Can I Return to a Field I Left?


(Note: This article was published in the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics blog and the Coram Deo blog.)

About this time last year, my wife and I had to return a couple of sweaters.  One had a hole in it and the other was too small.  It was relatively painless to exchange them for something better.

However, when we find ourselves in a job that seems defective or is not a good fit for us, it is not nearly as easy to go back and exchange it immediately for something else of equal or better value.  Moreover, if we decide to leave a specialized career field, even for good reasons, we may find that the only jobs available to us outside this familiar field are at the entry level.  The education, skills, and experience we had in the field we left are not always transferable to other types of work.

In addition, we may miss some of the upsides of the job we walked away from because we had focused on the downsides.  As a result, we may find ourselves considering going back to what was familiar.  We wonder if it is even possible to return to what we had before and give it another chance.

What can we do?  When we can’t move forward, could we, or should we, go back?  Can our faith in Christ help us here?

Absolutely!  Navigating our careers is always a spiritual journey.  God has promised to be present with us as every step of the way, whatever our circumstances.

My eldest son found himself in this very situation a couple of years ago.  Perhaps by reflecting on what he went through and how God worked it out might bring some encouragement to others in a similar situation.  My intent here is not to put the spotlight on my son, but to give God all the glory, and focus on His faithfulness.

My son’s experience

From 2013-2017, my son had been a successful high school theatre teacher.  I enjoyed standing up and cheering for him at every performance.  When he produced “Singing in the Rain” his third year, he made it rain on stage.  I cried.  I knew that God was working through my son.  God’s love flowed through him to his students.  He was a living illustration of “Immanuel labor”.  He was using the gifts, talents, passion, training, and experience that God had graciously provided.

However, the unrelenting time and energy commitments required to teach and produce several plays every year were more than he was willing to commit to for the long haul.  It was affecting his health.  (Note: I addressed his dilemma in one of my articles, regarding issues of identity.)  There was a “holy dissatisfaction” that he just could not shake.  After many months of earnest prayer and seeking wise counsel from family and friends, he made the tough call to leave teaching.

A few weeks after the school year began without him, he posted this vulnerable revelation on social media: “I want to be a teacher again.”  It was a lot harder looking for another position than he thought it would be.  It took him three or four months to find a job that barely met his budget.

Although there were some positive things that came out of it over time, he generally felt like he was not being challenged mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.  He grew tired of the daily small talk with customers.  He yearned for the deep discussions he often had with his high school students.

We discussed his situation often.  I always tried to encourage him that he had made the right decision for his family, and that God would provide for him.  Over the past two years, God absolutely did just that.

I will come back to tell the rest of my son’s story in a bit.  At this point, I wish to address this from a biblical and theological perspective to encourage other Christians who may be in a similar situation.

There is no “Plan B”

One of the foundational ideas I was exposed to as a young Christian when I was in my 20’s came from the book, Decision Making and the Will of God, by Garry Friesen.  It was somewhat controversial when it came out.  The thesis of this book is that Christians do not need to be concerned with finding “the center of God’s will”.

We get so concerned about “the big decisions”, such as who we should marry, where we should live, and what job should we take.  Yet, for the relatively small decisions throughout out our day, we simply make choices.  We generally do not stress about “God’s will” concerning what to wear, what to eat, etc.  We simply make the best choice available to us that seems right at the time.  We use the wisdom that God provides to those who ask Him (James 1:5).

This corresponds with the Apostle Paul’s decision-making in Acts 13-20, as he considered various options in pursuit of his mission to preach the gospel to the Gentiles in Asia Minor.  There were rare times where the Holy Spirit spoke to him or he received some direction in a dream.  Most of the time, though, he merely decided to go to this town, and to that one next, and to another after that.

We are free in Christ to seek employment and to make a wise, Spirit-led decision when a job is offered.  Even if we regret the choice we made later on, God promises to “work out all things for good, according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).  He is sovereign.  There is no “Plan B”, meaning we are stuck with less than God’s best from then on.  We cannot miss God’s will by making a non-moral choice.  This assumes, of course, that we do not choose something God has already told us to avoid.

God’s abundant provision

Without a doubt, the promises of God to provide for His own were evidenced during this two-year desert season for Brian and his young family.  In August, he was hired to work for an hourly wage as an aide with autistic kids at a local elementary school, which he had done for a year before he got his teaching job.

After a few months, God opened up a door to work full-time in a local library as their youth programs manager, which gave him multiple opportunities to use some of his skills.  He also found a part-time job at another library to supplement his income.  These jobs put him into a sphere where he gradually expanded his interest and network in the field of children’s literature.

It is worth noting that Brian’s deep desire to write children’s books had started when he worked with autistic kids the first time as he saw the magic of good children’s literature.  However, he did not have a chance to pursue it as much as he had wanted to while teaching full-time.

Now, during this two-year break with no lessons to plan or papers to grade, he was led to pursue writing again.  He was able to dive in with a renewed passion that energized his creative mind and compelled him to work hard towards his goal of getting a book published.  He wrote fresh new stories and revised some of the old ones.  He sought out critiques from writers and friends.  Brian also developed a website, Picture Book Spotlight, where he interviewed authors, illustrators, and agents who are successes in the field of children’s literature.

As his folder of good stories began to fill up, Brian relentlessly and courageously submitted numerous proposals for children’s picture books to literary agents for over a year.  He was disciplined, organized, and never gave up.  After receiving over 600 rejection letters, he finally landed an agent who said that she would be happy to represent him and his work to publishers.

(Update on November 17, 2021: Brian’s first children’s picture book, The Book of Rules, was just released in hardcover this week!)

During this desert experience, my son always kept an eye out for teaching opportunities.  During his first year out, he became certified to teach English as well as theatre.  In God’s perfect timing, just two weeks before school began a few months ago, he was hired as a high school English teacher in the town where he lives.  He is so glad to be teaching again.  He is grateful for the personal and professional growth he had during his productive sabbatical.

Can you return to a field you left?  I think the answer is yes.

You might be able to return to a field you felt led to leave, but it may take more time than you anticipate.  I trust that those have made career choices that they later regret will keep in mind that God is the God of redemption and second chances.  He can bring what was dead back to life.  We can trust Him to provide.

Russ Gehrlein

Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015.  He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor.  Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. 

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