Leaning on and Trusting God Through the Storm
What I learned of God’s plans for me after more than eight layoffs
Don’t worry, doors and windows will open.
Those were the words my sister and brother-in-law shared when I told them the unexpected news on 18 August this year.
The words were a rock of sustenance and strength as I faced the days and weeks that followed.
For several years, the media industry worldwide had to lay off thousands of staff in response to declining circulation and readership of newspapers and magazines. My homeland Singapore was not exempt.
Since 2003, I had survived more than eight layoffs at the media company I worked in.
So when I learned about the retrenchment exercise on 18 August, I thought that I would be safe again. As the notification was made through Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, I prayed that I would be among the safe ones again.
But this time, as I prayed, I sensed as if God was talking personally to me.
As I heard His still small voice, I prayed that God would save me from the retrenchment, but then added these words:
‘‘GOD, if it is Your will that I be let go, I accept Your will too and I know that You will lead me through this. Amen.’’
I then went about the rest of the day.
We were notified that the affected employees would be informed by the end of the day. When 6:00 pm came around and no phone calls came, I felt sure that I was safe.
I was on my way to meet a friend for dinner when my smartphone rang at 6:15 pm.
‘‘So sorry Arul but you are on the list.’’
And a 20-odd year career was over.
Confidence gave way to numbness as I was informed to head to Human Resources (HR) the next day to clear the necessary paperwork before my last working day on 31 August.
I called my sister and told her the news.
She was shocked at first but then calmly assured me that doors and windows would open for me.
The next day, the numbness that I felt the day before had given way to acceptance.
I did not deny my new employment situation and spent the morning in prayer before heading to the office, and then HR to clear the paperwork.
Parting with prayer
My supervisor, who was also a Christian, was apologetic and said that the layoffs were due to economic reasons and was confident that work offers would be available in time.
I was really touched when he prayed for me after that. The prayer sustained me and it was as if God was reminding me that my life was in His hands and I could trust Him to guide me through the subsequent journey that followed.
I was glad that I had a fair severance package and other benefits, as well as good health, financial security, and medical and training benefits available to me.
Meanwhile, I had projects to complete before handing my duties over to my colleague. The work was a great comfort as it helped to distract me and enabled me to not immediately have to face the reality of my job situation.
Upon hearing of my retrenchment, an old and dear friend shared that it may be a time of reinvention for me.
His words have since spurred me to learn new skills to re-tool myself for the ‘new normal’ post-COVID workplace.
Another friend shared with me how she felt that miracles occurred only after we had made the decision to ‘take the first step’, something I was very often unwilling to do.
Another friend said that this might be a time for God to teach me how to ]‘walk on water’’, words that my Vicar’s wife shared with me some months ago.
I considered these inputs as God’s Word jumped out at me during my quiet time.
‘‘See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.’’ (Isaiah 43:19, NIV)
I was excited but terrified as well. Could an old dog learn new tricks?
I considered these thoughts as I started signing up for courses and job searches.
Blooming where planted
Meanwhile, I took steps to take care of my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
Several months before COVID-19 hit Singapore, I began regular gym workout sessions in order to improve my endurance, lose weight and look good.
As colleagues and friends saw how I even dropped my shirt size from Large to Medium, I was motivated to keep up the practice.
Being an early riser, I then put my waking hours to good use by taking daily morning walks near my home. I usually walked about 8km daily before heading to a nearby coffee shop for ‘kopi o kosong’ (Malay terminology for coffee without milk or sugar), followed by a shower at home and then off to work.
When COVID-19 hit and we had to work from home, I expanded on my routine by posting short encouraging Facebook videos after each walk.
Friends and colleagues who saw my videos and trim physique told me that they were motivated to begin working out and exercising too!.
A church friend and I regularly meet for breakfast after my walks, and even occasionally walk together too!
The videos have also attracted the attention of my neighbor and he and his wife join me for walks every weekend where possible.
My fitness routine also helped me maintain my mental and spiritual health after my retrenchment, as the walks were times to commune with God, hear His voice, and review my mindsets as I continued my job search.
I also started digging deeper into the Word as I sought guidance and spiritual anchoring for my journey.
My cell group, Vicar, and my old friends were all great sources of help as they checked in on me from time to time and informed me of job opportunities at various places.
They were also great ‘venting channels’ as I could share freely with them about my concerns, insecurities, and fears throughout my job search journey.
Former colleagues and other friends said they were committed to praying for me and often checked in with me to encourage and refresh me with Bible verses and godly insights.
The ties that bind
I shared my new circumstances with friends from church and my former schoolmates and was really touched when they quickly reached out to meet and comfort me.
It was as if God sent friends and angels to comfort and stand alongside me so that I would never have to walk this new journey alone.
When I shared my new circumstances on Facebook, I added that
‘‘I serve and love an awesome God so I know that He will prepare me.’’
A few days after I shared the news of my retrenchment, a former colleague helped connect me to a freelance writing assignment that kept me busy for several weeks.
Soon afterward, friends and former schoolmates sent me other freelance writing assignments, work from their clients and business leaders.
I was very touched when, upon learning of the retrenchment, a young man I mentored recently wrote a touching recommendation for me on Facebook, and even got his friends at church to pray for me!
And those young people, whom I don’t even know, are still praying for me!
Friends and ex-colleagues wrote recommendations on my LinkedIn profile. A former colleague also wrote a recommendation letter.
On 15 September, an old friend and producer of a radio show in Singapore, told me that she had read my Facebook post and wanted to share my experience on the show.
I agreed, and many friends and former colleagues who heard the segment shared how they were inspired by my honesty and bravery.
I told them that I would count myself very blessed if the show was able to minister and help just one person.
I was hopeful of obtaining a permanent position that would be able to give a salary close to my last-drawn salary. But many jobs I applied for seemed to prefer younger applicants or I had to drastically lower my salary expectations.
I was realistic — getting rejected, or no replies at all, was to be expected.
But after several weeks with the same results, I began to feel discouraged and wondered if I would ever have a job at all.
God understood my vents and cries and so did my friends.
So I was quite ecstatic when I received three job offers by end-September.
One was a referral by my former editor for a contract position at another media agency. The others were for a management position at a well-known enrichment center, and a relationship manager position at a financial services company.
But by then, God had shown me how to see things through His eyes.
‘‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’’ (Romans 8:28, NIV)
Although I had previously counseled and encouraged many friends who had been retrenched, that prior experience was not of much help as I navigated my own journey when it was my turn.
But what I had thought of as a tragedy turned out to be a chance for God to show Himself in a deeper way to me.
‘‘Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.’’ (Colossians 3:16, NIV)
The retrenchment exercise had helped me develop a heart of gratitude — for the blessings that I have such as supportive family, friends, and relatives, as well as the Government help packages that I was able to tap on to tide me over.
I also developed a deeper understanding of my situation and that of many others who were in similar circumstances.
The retrenchment also gave me the chance to look at myself in a deeper way as I learned to re-invent myself, take risks, and become more proactive in embracing change, increasing my faith and letting God take my hand and take control of my life.
A new start
After much prayer and consideration, I have accepted the contract position.
I do not know what the future will be like after this job ends but I now know that I can trust The One who Stilled the Waters.
I used to often pray Psalm 23 without really understanding its deeper meaning. But now I can confidently say with King David:
‘‘Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me…Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’’ (Psalm 23: 4, 6, NIV)
I first thought that my retrenchment meant 2020 would be the worst year of my life.
But I now know that God has turned it into my best year ever.