Monday, January 20, 2014

Near-Despair and Hope at Lolo's Grocery

"If the INTP is not able to find a place for themself which supports the use of their strongest abilities, they may become generally negative and cynical. . . . They usually have complex characters, and may tend to be restless and temperamental."

This is going to be another one of those rare biographical posts . . .

This past week has been crazy.  I am an adjunct instructor in Philosophy, and I've been teaching at two different schools in two different (nearby) cities.  Due to a desire to teach fewer classes (I've had to teach six every semester to make enough money--hence the two different schools) in order to focus my more full attention on working with my students, as well as to one of the two schools not offering me enough classes for this Spring semester, I've been looking into teaching at only one school and complementing my income in other ways.

This past week, I tried working at a bakery at a local grocery store.  That was an "interesting" (loaded term) experience.  The job schedule was five days a week from 3:00 AM to 11:00 AM, meaning I had to get up at 1:30 in the morning most mornings.  I was originally planning to have family activities earlier in the afternoon while sleeping in the evenings (going to bed at about 6:30 PM so that I would be sleeping from 6:30 PM to 1:30 AM), but this didn't work well for the family activities, so instead I tried sleeping some in the afternoons (except on the two days a week I have afternoon classes to teach) and then a little more at night (between around 10:00 PM to 1:30 AM).  The whole thing proved unsustainable for probably obvious reasons, and I decided to quit.  My last day was Saturday.

Although the whole situation lasted only a week, it brought upon myself and my family what John of the Cross would have called a "dark night of the soul."  I knew I would hate doing the job, and I ended up hating it even more than I had expected.  It made family life far more complicated (and really insufficient), I would never get enough sleep, and it is simply very hard to fry doughnuts from about 3:15 AM to 6:30 AM nearly every morning, followed by a two-hour cleanup period (after a ten minute break), followed by a half-an-hour lunch break, followed by miscellaneous jobs (packing french bread, putting dough on trays, etc.), for the remaining couple of hours or so, followed by going home to go to sleep (if possible) for a few hours or teaching classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  The whole thing put me nearly into a state of despair.  I felt completely miserable.  I occurred to me that as far as knew, I might spend the rest of my life doing this, which made death significantly more appealing than life to me.  My wife had a similar reaction, and it was very hard on my children as well.  It looked as though I was going to spend of the rest of my life spending much of my time in a job that sidestepped the main skills and interests God has given me in life (teaching, apologetics, philosophy, etc.) and instead doing something for which I had no interest or significant talent, a mind-numbing occupation designed only to give my family the money we need to survive.  (If this whole situation seems like not a big deal to you, it is because you don't understand the inner workings of my personality.  You may just have to take my word for it that this kind of situation constitutes a terrible misery for a personality such as mine.  If you are an INTP, you may understand better from your own personal experience.  Part of the context, too, is that we have been working for a long time towards a more stable, full-time teaching position and have had to endure many disappointments over the years, so this new situation seemed to be a climax to all of that.)

After suffering a few breakdowns due to near-despair for the first couple of days, brought on partly by a couple times having my hopes being raised and then dashed of ever getting out of there, on Thursday I faced very hard the fact (as it seemed to me) that this very well may be what my life would look like from that point on, with no real hope of reprieve.  I spent Thursday morning feeling the horror and misery of this situation (while frying doughnuts).  I hated what I had to do, and yet I felt I had a moral obligation to do it.  I must support my family, and if this is the only way, so be it.  I have no choice.  I must do what I must do.  Eventually, during that day, I started to feel better, as I began to adjust to acceptance of my fate.  By afternoon and evening, I had accepted my lot, and was actually feeling cheerful.  I decided that if I must bear this situation, then it must be bearable.  I told my wife that we needed to accept the situation and stop hoping for an escape, for hope is something that makes a miserable life situation far worse.  Without hope, acceptance can more easily settle in.  My wife was less ready to give up at that point than I was (I had to give up or go crazy), and we continued to discuss whether my schedule was compatible with long-term health.  That very evening, we talked to my father, who is a licensed physician, and through his help came to the conclusion that, objectively speaking, the cost to my health would be too much to make it right morally to continue with the job, and I quit two days later, my last day being this past Saturday.

If I had continued with the job, I have no doubt that I would have spent the rest of my life going through cycles of near-despair and calm acceptance, but it seems the acceptance would have prevailed.  And it dawned on me on Friday that this is part of what God was teaching and showing me through this time.  Throughout the week, I repeatedly begged God to rescue me (us) from the horror of the situation, but I knew that he had no obligation to do so.  He knows what he is doing, and he will ordain all things in such a way that is best both for his glory and for our good.  As far as personal merit goes, I deserve hell, so I certainly can claim no right in justice to be released from an awful job situation, no matter how bad it is.  God allows some of his children to be tortured in far worse ways in this life without reprieve, and I can expect in justice no better.  I knew all of this, and that is why, by the time Thursday rolled around, I had lost all real hope of getting out of there.  It seemed to me that God had denied my pleas for rescue, and that this was my assigned lot.  And, finally, I accepted it.  I chose to be content despite the horror of the situation.  And then, nearly immediately afterwards, God answered our prayers and rescued us from the situation, and now it's over.  And we are far less likely to go back to such a situation again, now that we have learned more about our limits and needs as persons and as a family.  It will take an extreme necessity to make us consider such job options in the future.

What was God doing in this situation?  No doubt far more than we'll ever know in this life.  But I can see a few things already.  As I mentioned above, we have learned more about ourselves and what sort of job situation is good for us.  We are significantly less naive than we were a week ago, and this will be a major help to us in the future.  On a more profound level, I feel that I have been through something kind of like (though to a lesser degree, of course) the test God required of Abraham when he asked him to sacrifice Isaac.  I was put in a situation where I had to abandon hope for anything like the kind of life I wish to live and am suited to live, and where I had to accept and be content in a situation that was so horrible to me that I was close to despair (and would have bouts of this feeling regularly for the rest of my life), and I did it.  I came to accept the situation, and I chose to be content and do what I was required to do.  Through this, God showed me in a special way the work of his Spirit in me.  He showed me my humanity in the near-despair and the breakdowns I experienced, and he showed me his work in me in my acceptance and choice to be content and to do my duty no matter what.  In this way, he has strengthened my confidence in him and my assurance of his work in me and the perseverance that work produces.  And by answering my prayer finally and rescuing me (us) from the situation (and after only a week!), he showed me that while I must be content whatever my lot, I need not assume that my life will not go in a way that is closer to what I hope it could be.  I don't know what he has in store for me, for us, but I have hope that I will find more and more ways to contribute to his glory, to the church and to the world, in the use of my gifts and talents in those matters he has created me to be interested in.

So, in short, a lot has been learned this past week, and I wanted to share it.  I hope my sharing it will be helpful to others.

No comments: