More than a decade later, I still can’t forget the suit.
Whenever I think about what happened — how it all collapsed with a phone call, when the future dissolved into the present — the first thing that comes to mind is that suit. It was not particularly fashionable or expensive, as suits go, but it represented much more than fabric and stitching. The suit, you see, was all about independence and security and answered prayer.
Except that it wasn’t.
It was a typical department store suit, one that I had to have right away. My writing had caught the eye of the publications chief for a national legal advocacy organization, and he called me on the phone and he took my wife and me out for a nice dinner and he offered me — us — the job that would allow us to start the life we’d always dreamed of, free from financial aid and weekends at the Laundromat and dependence on parents hundreds of miles away.
Except that it wouldn’t.
We prayed about the job, of course, but not too hard or too long. I mean, here I was, fresh out of grad school, with a job offer that promised regular hours, decent money, and — most important to my wife — the health benefits that would allow us to start the family we’d put on hold while she helped put me through school. As decisions go, this one was pretty easy. So what if it wasn’t true journalism, the mainstream media job I’d spent the last 18 months preparing for, the one where I could write about crime and punishment and pursue truth at all costs? So what if I’d spend my days writing about legal cases and oral arguments and, in some cases, writing copy for lawyers and leaders who were too busy to write for themselves? Yeah, it wasn’t journalism, but it was writing. Did I mention that it was decent money?
Still we prayed, asking God to close the door on this opportunity if — yeah, right — this was the wrong job for me. But mostly we smiled, accepted the offer and went shopping. My new boss told me I was expected to wear a suit, or at least a jacket and tie. Up to that point, I only owned one suit, and no matter how creative one is with shirt-and-tie combos, people will eventually notice the guy who wears the same clothes every day. My wife and I went to the mall on Thursday. I bought a blazer, too. I would start work on Tuesday.
Except that I didn’t.
To be honest, I don’t remember all the details of what happened next, only that there was a phone call and an apology and some convoluted explanation of how the organization’s executive director had changed his mind. It sounded like my no-longer boss had tried to talk him out of it, but to no avail. The decision that seemed so easy at the time was no longer mine to make. The door had slammed shut.
My wife and I were stunned. How could this happen? Had we done something wrong? We began the humbling task of telling friends and loved ones that I’d basically been fired before I could even start. Not only was I still unemployed, but I was now the owner of a new suit and blazer that I could no longer afford. (That’s the problem with tailored clothing; once it’s been altered, you can’t take it back.) And so much for starting a family.
In the days that followed, we tried to take comfort in the way we had prayed. Hadn’t we asked God to close the door if we were making a mistake? So what business did we have second-guessing Him when that’s exactly what happened? Instead of despairing, we should have been rejoicing. We probably would have, too, if we’d known what would happen next.
Opportunity arrived in the form of a veteran correspondent for a national newsmagazine. He’d agreed to address some of the journalism students in the graduate program I’d just completed, so I dropped by the campus, eager to pick up some tips from a working journalist. I introduced myself and briefly explained my situation. To my surprise, he offered to look at some of my writing samples. A few weeks later, I was heading off to Washington to begin an internship in the D.C. bureau of one of the best-known magazines in the country. (Needless to say, my new suit and blazer got plenty of use.) A few months later, I’d managed to get my name in the magazine three times. And not only did I have a letter of recommendation from the correspondent who’d helped me, but one from the bureau chief, too.
The magazine didn’t offer me a job, but the experience was invaluable. Back home, I parlayed those impressive-sounding letters into full-time reporting positions with a couple of metropolitan daily newspapers. Instead of ghostwriting letters for lawyers, I was covering crime and courts and even the occasional hurricane. I was part of the mainstream media, making decent money as well as regular contributions to a health benefits program. It was everything I’d studied and worked for, and it never would have happened if that door hadn’t closed a few months prior.
That experience drastically altered the way I handle important decisions. In the past, I would agonize over my options, begging God for a tangible sign, or at least a hint, as to what I should do. Needless to say, the heavens rarely opened, and I never did hear God speak to me, no matter how fervently I prayed. The Job That Never Was changed all that. Nowadays, I calmly pray for wisdom, and instead of waiting for a sign that never comes, I simply make the best decision I can and trust God to let me know if I’ve gone astray. Things don’t always turn out the way I’d like, but I’m pretty convinced that they turn out for the best.
But what about when the decision isn’t so straightforward, when the situation is more complex than whether or not to accept a new job? What about when the options are both plentiful and reasonable and just plain overwhelming? As if ordering off the menu wasn’t hard enough sometimes, what about when it’s time to settle on a college, or a career, or — you knew it was coming — a spouse? I’ll address that in an upcoming article.
For now, I can only say that worrying about the future only makes things worse (Matthew 6:25-27, Luke 12:22-25). Sure, it’s a lot easier to quote Scripture than put it into practice, but as I’ve learned to trust in the Lord, He has indeed been a lamp to my feet (Psalm 119:105) and has made my paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6). He proved faithful more than a decade ago, and I’ve endeavored ever since to never doubt Him again.
You know, a funny thing happened back then, after I returned home from Washington. I got a call from the publications chief for the legal advocacy group. Turns out the executive director had heard about my internship in D.C. and decided he wanted to hire me after all. For the second time, my would-be boss took my wife and me out to a nice restaurant and offered me the job I never started.
This time the decision was mine to make. But I knew better. Sure, I still had the suit, but that door had closed.
Copyright 2006 Thomas Jeffries. All rights reserved.