When God closes a door…

…somewhere he opens a window. Postulant Maria, in The Sound of Music, claimed to have learned that adage from the Reverend Mother. I suspect that the line is a quip created by the scriptwriters Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. The original proverb promises that when God closes one door, he opens another. Although that saying is not taken from the Bible, it is inferred by a reading of Acts 16:6-10 and II Corinthians 2:12-13.

About a year ago, a certain job became open, and the person who told me about the opening also said that he would recommend me for the position. He assured me that I am perfect for the job. The process is lengthy; a self-study had to be completed before the committee in charge of finding a new worker could gather nominations and try to find the best match. Around the end of December they published seven names that had been recommended to them and promised to gather biographical data and other suggestions from the parent organization.

Meanwhile I had all this time to learn more about the job and its location: to see what houses are for sale in the area, to check out stores and restaurants, to read about the community and its history, and get a sense of what people do there for fun. The Internet makes such research ridiculously easy.

At the end of March the committee had received requested information from the parent organization and promised to winnow the list to the most promising candidates, contact them, and arrange for interviews. Every time the phone rang in April and May my heart jumped, thinking, “This might be them.” Finally this week the committee published the three finalists they have selected for the position. My name was not on the list.

During these last two months, I was also recruited for a similar position closer to home. The biggest problem with this position is that they are not able to offer both a full-time salary and health insurance. They are seeking someone who is willing to work two jobs, and since I am currently working three jobs, they thought I might be willing to make the change. After I learned that my name was not on the first list, I agreed at least to talk with the men who strongly want me to take this part-time position.

Here is where it gets complicated. The parent organization for the one position I had hoped to be offered and the parent organization for the one position I have been offered are in parallel branches of the same larger entity. During a half-hour conversation about the part-time position, I was able to ask if my information had been requested from the head of the other branch. The answer was no. So, apparently, the branch head declined to obtain up-to-date information about me for the committee that was seeking to fill a position. It may have been a clerical error or something more sinister; the head of my branch knows nothing about me that would disqualify me for such a job, which is why he is trying so hard to persuade me to take the part-time position.

This part-time position is located an hour’s drive from where I live. I told them that the commute would be a problem. They hoped that I would keep the full-time job I have (with its health insurance and other benefits) and drive that hour once or twice a week to fulfill my part-time duties. I replied that I thought, in order to do my job well, I would need to live in the community. (I am performing a similar job while driving half an hour each way once or twice a week, and I think that is too great a distance.) Eventually, I placed before them something like Gideon’s fleece. If a full-time job can be found for me in or near the community, I am willing to move there and take both jobs, but the full-time job would have to be something comparable to the one I have now. I had already checked. There are no such openings in the area. But they are using what connections they have to check again.

As I see it, if the Lord wants me to take this part-time job, he will provide the full-time job nearby. Otherwise, he has a different plan for me and for that position. That different plan may involve me staying where I am for many more years. It may involve another opening at yet another place. It might even happen that the three finalists chosen at the first place I mentioned will all prove unsatisfactory or will all be unwilling to take the position. Wishing for such a thing to happen is having faith by virtue of the absurd (as Soren Kierkegaard would say). Yet, more than twenty years ago, I was offered a job after a similar committee had selected two finalists and then found itself to be dissatisfied with both.

Meanwhile, I accept with resignation (Kierkegaard again) that the door is closed. I continue to trust the Lord’s planning. And when I find the window he has opened, I will jump through and run as fast as I can. J.


It’s… complicated

In the last two years I have applied for two jobs—only two. Obviously, I have not been hitting the pavement searching for employment. Nor have I found myself thinking, “I should look for a different job,” while on my way home from my current job.

Last summer I saw a job listing that looked as if it had been written with me in mind. It involved doing the kind of work I am doing now, but on a college campus. This job also included teaching, and it was at a Christian college, so not just anyone with the right training would be considered. The skills, experiences, and attitudes described as the ideal applicant all matched me perfectly. The only discouraging sign was that they preferred a Master’s degree in the field; even so, they were willing to hire someone who would study to earn a Master’s degree while working for them. Best of all, this college is near my childhood home—so close that I had visited the campus often.

I sent them the required information, and they quickly responded. Later they told me that I was on their short list and asked for additional information. In the end, I was not one of the two people they interviewed on campus, but their last word to me was that if the interviews were unsuccessful they would get back to me. Evidently, I missed getting the job by this-much.

This winter my best friend asked me if I had seen a job listing in the publication from Church Headquarters. I had not—most of the mail that comes from Church Headquarters goes straight to the recycling stack. I found the job listing and saw that they wanted someone who could write for the Church Headquarters. The various kinds of writing all appealed to me, so I decided to apply. The process was automated, and after the initial acknowledgement I heard nothing more for a while. I figured that the computer had read my information and disqualified me before a living human being ever knew I had applied. Meanwhile, just in case they were interested, I took the time to familiarize myself with written information coming from Church Headquarters.

