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Stay in Your Lane

Before the eyes even opened, a terror gripped the heart. As the heart trembled, the mind started to suggest every possible direction to ease its worries. Each metaphorical step forward felt increasingly daunting. I was sinking. Misery seeped from my pores.

For the first time in a decade, I was unemployed. It would’ve been fine if it was my choice and not the choice of a silly manager who didn’t like how I admitted the contract job was funding a writing career. Imagine impressing your future bosses, but hearing “You’re hired,” from a stranger at a contracting agency you didn’t even know existed. There was no permanence, so I accepted the temporary. If I was going to do anything, I was going to match energy. We were both under contract. Convince me to forgo my desire to write with a permanent seat at the company.

It wasn’t a surprise to see that my employment didn’t last. This company already had a high turnover rate. There were several departures within a few weeks of my hiring. This led to my hiring managers shifting to other departments. The inevitable was very clear in hindsight. It shouldn’t have hurt me as much as it did, but it wounded me. Perhaps, it was all in how abruptly it had come to a close.

You wake up, on your day off, enjoying life and filled with much hope. Then, an email shows up in your inbox telling you not to report to work on Monday morning. There was no call, no forewarning, or any private meeting. My contract was terminated by a coward who didn’t have the bravery to tell me why to my face.

My work ethic was excellent. I learned everything they wanted me to learn within a few weeks and was looking into learning the other cogs in the machine. I completed my tasks with plenty of hours to spare. I was fast, efficient, and was never reprimanded for errors. I did my job well.

It took years and an informant to find out the truth. I was let go for not being invested in a company that didn’t invest in me with a permanent job. The new manager thought I wouldn’t appreciate a promotion or even try to go for one. Had she actually spoken to me, I would’ve told her that wasn’t true. I wanted a promotion to make more money to fund my publishing. I wasn’t the only one working at a company to fund my personal desires. Most workers go to work to fund personal hobbies. I thought adults would be understanding of that, especially an adult who liked to take vacation trips.

Alas, it was shocking to read that email and confirm its contents on the phone Monday. An agency with a high-turnover rate shouldn’t be looking to get rid of people, especially not hard workers. Yet, here I was, staring at the wall in my nephew’s bedroom, miserable.

I lay in bed weighted by responsibilities no longer upheld by paychecks. The pressure to maintain without financial support depressed my entire being. For the last three weeks, I had woken up before everyone in the house just to tuck my head under the covers in shame.

I didn’t want to tell my nieces and nephews that uncle wasn’t ready to move out. He wasn’t ready to give his nephew his room back. He wasn’t sure how much longer it was going to take him to get a new job. It had taken him years to get a well-paying, three-month contract. He… I couldn’t face them.

It was a form of humiliation I didn’t think I was entitled to. Why were companies not subject to investigation for firing contract workers without reason? Why was this company allowed to interview me personally and then sign me up for a contract through an agency without my knowledge or consent? Why would anyone not want to keep a solid worker!?

The garage door, the last door to be shut, closed behind my sister on her way to work. My elongated stare into the ivory walls was interrupted by a machine humming with chains moving the massive door. I was alone and free to be misery.

My misery does not love company. My misery loves being ignored. Thus, the video game was turned on. There was something about escapism that just made reality seem conquerable. A few headshot kills in a shooting game or ridiculous blowouts in a sport game and I’d be ready to take on the world.

That morning, I wasn’t even good enough to beat the computer. Games were closer than they should’ve been. Shots landed in the shoulder instead of the head, resulting in me being the one dead. Puzzles couldn’t be figured out. The computer was hacking and slashing me!

Two hours later and I had rotated through enough games to realize what kind of day this would be. I gave up. Today would just be one of those days where I wouldn’t win in anything. Nothing would let me escape the thickening mess my life had become.

I didn’t foresee needing my brother and sister to provide me with housing. I didn’t expect to have a degree and no job. I didn’t anticipate being unable to pay for my own food. Life was hitting me with all sorts of unexpected struggles. Why not let losses in video games be added to the list?

I chuckled as I stared at the blue screen, frustrated by the very thing I was using to relieve my high stress. I tried to escape the anger, but there it remained to spite me. I didn’t know what I did to deserve this. Then, the Spirit reminded me.

Didn’t you say you wanted a test?” I heard in my inner man.

