … Maybe if I just wait it out, eventually things will get better.” No. Daniel didn’t waste his time with an unconstructive pattern of thought. He trusted God wholeheartedly and was untouched by the lions (see Daniel 6:16–23).

Joseph advanced from being betrayed and sold into slavery to becoming overseer of his master’s house, because he knew that “the Lord was with him” (see Genesis 39:1–6). When Paul and Silas were thrown into prison, they “prayed, and sang praises unto God” (Acts 16:25), and soon an earthquake shook the foundation of the prison walls, opened the doors, and they were freed. Christ Jesus, of course, handled the worst kind of persecution and overcame death in order to be ultimately glorified above all physical conditions.

None of these great spiritual thinkers let their outlook get stuck “in the belly.” They understood the truth of their God-created being, which could never be limited, degraded, or abandoned. It is so clear from their stories that there is a law of God, divine Love, constantly at work, lifting each of us higher—and moving us forward.

I ended up spending another year at home, but this time with a much more buoyant attitude as I became focused on embracing every opportunity for good. I appreciated the continued support of my family and of a close friend who lived nearby. Further prayer led me to apply for a freelance reporting job that didn’t pay a lot, but allowed me to express creativity and professionalism and gain a new respect for my community. I also had time to take a couple of classes, developing skills that qualified me for the full-time job I now have, in a great new city. God’s care has been abundantly evident as new experiences in my work, housing, and social life have unfolded over the past year.

Mary Baker Eddy, who overcame many roadblocks to progress in her exemplary life, wrote: “The discoverer of Christian Science finds the path less difficult when she has the high goal always before her thoughts, than when she counts her footsteps in endeavoring to reach it. When the destination is desirable, expectation speeds our progress” (Science and Health, p. 426). 

When we trust in God’s loving direction, we can never lose sight of the good that awaits us.

Lisa Andrews lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.

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