Vale of Tears

Coping with Redundancy



Coping with Redundancy

Grief makes me so empty and hollow, Lord;
that I gasp for you to fill the void.

So many things are pressing in –
crowding and bewildering –
give me grace to focus my heart
and to make good use of my time and strength.

Does it get easier to make large steps of faith as we grow older? On the one hand it does, because we are fuelled by the memory of all the occasions when God has shown His faithfulness to us. On the other hand, it is only fair to acknowledge that most of us find change increasingly hard to cope with as we get older.

We should by no means underestimate the grief that accompanies experiences such as redundancy and retirement. Being made redundant is one of the sharpest shocks that most people will ever experience, removing at one stroke not only their professional role in life, but also many of the markers that identify who they are. Life moves on and people soon forget what they have done, and maybe even who they were.

The more closely linked people were as a work team, the more likely they are to feel a corresponding grief when the cut and thrust of that camaraderie is no longer there. For some people, the loss of momentum and status, to say nothing of income, may remain acute even many years after the event itself.19

There may be additional grief, too, in discovering that some whom they had looked on as friends turn out to have been no more than colleagues. Many will identify then with Sally Mowbray’s experience:

When my father died, my mother deeply mourned the lost connection with his working world. He was a vet with the Ministry of Agriculture, and so his relationships encompassed not only officials but also a wide range of farmers. This all came to an abrupt halt because her relationship with all but a very few had been exclusively through her husband.

We also need special grace to cope when we know that we are being left behind as things develop and move on in the field in which we once worked, and which we are no longer a part of. It feels a bit like watching the departure of a train we were travelling in. It moves on while we remain on the station platform – which now feels very empty. If specific rejection has also been part of this process (as opposed to natural retirement), the grief can run very deep, latching all too easily onto feelings of inadequacy: “There, I always said I wasn’t good enough!”

In today’s fast-moving “hire-and-fire” culture, most of us can expect to lose our job at least once along life’s journey. We may try to act phlegmatically, and make light of this; but in reality most of us are more deeply upset that we like to admit. There is some basis for truth behind the caricature images of people setting out for work each morning because they lacked the courage to tell their loved ones that they had lost their job!

It is normal to experience moments of fear and anger in the aftermath of being made redundant. The fact that we possess skills that no one appears to want can be particularly hard to cope with. The thought of spending more time at home may sound attractive in the abstract, but it only takes a few comments along the lines of, “You shouldn’t be here at this time of day!” to make us feel in the way and one too many.

People’s instinct to chivvy us into looking for another job may be exactly what we need to get us moving forwards again – but it may also push us into steps we are not yet ready to take. Each of us responds to loss in very different ways. The most important thing is not to assume that we have no further contribution to make now that we have lost the role or position that was once so central in our life. It is utterly untrue that we are too old – or too anything else!

The Church has been slow to recognise the reality of the midlife crisis, that inclines so many to unwise actions. Neither does it always have much to say about the grief that redundancy and retirement can provoke. If reality fails to measure up to expectations that were never quite the Lord’s, there is a real risk of people setting off in search of adventures of their own making, abandoning established relationships in the process, and condemning themselves to futile attempts to fulfil impossible dreams.

To any of you who find yourselves at such a place, let me remind you of the prophet’s wisdom: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths (Jeremiah 6:16).

The Lord will show you clearly what to do, even if it means hunkering down for the time being until the way ahead becomes clearer.

When it does, your problems may be anything but over! Certain career changes themselves prove difficult to handle. If you work intensively with people (as a nurse or social worker for instance) you may experience considerable strain when you are promoted to managerial positions, not least because your new role often takes you far away from the very people you originally entered the profession to serve.

To all intents and purposes you find yourself embarking on an entirely different career – and one that may be riddled with unexpected pressures and responsibilities. There are few more challenging things to cope with than having heavy responsibilities, ¬unless you are also given the authority to make necessary changes.

Reflect and Pray

Gracious Father,
Guide and Restorer,
thank You for all the work and tasks I
have completed for You.

Where You have new ones in mind,
ease me into them –
and where these are not immediately forthcoming
keep my heart flexible and grateful
to make the most of what You have already given.

Be with all who are feeling the grief
of adjusting to major lifestyle changes
especially . . . . . .
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.


19 To avoid giving too many examples, I have by and large stuck to generalities rather than exploring specific griefs – but you will know and grieve for wonderful business, industries and enterprises that are no more. Only this week I was reading Jackie Moffat’s (2004) deeply moving account in The Funny Farm of the desolation that the foot and mouth epidemic brought to British farming. Bantam