Then, months later, I received an email inviting me to interview over the computer. We scheduled the interview—I put on a tie and suitcoat to talk to people on a computer screen. The interview seemed to go well, and they asked me to email samples of my writing. It sounded as though they were hoping to make a decision rather quickly. Weeks went by, and I heard nothing. I asked myself if I had checked the writing samples carefully for grammar and punctuation and spelling. I was tempted to open the email and double-check those things, but I knew it was too late to change anything, so I didn’t really want to know. Last week I finally got a computer-generated email thanking me for my interest and telling me that the job at Headquarters had been filled. (Yes, I am again dropping all publications from Headquarters in the recycling, unread.)

Not long after the interview, while I still had reason to believe I was being considered for the job, I received a phone call. “Hey, J.,” the caller said. (He is someone I have known for a dozen years.) “Would you be willing to let yourself be considered for a full-time church job?” I had held such a job for a while, then dropped back to part-time church work and took a different full time job. Rather than give a quick yes or no, I asked for a day to think about his question. The next day I returned his call and said I was willing to be considered.

A committee interviewed me over the phone the next week. I was one of three they were interviewing for the job. They promised to keep me posted on their decision. They have not done so. At the beginning of this month, I learned from two round-about ways that they had offered the job to another man. That did not mean that the story was over, though, because it was possible that he would decline their offer.

My thoughts dwelt on full-time church work again. I considered how I would tell my present coworkers about the change, and how I would discuss it with my family. I considered creating a Facebook post with a picture of Michael Jordan and the words, “I’m back.” (Sports fans will understand the reference.) Since I am Facebook friends with my present coworkers, I thought that might not be the best thing to do.

In all three possible job offers, I tried my best to pray the words, “Thy will be done.” I tried not to add, “but if you want my opinion, Lord….” Even though I do not have a burning desire to change jobs, any of these three would have been good for me, and I would have been good in any of them. Finally, it was good for me to consider the question, would I be willing to be considered for a full-time job in the church. I am not ready to go looking for such a job, but if one were offered to me, I would very likely accept.

This morning I learned that the other man who was interviewed and who was offered the job has accepted. That door is closed, but I have a suspicion that another door is about to open. J.


On tenterhooks

You see a listing for a job opening. (Perhaps your best friend asks if you’ve seen it, and you hadn’t.) You read the description of the job, and it sounds like something you would enjoy doing and something you would do well. The application process is entirely online, so you answer the questions, attach a resume, and then you wait. The next day an automatic email acknowledges your application, but then you wait some more.

A month passes. Nothing has come from the company since the automatic email. You decide that the system has skipped you. Something in your application must not have matched one of the company’s high priorities for the position. You give up hope and turn your full attention back to your present life.

Then an email arrives. They want to interview you over a distance and select a day and a time they hope will be convenient. You reply quickly that the day and time they suggested is indeed convenient, and you arrange to take that afternoon off from work. You prepare yourself as well as you can, including a list of questions to ask when they invite questions from you.

The day comes. The interview seems to go well. They ask for additional information, and you send it the same day, along with a thank-you note for the interview. Then you wait some more.

A week passes. A second week is over. You are beginning to believe that some other applicant has been more appealing to the company. You know that they wanted to fill the position by the end of the month, and your sense of hope for the job dwindles.

This anticipation, hoping for a good thing but unsure if it will happen, is called being on tenterhooks. When cloth is made from wool or cotton or other natural fibers, it is stretched on a tent-like frame, called a tenter, to dry. Tenterhooks hold the cloth to the tenter so the cloth does not shrink. When you feel pulled in various directions by the tension of a possible change, you are much like the cloth held in place by tenterhooks.

During this time, you are living two lives. You are trying to stay in the present, take care of your house, and do your job. Yet you also are thinking about the new job, wondering about when you can move and what your next house will be like, and even deciding how you will announce to your coworkers that you are living. You are in the painful position of having one foot on each side of the fence. Until you know for sure about the job, it’s hard to keep from thinking about it, wondering about it, and even planning for it.

In a sense, Christians live like that every day. We know Jesus is coming in glory on a future Day to change the world, to make it perfect. We do not know when that Day will be. It could be tomorrow, or even later today. It might not come for a hundred years, or even a thousand years. Jesus said it would be soon, but soon to the eternal and unchanging God is not like your soon.

While we wait for that Day and plan for that Day, we have our lives to live in this sin-stained world. We have work to do: loving God, loving our neighbors, helping those who need help, forgiving those who sin against us. We share the good news of the Kingdom, even as we wait and wonder when the Kingdom will be fully revealed. We are on tenterhooks, stretched tight, anticipating a change for the better but not knowing when it will happen.

The difference is that we know it will happen. We have full confidence that Jesus keeps all his promises. He has promised to reveal his glory, raise the dead, announce his judgment, and welcome into his Kingdom all his people. We know that we are his people, because he has lived perfect righteousness to make us his people. He has sacrificed his life to take us out of the power of the enemy. He has risen to defeat all enemies. He has told us about his righteousness, his sacrifice, and his victory; and through his telling, he has given us faith in him.

We live each day as if it might be the Last Day. We keep ourselves busy doing the things we want to be caught doing when Jesus appears in the sky. At the same time, we plan for the future. We plant trees. We take care of the world and of ourselves and our neighbors, knowing that the Day might not come for a long time yet.

We have a foot on each side of the fence. We do the best we can in this world, but already we are citizens of God’s Kingdom. That citizenship empowers us to live like God’s people today. We may be on tenterhooks, but we know the future, and it is good. J.