“So you’re laying me off?”
I sat across the table from my boss, heart racing. It was the last week of my maternity leave. This meeting was supposed to be a time to reconnect and line everything up for my return to my role as a non-profit communications specialist.
It wasn’t supposed to be an “I’m sorry, but your position has become redundant” meeting.
Only it was.
Some people have a career path akin to Highway 1 crossing the prairies: a short, straight route from Point A to B. If you’re like me, you’re not one of those people. For some of us, the road is full of hairpin curves and bumps and long detours. It’s easy to wonder, “Did I make a wrong turn somewhere? Shouldn’t I be farther ahead by now? Do I even have a calling?”
My own twists and turns have been many. First, I trained to be a scientist. After four years pursuing an Honours BSc in Biochemistry, I graduated and landed a great job in Montreal’s pharmaceutical industry. But by then, I knew I didn’t love the lab — not the way a true scientist does.
Next, I became a pastor. I piled all my belongings into my Corolla and drove across Canada to enroll at a seminary in British Columbia. A wonderful little church in the area took me in as an intern, and cheered me on as I preached my first sermons and learned Greek and theology and leadership principles. When I finished my Master of Divinity, that same church asked me to stay on as an associate. The catch? They could only afford to pay me a half-time salary.
So I became a half-time traveling scientist. Yes, you read that right. To make ends meet, I got a second job traveling to elementary schools teaching hands-on science workshops. This was equal parts fun and exhausting: picture teaching 30 little kids how to make silly putty from white glue, borax, and food colouring. For the next five years, I juggled my two roles as best I could.
Then came a major bend in the road. At 31, I married my husband Michael and became a stepmom to his two young boys. Two years into our marriage, it became clear we needed to live closer to his kids. With my resignation handed in, we moved and started over: new community, new church, and me with a new job in communications. At least, until I got laid off three years later.
It has been 20 years since I started college. That’s two decades of twists and turns. If I had been like Jonah — running the opposite direction when God called — all the zigs and zags would be understandable. But every move — from chemist to seminary student, from intern to half-time pastor, from single to married, from one community to another, was a decision I surrendered to God. Every choice was a careful process involving all the things you’re “supposed to do”: soul-searching, prayer, conversations with respected mentors, spiritual direction, logically weighing pros and cons, sifting through priorities, passions, and giftedness, considering circumstances. And still I experienced 20 years of twists and turns.
Two conclusions are possible: either I didn’t hear God right (despite my best efforts) or I did hear God right and the windy road was actually all his idea.
Two passages of Scripture have been my touchstone. One is the story of Joseph, arguably the Bible’s grand prizewinner for most zigs and zags. Joseph went from favorite son, to aspiring leader, to the bottom of a pit, to slave, to trusted household manager, to falsely-accused rapist, to prisoner, to Pharaoh’s CEO!
What is most comforting about the Joseph story is hearing him say to his brothers at the end of it all, “Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done; the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:19-20). Joseph came to a point where he could look back and see how the detours and delays were nothing of the kind: they were God leading Joseph to save thousands of people from famine.
What’s most challenging about the Joseph story is remembering that what takes us only minutes to read took Joseph years to live through. For 13 years, Joseph was a slave in Egypt. For at least two of those years, he sat in prison. Even though he had no guarantee his happy, “it-all-makes-sense-now” ending was coming, Joseph chose to make the most of every situation. He got to work. He was faithful. He used his gifts and skills to the best of his abilities. And he continued to listen for God’s voice.
Like Joseph, I look back and I begin to see. Today, I am a marketing and communications manager at a Christian college. Never once did I think I would be in a role like this, and never did I imagine I would love it the way I do. Sometimes I catch myself wishing I had enrolled in a BA in Communications at the get-go. Wouldn’t I be so much farther ahead? But I can see how the twists and turns were actually a crucial part of the journey. My science training gave me problem-solving and analytical skills I need to do this job. My theological studies ordered my priorities and grounded me in God’s reality. My time as a pastor taught me how to listen, tell stories, empathize, and communicate creatively. And getting laid off led me here. I’m not in Joseph’s league, saving thousands of people from starvation. But the work I am doing is Kingdom-work: it’s bigger than any career path I could have devised.
The truth is that the smoothness of my career path is not God’s main priority. My second touchstone Scripture has been Romans 8:28-29. We love to focus on how “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him....” But the real point is how Paul defines “the good.” We have been “called according to his purpose… to be conformed to the image of his Son.” It’s God’s purpose, not mine, that matters most. And his goal is that I’ll learn to talk and think and act and serve and sacrifice like Jesus.
When I look back at the twists and turns, I see how God was leading me here. But more than that, I see how God was forming me. Through the zigs and zags, I wrestled and struggled. Those shifting circumstances showed my selfishness, my lack of faith, my “you-scratch-my-back-God-and-I’ll-scratch-yours” mentality. I learned patience and surrender, obedience and faithfulness, humility and worship. I learned to seek God and to know that the true reward is not finding the perfect job, but finding and following him.
That’s worth a detour or two.