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lonely-roadEvery year I attend the “annual-sea-of-tweed-total-and-complete-take-yourself-too-seriously-as-if-God-actually-needs-you” nerd fest, aka, The Society of Biblical Literature, held each year on the weekend before Thanksgiving, this year in San Antonio, TX, which is known for the Alamo, the Riverwalk, and I think that’s about it.

Each year I come home both energized to think big thoughts, change the world, and how wonderful it is to be studying and teaching Scripture for a living.

And speaking of teaching. . . .

Each year I also come home with a sense of sadness and feeling burdened for those with earned doctorates, or who are within arm’s reach of one, who just can’t find a job. Throw into the mix those whose education has made them unhirable by the same communities of faith who sent them out to get it. (Click <<here>> for my earlier posts on this not-uplifiting topic.)

I know what this feels like.

To have a family and bills, and the fear and shame of letting them down;

The self-doubt and merry-go-round of negative self-talk;

The embarrassment and shame for being unhirable;

The endless questioning of why you ever got into this line of work;

The loss of hope.

The stress and shame of even thinking about re-inventing yourself.

I can’t help but notice I used the word “shame” 3 times.

I was fortunate enough to have not one but two job offers after I graduated for my doctorate, but later in my career I went through about 4 years of these thoughts and feelings.

I had an income for part of that time, but not all. About 3 years into those 4 years, my wife and I both lost our jobs within a few weeks of each other. For the next 9 months we lived mostly off of credit cards. What saved us was a tornado cutting through our backyard (seriously) causing about $9000 of damage. I did the repair work myself for $1000 and pocketed the rest so we could make ends meet.

And through it all, I was questioning not only what I would do for work, but who I was. Emotionally, I left the field of biblical studies for several months.

I do get it. Fear, shame, self-doubt, and loss of hope.

I don’t know anyone else’s situation. I am not about to tell you it will be OK. I don’t know. And neither do you. But I would like to offer another thought:

This may be your God-moment.

A wise friend told me during my stressful years that each day I still have a choice to make: whether to fear or trust.

Each and every day. I am convinced that making that choice deliberately each day is a necessary exercise of your spiritual muscles and you will benefit from the experience.

I don’t know how or when. But watch for it.

This God-moment is out of your control, and looking back at your “ebenezer” at some future time, you will remark at how thorough a change you have been through. You may not fully recognize your former self, even though you are still you. Maybe even more you.

I re-read this past summer I read a book that I first read in the middle of great uncertainty and fear, a book that pushed me gently but relentlessly out of every comfort I was seeking to places I never knew existed, or that I had always been taught were bad places to be. I underlined furiously and made notes in the margins.

I revisited the book this summer, with some nostalgia, to try to sense again that feeling of dislocation. But nothing happened. I was a bit disappointed. It was hard for me to see what all the fuss had been about. The underlined passages that once made me put the book down and walk away for a few minutes were now woven into my inner life. And I am deeply glad for it.

You are on a harrowing—yet not uncommon— journey. There are no mother’s arms to run back to. You simply have to keep walking, trusting that God is with you and surrounded by family and friends to pray for your heart. And if need be to anoint you to walk well on this difficult and lonely path.

At the end I trust that somehow you will wind up meeting God differently than you had known God before. And you will perhaps see that, though you would never have chosen this path, it has led to your salvation.

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.