When God Says No . . . .
This past Sunday, our pastor’s sermon was, “When God Doesn’t Answer Prayer.” It was really good, and I appreciated that it reminded me to reflect on times when I thought God wasn’t listening to me, didn’t answer my prayers, said no, or wait. I always worry about asking God for things that I need/want because that sounds so selfish. I know God is not a vending machine, or Santa Claus, and we give the list of want we want, and he delivers. He is also not the emergency room who we run to only when we are in trouble.
I really struggled with this a few years ago as I had many things in my life I wanted to see changed. One was a job. I knew it was time for me to move on. My boss had retired, and we had a great working relationship of respect. His replacement was one who was a difficult person to deal with, was passive aggressive, and made it pretty obvious that I was not his cup of tea. I needed to get out of there before he got me out of there. That was obvious to me the first day I reported directly to him.
I started my job search. I had over 20 years experience in my field, and a string of degrees and certifications. I knew my stuff. I prayed about finding the right job. Nothing seemed to be happening. One day I received a call from an out of town recruiter whom I shall call Marsha. I always received calls from recruiters, but usually they were wanting me to apply for a position at a company in Wisconsin. I don’t like cold weather, and Missouri is about as cold as I am willing to do! This time the recruiter had a position in Illinois, just across the river from the St. Louis area. I wasn’t excited about commuting that far and working in another state. How does one do their taxes living in one state and working in another? I know, that was jumping the gun, but those were silly things I thought about. Actually, the drive wasn’t any further than if I had to drive across the city of St. Louis. I had not applied for this position. The recruiter stated that she found me on LinkedIn, and I was the only person who had the background the company was seeking. She asked me to please meet with the Director of HR at a local Denny’s on a Saturday morning to talk about what he was looking to do at the company. Okay, I didn’t have to ask for a vacation day to talk to someone about a job that I didn’t think was for me, so I agreed to meet with him.
The following Saturday, our planned 1/2 hour meeting ended up lasting an extra hour. We talked about the position, and our philosophies of Human Resources. Yes, there is a philosophy behind this field. To me, it is what makes the field so interesting. There are reasons behind every policy put in place in a company, and if those in management do not have an understanding of their philosophy or reason behind the policies, they will run into trouble executing these policies. Dave (names changed to protect the innocent and not so innocent) and I had a great discussion. He was wanting to leave his position in a year, and needed to find his replacement. He was not retirement age. I think he was in his early 50’s. He wanted to go back to his home state and start his own consulting business there. Dave and I hit it off—we were on the same page on so many issues. He asked me if I would please come to the company and interview with the Vice President of Human Resources, the Chief Operating Officer, and the Director of Continuous Improvement. Sure, this position sounded interesting enough to warrant a meeting with these folks.
Marsha, the recruiter was very excited that I had met with Dave for such a long time. She said he was very impressed with my experience and credentials. She would set up the next round of interviews at the company. This recruiter was very hands-on, and she was willing to share their thoughts with me. It was one of the recruiting adventures that felt just right.
A few weeks later I took a vacation day from work to drive to Illinois and interview with the three top executives at this company. It was to be approximately 3 hours. My first interview was with the Director of Continuous Improvement. You know how sometimes you meet someone and you just connect? Well, somehow before the interview even got started, and I have no idea how this happened because usually in an interview we do not discuss personal stuff, but along with way it came out that I was preparing to run my first ever 5k. What I didn’t realize, is that Bill was a runner. He stopped our discussion, and got up from the table, walked over to his desk, and sent something to print on his printer. He handed me information on how to properly warm up for a run so one doesn’t become injured, and he proceeded to give me tips about running. Then he said, “Okay, let’s do the interview.” Everything we discussed, and it was more of a discussion than an interview, of how to improve employee satisfaction and performance. That is when I discovered his role as “continuous improvement” was not the usual one of improving the product—his focus was on improving the workforce! We had a spirited discussion, that we both enjoyed. He moved me on to the Chief Operations Office (COO). We had a typical interview of his asking questions and me answering. The very last question he asked, which I thought was a brilliant question, “What should I know about you that is not on your resume?” I gave him an honest answer about what I thought he should know about me, and his eyes widened, and he smiled. Then he proceeded to tell me that was the whole focus of the management of this company. They were a holding company who purchased this company to restructure it to make is successful again, and my answer fit directly to their strategic plan. I was starting to feel really good. I was finished with him, and moved on to the Vice President of Human Resources. Once again, I was going through the typical interview process, and when I answered a question about how I envisioned one of the processes they were working on, he immediately stopped, got up, went to his desk, and came back with a piece of paper. He smiled and showed me that I had just described exactly what he had put on paper as a tool for accomplishing this task!
