By Sarah Hamaker, Crosswalk.com
This past May, as I scrolled through my Facebook feed, a text-only meme stopped me cold. In all caps, it read: “We. Do. Not. Need. A. Fourth. Stimulus. Payout. Go. Find. A. Job.”
This cut me to the quick, since my husband had been out of work since January 2021, the second time in as many years he’s been without work. With a graduate degree and lots of work experience, he faithfully applied to jobs every week without a single nibble from a prospective employer.
That wasn’t the first time a meme about how lazy the unemployed were and how they just wanted to collect those “hefty” unemployment checks. But the reality for most unemployed couldn’t be further from the truth. As I wrote in a comment to the meme poster, “Statements like this discount the pain and suffering of many people who want to work but can’t find a job that will pay the bills.”
It’s hard for the out-of-work person and for his or her loved ones to stay positive, especially if the unemployment drags on and on. It’s also difficult to share the struggles and hardships and stress a family goes through during a time of unemployment.
Thankfully, most of our friends and family have been supportive of us, but collectively, we have a long way to go to be encouragers for those suffering unemployment. Recently, my husband started new full-time work in his field, but we haven’t forgotten how hard it was to live with unemployment.
Here are eight ways you can encourage your unemployed loved one, whether it’s a spouse, relative, friend, neighbor, or church member.
1. Pray for the entire family.
It’s not just the person without a job who suffers during a period of unemployment—the spouse and kids do too. “Most people don’t understand just how difficult an extended period of unemployment is on a marriage and a family,” said Sarah in North Carolina whose husband had several periods of unemployment. “Men tend to get depressed when they are not able to provide for their family, and so it was a struggle to remain joyful and trust God.”
2. Skip the unemployment memes.
As I mentioned before, it hurt to see that meme telling my husband to just “go find a job.” He’d have loved to find a job, but just telling someone to do so doesn’t make it possible, and while it’s super easy to hit that button to share memes, remember that your out-of-work loved one can’t help but take it personally.
3. Don’t point out the statistics.
When you know someone’s unemployed, it doesn’t help to remind them of the falling unemployment rate. The August 2021 unemployment rate hit 5.2%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, much lower than the 8.4% of August 2020. Good news for the overall economy, but not so much for those struggling to find meaningful and substantive work.
4. Ask how they’re doing, not if they have found a job.
Over the past two years, my husband has been out of work for a total of 19 months. I found it comforting when someone asked how we were doing, not if there was any job news. That allowed me to share a bit about how we felt, as opposed to having to say, yet again, that there was no work news.
5. Continue to invite the unemployed out.
One dear friend of mine would call and insist on taking me out for dinner or dessert. During a time when we had to slash our dining out and entertainment budgets, it was so nice to have that treat. We couldn’t initiate invitations or even host dinner parties like we had before, so being invited to someone’s home or out to lunch made things feel more normal.
6. Be careful what you say about finding work.
“At a woman’s Bible study group at church, I asked for prayer that my husband would find a job and shared a little of the struggle of unemployment,” Sarah recalled. “More than one person asked why my husband didn't just go get a job flipping burgers. Yes, he could have done that, but it would not have made our financial situation any different because that would have been about the same as he was receiving for unemployment at the time. The statements were very insensitive and I felt like the women were saying my husband was being lazy and unmotivated.”
7. Tangibly bless the family.
One Christmas when my husband was out of work, we received an anonymous holiday card in the mail. Inside was an envelope with ten $100 bills. I burst into tears upon opening it. To this day, we have no idea who sent that money, but it was as if God had reached down and told us, “See? I care about you.” During that 10-month period of unemployment, we also had a grocery store gift card show up anonymously in the mail, a church family surprised us with a delivered pizza dinner, relatives sent us checks out of the blue, and a group of friends gave us a generous gift card and a card for our 20th wedding anniversary. Each time, we could breathe a little bit easier because dinner or groceries or a bill could be paid.
I’ll admit—it felt weird to accept money from family and friends, especially because we had often been the ones to give. But my husband and I decided that if God led someone to bless us financially, we would gratefully receive it. You never know when your gift card might make the difference between despair and hope to the unemployed and their family.
“My husband was unemployed for over two years,” Sarah said. “He worked a few odd jobs here and there, but was unable to find a full-time job in a field that he had experience and would provide for our family. A friend of ours gave us $500 a month for about a year until my husband found employment. We did not ask for this money, nor did we share our financial struggles other than that my husband was not able to find work. This friend simply felt led by God to do this for us after reading Randy Alcorn's book Heaven. They wanted to use their worldly wealth for a heavenly purpose. This money was a life-saver for our family and kept us afloat.”
8. Rejoice with them.
Yes, there was much to be thankful for during our time of unemployment. As Sarah put it, “God is faithful and He always met our need. At one point, we had no idea how we were paying our bills because the money going out was more than what was coming in. It didn’t make sense on paper, but God is like that.” We had a very similar experience, and I made sure we told people how God was blessing us even in the midst of our struggles.
The bottom line is that we need to be willing to stay the course of encouragement during a loved one’s unemployment. Being out of work can be a very lonely time for the unemployed and his or her family. By deciding to be a faithful encourager, you can be a positive light in that person’s life—and bolster his or her faith and hope.
Sarah Hamaker is a national speaker and award-winning author who loves writing romantic suspense books “where the hero and heroine fall in love while running for their lives.” She’s also a wife, mother of four teenagers, a therapeutic foster mom, a UMFS Foster Parent Ambassador, and podcaster (The Romantic Side of Suspense podcast). She's a biblical parent coach and certified Leadership Parenting Coach™ with a heart for helping parents develop stronger relationships with their children. For more on her encouraging and commonsense approach to raising kids, visit her online at sarahhamaker.com.