Why Christians Suffer More When Out of Work: Coping during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Updated: Apr 23, 2020
The stay-at-home strategy for containing the spread of COVID-19 has disrupted the lives of millions of Americans. Christians all across the country are eager to return to church on Sundays and worship with their fellow believers. Children are eager to resume their school activities. But perhaps those suffering most are Christians who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic. In fact, it has been my experience that Christians suffer more when out of work than their unbelieving counterparts.
This may sound like an odd claim to make, but my fellow Christian counselors and I get a good feel for what is troubling brothers and sisters by the problems they bring to us. During the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of the faithful have been laid off from work and are suffering as a result. Like anyone laid off from work, unemployed Christians struggle with the financial challenges associated with being out of a job, but the suffering doesn’t stop there. An equally difficult challenge is coping with the emotional costs of unemployment.
Unemployed Christians who approach me for counseling often complain about feeling guilty or useless as if being out of work means they aren’t pulling their own weight. Several have expressed concern about the message in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 where we read, “…If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” Others are concerned that their lack of income has rendered them unable to tithe to their church. Yet others struggle because they are averse to collecting unemployment compensation yet need the money to pay their bills. All of these individuals suffer from the same “malady”: a strong case of the Christian work ethic.
The Christian work ethic is a belief that work is a gift from God and should, therefore, be appreciated, viewed as an opportunity, and done well. One of its tenets is that people should take care of themselves and their families while also helping neighbors who are in need. The Christian work ethic is a good “malady” to have. In normal circumstances it allows Christians to make themselves indispensable to employers while also honoring God in how they do their work. But when out of work, the Christian work ethic can leave believers feeling like malingerers.
In this brief blog, I summarize the advice I give Christian brothers and sisters who are suffering the emotional costs of being out of work. For those who feel guilty because of the message in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, I ask a simple question: Are you willing to work? The answer I usually get is along these lines: “I am not just willing but eager.” This being the case, 2 Thessalonians 3:10 is not an issue because it clearly states “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” I remind believers that being out of work does not mean they are malingering. They were put out of work because of circumstances beyond their control, and would like to return to work at the earliest opportunity.
I refer brothers and sisters who feel guilty for being temporarily unable to support their church financially to the story of the widow’s offering in Mark 12:41-44. In this story, rich people are feeling self-righteous because they are able to put a lot of money in the offering box. A poor widow comes in and puts two small copper coins in the offering box. Her tithe amounts to just a penny. Observing this, Christ tells his disciples: “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
God understands your circumstances. While you are unemployed, give what you can and don’t concern yourself if it isn’t much. In fact, if you cannot afford to give money, give of your time. Because you have no income, God may view what you give as more than even the largest contributor in your church. In addition, remember this: it matters not what the church’s treasurer, pastor, or deacons think of your tithe. It matters only what God thinks of it, and he knows you are struggling financially at the moment.
For those who find collecting unemployment distasteful, I remind them that they can collect this kind of compensation only because they have been working. The problem is not collecting unemployment per se. Rather, the problem is developing an entitlement mentality and making unemployment compensation a way of life rather than a temporary bridge between jobs.
Finding ways to stretch out unemployment compensation, workers compensation, welfare, and other government subsidies has become a “career” for a lot of Americans. Collecting income while not working has become a way of life subscribed to by people who have developed an entitlement mentality. Those who have developed an entitlement mentality believe they are entitled to the benefits of hard work without having to do any. These are people who want an income but don’t want to work for it; they want salaries and benefits but don’t want to earn them; and they think work is a good thing as long as someone else does it.
A comparison of the traits that characterize people who have an entitlement mentality with those who exemplify the Christian work ethic can be edifying for believers who are struggling to cope with being out of work. Characteristics of people who have adopted an entitlement mentality include a me-centered attitude, need for instant gratification, short attention span, aversion to hard work, fear of responsibility, dislike of accountability, expectation of being taken care of by others, lack of initiative, and no perseverance. People with an entitlement mentality are happy to enjoy the benefits of the hard work of others. They are the people who should be concerned about the message in 2 Thessalonians 3:10.
Contrast the traits of entitled people with those of believers who have adopted the Christian work ethic. The Christian work ethic encompasses the following traits: diligence, honesty, integrity, responsibility, accountability, positive attitude, respect, humility, willingness to sacrifice for the team, gratitude, and perseverance. Which do you think God is more likely to bless; the entitlement mentality or the Christian work ethic? Further, being out of work does not mean you no longer have a Christian work ethic.
If you are out of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic and struggling emotionally as a result, remember that as long as you are willing to work, as long as you want to work, and as long as you are looking for work, you are right with God. If you are able to secure employment of any kind, apply your Christian work ethic and make yourself indispensable to your employer. One of the things that always happens when circumstances cause an upsurge in unemployment is that employers hold onto their best personnel as long as they can and call them back to work as soon as they can. The obverse is also true. Employers use bad economic circumstances as an opportunity to rid themselves of employees who have an entitlement mentality. If you are out of work during the COVID-19 pandemic, use some of your time to hone your skills and polish your work ethic.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com