Can I Return to a Field I Left?

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(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 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

For four years, 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”, he actually 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 him.

However, the unrelenting time and energy commitments required to teach and produce several plays 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 than he thought it would be.  It took him three or four months to find a job that barely met his needs.  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 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 children were evidenced during this two-year desert season for my son and his young family.  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.  Later, he was able to find another part-time job at another library to supplement his income.

These jobs also put him into a sphere where he greatly expanded his network in the field of children’s literature.  His interest in writing children’s books was one that he did not have a chance to pursue as much as he had liked while teaching.  During this time, he was able to write and submit numerous proposals for children’s picture books.  After over 600 rejection letters, he finally landed a literary agent.  He also created and maintains an amazing website, Picture Book Spotlight, where he interviews authors and other in this field.

During this two-year 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 growth he had during his productive sabbatical.

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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