I sat in the middle of a crowd, tears streaming down my face. I tried to wipe them away discreetly, but I couldn't stop crying. The other congregants probably didn't notice, but I felt on display. The pastor was giving what should have been an encouraging sermon, and the crowd was responding well. But for me, each word ripped the scabs off recent wounds.
"Work is a calling on every person's life," the pastor said. "God called Adam and Eve to work in Genesis 1:28, before the Fall. That means work is good. A middle-aged factory worker has a calling, even if he feels as though it's just a job to pay the bills and take care of his family."
As a young woman just entering the workforce, I connected to that fictional middle-aged man who felt ashamed of his factory job. I had spent three-and-a-half years earning a master's degree in Christian formation and soul care because I felt that God's calling on my life was to serve others in that capacity. Even though seminary would cost a lot more money on top of the pile of loans I had already accrued, I knew a master's degree would fulfill the passions and abilities God put in me. That was worth whatever price I had to pay.
Yet here I was, cutting fabric and stocking shelves at Jo-Ann Fabric to make ends meet.
The High Cost of Education
I came to Jo-Ann's by way of Panera. I had finished my master's program, gotten married, and moved across the United States for my husband's residency. Having worked at a Panera to make ends meet during seminary, I was able to transfer to another location in our new area, thinking it would be a short-term fix to keep us afloat financially. In the meantime, I searched for a job in soul care.
As the months passed, I spiraled into a depression of self-doubt. Few jobs fit my education, and those I applied for neglected to respond to my resumes. It was a lonely period in my life. After nine months of this, my husband's residency ended, so we moved halfway across the country again to live with my in-laws since we were unable to find jobs to sustain us financially.
It felt like we had hit a new low. My husband and I moved into his childhood bedroom, framed master's diplomas in tow. Our furniture collected dust in a warehouse under boxes of unopened wedding gifts and seminary textbooks. Had God pressed "pause" on our lives, and then walked out of the room?
Surprisingly, in the depths of my depression, God revitalized my spirit through my mother- and father-in-law's encouragement and a Bible study at church. I became the education coordinator at Jo-Ann Fabric, managing teachers and classes instead of taking orders. We were fed emotionally and spiritually as we searched for the next step in our lives together. After six months, my husband found a job, so we trekked back across the country with feelings of hope and expectation, knowing this move would be permanent.
I transferred to a Jo-Ann Fabric in our new location and looked forward to part-time hours that allowed me to start making a home and search for the job I'd been waiting for—the one I felt sure was right around the corner.
Shortly after, I received a lead for what sounded like a perfect job for me. I didn't want to get my hopes up, but everything finally seemed to be falling into place. After interviewing with the company and receiving information on pay and hours, I received the call that others were more qualified than I was. The news tore me to shreds. As much as I had tried to moderate my optimism, I really had expected it to work out. God had delivered my husband into a wonderful job, and it was my turn to see his favor.
I went back to work the next day to cut fabric, doing the best I could to contribute to our family.
Months later, I sat in church listening to the pastor preach about the dignity of work through the blur of tears. I should have been encouraged. I thought to myself, I am following one of God's callings on my life as I go to my part-time job each day. Cutting fabric allows others to pursue creative projects. I help people do what they love. It's a job that makes the world go 'round.
But the pastor's encouragement fell on deaf ears for me. I couldn't move past the fact that I knew God had a job out there for me that would fulfill the passions he put in my heart, but he hadn't given it to me yet. I felt like I wasn't being used to my fullest potential.
I'm slowly learning that even though my current job might not line up with the timetable I had planned, I still go to work every day out of love and obedience to God.
I don't have it all figured out yet. I have days I avoid thinking about pursuing a job within my education—it's too painful. Some days I spiral into a depressed state and doubt my worth. Other days I ask God why we're not even close to being in a financially stable position to start having children. But the good days are starting to outnumber the bad.
I don't regret going to seminary and amassing considerable debt. Soul care isn't the type of profession you pursue to get rich. I chose this path because I felt it was the best way for me to serve God and his people. I know he has a purpose. I have seen his provision through every step of my education, and that gives me hope that he will provide in the future. In the meantime, I will continue to obey God in my part-time job and pursue creative ways to satisfy the passions he created in me.
Liz Rohane lives with her husband in Wheaton, Illinois. She has a Master of Arts in Christian Formation and Soul Care.