By Dan Valenti (Jan 5, 2010)
You're a single mom of three. You're in your late 40s. In a withering economy, you suddenly lose your job. You spend the year looking for work but come up empty. The bills, meanwhile, don't go away. Prices rise, and values drop.
Is this you, except for the particulars? Are you pounding the pavement, out of work? Has a loved one been traumatized because of losing a job? Read on, then. This is for you.
First, there are two tough but vital questions to ask: What are you doing about it? How are you handing it?
Many in this situation turn despair into a production number and bring the curtain down on hope — not Barbara LaBrec of Manchester, Conn., though. She did the opposite. She began producing a one-woman play of her life called "No Time for Fear" (or "Hello, God!"), and she's raising the curtain on a new, deeper relationship with our Father.
Meet Barbara LaBrec, a case study in spiritual maturity.
Hitting the Bricks, Breathless
On Jan. 1, 2009, Barbara lost her position as an office worker for an energy company in nearby Glastonbury. It came suddenly, without warning — employed in the morning, cleaning out her desk at noon, out of work in the evening. The gloom quickly descended.
"It was devastating," Barbara says. "You lose sight of things in that first wave of panic. 'What am I going to do now?'" she wondered. After she began to get control of her breathing and heart rate, one of the first things she did was call her older sister, Mary, who serves Barbara as confidant, sounding board, and booster — a continual source since childhood of protection and strength.
Mary, who has a deep devotion to Divine Mercy, told Barbara that God was using the situation to show her something — easy to say and oddly tough to hear.
"She was the right person to call," Barbara said in her buoyant, sunny voice. "Three years ago, Mary asked me to go on a retreat with her. The topic was 'Fear.' The Lesson: God is present in every circumstance of life. You don't need to be afraid. He will give you the tools you need in any situation."
Facing Her Moment of Truth
Her joblessness became what Barbara calls "a defining moment," one of those watershed points in life where you must consciously and overtly declare where you stand: with God or without Him.
In moments such as these religion loses its namby-pamby veneer and becomes as vital as survival itself, what Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade called "the sacrament of the present moment."
"I have had to train myself to seek God as an act of will, because I certainly didn't feel like trusting Him nor was that my first instinct," Barbara says. "My first reaction when something goes wrong is 'me, me, me.' I make it all about me, tending to leave God out of it. Then, with Mary's help, I learned to ask: 'Where is God in this whole thing?' That's when I realized He is right here, going through it with me."
She says that one of the good things about not having a job is the luxury of time. Barbara has used this luxury "to make [authentic] contact with God, not like before where it was on the surface." When she worked at the energy company, she felt she didn't have time to properly tend to her soul.
Her position with the company, she says, had lots of stress and daily struggles. In the maddening rush, one of the things to go was her prayer life. Barbara's joblessness cured that, but only because she jumped on the opportunity. She acted. She didn't wallow or wait, and that is when God hurries up to act in our life — when we do our part.
"It's amazing how my life has changed this past year," Barbara says. "I have time for prayer and I use it. I begin each day praising God, thanking Him for the many blessings in my life, and asking, 'What do you want me to do today?' It's amazing how calming that is and how much focus it provides."
Discomfort? Yes. Fear? No.
Barbara is once again actively looking for work. She notes that it's a different marketplace than when she first became employed.
"Everything's online now, and that's another thing that's uncomfortable for me," she said. "Many people are looking for work at the same time, many younger than me with more of the computer skills employers require. It would be so easy without God in my life to fall into depression. I haven't fallen into despair, though. Starting my morning in prayer helps me in that respect. As for technology, I can learn. God won't give me anything we can't handle."
She raises an excellent point. There is a great divide not just in the workplace but in the culture: PC and AC, or "pre-computer" and "after computer." The first might be called the Analog Generation. The second is the Digital Generation. The A-Gens tend to be older. They process information in a more linear manner, preferring interpersonal communication and face-to-face contact. The D-Gens are younger, they love to multitask, and they prefer electronic relationships such as texting and online social networking.
Roots, Rock, Religion
Fortunately, the A-Gens also grew up in a time when religion and spirituality weren't afterthoughts. That has come in handy. They generally grew up in stable, husband-and-wife households, ate meals together as a family each night, and on Sunday worshipped together. They prayed together and stayed together. Family values anchored society, and religion provided the rock upon which a Church could be built.
Today, that cultural profile is mocked as too pie-in-the-sky, too much like "Leave It to Beaver." Society has scrapped traditional definitions of "family" and "marriage." Meals are eaten separately, microwaved or the product of fast food restaurants. Sunday means football and indulgence.
The Analogs, having had a proper spiritual foundation, can more easily find their way back from a tough situation by calling upon their religious roots. The Digitals generally lack those roots.
"I was born and baptized in the Catholic Church," Barbara says. "My parents didn't just instruct us in the faith. They lived their faith. When you get older, life often gets in the way of religion. But then that situation or event comes into your life that gets you back to the faith. I'm a Catholic because I know it is true. I have seen the presence of God. I feel it every day."
Having more time to devote to prayer, meditation, and performing works of mercy such as her visits to a friend who's going to treatment for prostate cancer, Barbara has activated spiritual capacities that, while she was employed, laid there dormant or underused. She also says with a smile in her voice that she's had much more time to connect with her family and children — Nicholas, 22; Sarah, 21; and Frances, 19.
A Pragmatic Resource for Daily Living
Having a spiritual approach to life doesn't make problems magically go away. That's the stuff of fairy tales believed by the spiritually immature. Losing a job and being out of work is one of life's greatest shocks, sometimes equivalent to losing a loved one. That's where spirituality shines in all its practicality and pragmatism as an accessible resource for daily life. The questions linger and the gnawing doubts surface, but that's okay because with God, they become part of the experience.
"What does God have in store for me?" Barbara asks. "Where is He leading me? It looms out there. My attitude is to say to God: 'Use me, as you will. I'm standing on the edge of a cliff. What are you going to ask me to do?' It boils down to trust, every day. I constantly remind myself: I need to trust. I need NOT to be afraid. It's liberating knowing I don't need to be afraid."
She says that however overwhelming her situation seems, she knows God can and does work with every situation. "He can handle any curveball I throw him. That's what I love about His mercy. I almost feel guilty that I don't feel more scared. The mercy of God is so incredible."
Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of Dan Valenti's Mercy Journal.