My mind was drawn to a moment of arrogance from a month ago. The credit card bill was lowering, savings were rising, and I was affording chili burgers at expensive restaurants rather than the value menu at fast food. I was about to look for my own place. It was as if I had forgotten all the years of suffering I had endured to get there. I had forgotten that a year ago, I was in a stranger’s car crying because I was tired of parking cars for a living. Finally, I obtained more than I wanted.

What did I do when I had finally gotten room to breathe? I walked through the food court at the new job that was given to me, high on “my” achievements, and arrogantly asked God for a test. I hadn’t even looked at apartments. I was battling depression just six months ago. Yet, I had somehow convinced myself that life was far too easy now.

My reasoning convinced me that I would become too spoiled with so much excess funds. It started to feel like I was getting everything that I wanted, and that made me afraid of becoming an unruly Christian. I would be too spoiled to do the basic things God would ask of me. I didn’t want to become content. I wanted to earn what was given to me as a gift.

I snickered at the naivety of my past. Who was I to think I could ask for a test? How prideful was I that I couldn’t just accept the gift and be happy? I had to push. I had to grow. I had to ask for something that was not required nor was I prepared for it.

When I asked for that test, I didn’t think He’d take away my job. I didn’t think He’d remove the very thing I was consistently good at keeping. I wasn’t consistent with writing. I wasn’t consistently reading my Bible. I took losses to the computer players in video games. However, since the age of 17, I had always had a job. From 2007 to 2017, I worked.

When I asked for that test, I thought He’d present opportunities for me to help others. I thought I’d help someone pay a bill, buy food, buy gifts for their kids, or fix their car. I thought God would ask me to be a person that gave a stranger a $1,000 off the strength of the Holy Spirit guiding me to do so. Instead, I was brought low to where I couldn’t even help myself.

I stared at the computer desk where my television sat. All of the furniture from my last apartment couldn’t even fill one room in my brother’s house. What had I truly accomplished with that contract job? My closet was still lined with clothes from high school, and I had already graduated college. What kind of fool was I? I was truly brought low, and misery was beating me for being unable to escape it in my usual methods.

I could hear God asking, “You want to ask for a test now?” as if mocking me. I should’ve kept my gratitude and dismissed my ambition. You don’t become a great Christian quickly. Faith takes the dedication of a lifetime, and as a son who honors his father and mother, that lifetime is expected to be long if God’s promises are true. I believed in the shift in finances more than God, who caused the shift in my finances. I was out of alignment with Him.

Had I remembered Jephthah, Icarus, Samson, Saul, or any other character that had puffed themselves up to believe they could do anything, pray anything, and believe anything, maybe I would’ve sparred myself. If I could’ve warned myself that asking for a test is testing God. What type of man challenges God, mocking Him by saying, “Is that all You got? You have any more tests? This was too easy!”

His ways were above my ways and His thoughts were above my thoughts. To believe that I was handling anything is to dismiss the hands protecting me in unseen and unforeseen places. I removed my protection and stepped into a lesser state than what I had previously prayed to get out of.

I sat there, moping on my bed as the television turned off. The blue screen disconnected into black. My hope was gone. I couldn’t even cry. I could only sit and sulk.

I looked up to heaven and uttered, “I’m sorry.” Dissatisfied with my volume, I said again, “I’m sorry.” Discontent with just two words, I admitted, “I shouldn’t have asked for a test. I thought-… I thought I was asking for something different, but I now realize I don’t get to choose the tests. So… I’m sorry. I’m sorry for my arrogance. I’m sorry if I offended You. I’m sorry for thinking so low of Your tests and so highly of myself. I apologize.”

Still, unsatisfied with my posture, I hopped off my bed and knelt beside it. The frustration showing on my cheeks, I humbly admitted I was wrong. I placed no blame of God because I had asked for this. I managed to chuckle as the level of arrogance I exuded was revealed to me in my reflection. How dare I ask God to test me? Who was I that I could even withstand a simple bend of the finger from God? How foolish a man I was.

“Forgive me, Lord. I don’t know what I was thinking, but… if you get me out of this.” Laughter erupted from the depths. “I won’t ask You for a test ever again.”

I rose from my prayer of repentance and sighed. What was done could not be undone. I would have to walk through the test with dignity, not expecting a quick rescue, but enduring for however long God needed to rid me of whatever it was that possessed me to ask for such a thing. I had hoped that the next job I applied for would be my way of escape, but a feeling lurked in the back of my mind. I had just embarked on a journey that would take me some time, and that time was most likely not about to be within the time frame I would wish it to be…

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