My instructions were to call Marsha when I completed interviewing to give her my feedback. When I called her, she was surprised that it was so late in the day. I explained I had just left the interviews which all went way past the time we expected. The next day she called me, and said, “I don’t know what you said or did, but they love you. Now we need to set you up with an interview with the plant manager. It may take some time to get that arranged.”
All of this seemed to be taking forever. There was a couple weeks between the first Denny’s interview and my the interview with the three execs. Now it was a couple more weeks, and the recruiter mailed to me a paper application to complete and bring when I came in for the interview with the plant manager. The big concern about this was they were a union operation, and they wanted to make sure I understood their processes with labor relations. What was interesting to me is that the union these employees belonged to was the same union my employees belonged to two companies before, and I had a good working relationship with the union officials. As I prepared for this interview, I completed the paper job application. I was rather surprised to see this was a paper application, and not online, as most large corporations got away from paper applications. It is a much safer method because it keeps recruiters from seeing all the information that may lead an unethical recruiter to discriminate. I knew the application was going directly to the Director of Human Resources, with whom I had met with twice and we had a great rapport. I was concerned about a couple things within this packet, and had I not felt as comfortable with these people with whom I interviewed, it might have posted red flags for me.
What were these? The first one is the form we state our information for companies that are required to complete Affirmative Action Plans. This is the form where you state your ethnic background. They have all met me, and I look like a white girl, and I am a white girl, so there would be no surprises there. The other form in the packet was the one a candidate completes to run an employment background check, which may include employment history, conviction records, etc. This form includes more personal information. By law, none of these background checks can be done until after an offer is made and accepted. My last company I sent this packet to them (later became an online form) where they had their name, birthdate, and even social security number. That is why this is done post-offer. There is no reason for a company to have this information before that. I knew though, that I was dealing with seasoned professionals, and we were already far into the interview process. I also knew from the recruiter, I was narrowed down as the only one who had the experience they were seeking, and that it was pretty much a formality unless the plant manager had any concerns about my ability to work with his union employees.
I came for what I thought was to be my final interview. I remember I was told to wear steel toe shoes, which I did not own. So they said for the interview it was okay to wear tennis shoes. There would be some areas of the plant I would not be able to see without the steel toe shoes. They told me not to dress fancy because this was a very dirty plant. When I arrived, the Director of Human Resources received my paperwork and chatted with me for a few minutes. He then walked me down to the plant manager’s office. The plant manager handed me a lab coat and a hard hat and the two of us proceeded to tour this very unique plant filled with blast furnaces. It was a fascinating tour, and we ended back in his office for the interview. I don’t remember all we discussed or what I told him, but I distinctly remember that when the interview was completed, and I was thanking him and shaking his hand, he said, “This is the best interview I have ever conducted with anyone.” To say the least, I felt good and confident that this was going to be my next place of employment.
I came back the Director of Human Resources office, and we spoke for a bit. He seemed rushed. I understood that—once again, this interview had gone way over time. I walked to my car floating on air. The company was not located in my idea of where I wanted to drive daily, but the people I met were great. We were on the same page when it came to my objectives and philosophy of Human Resources. I could envision myself working there and making an impact with building their workforce. The recruiter called me and said, once again, they loved me. She didn’t know for sure if there was anyone else whom I was to meet, but she would be getting back to me. That was on a Monday. I was walking on a cloud, never before had I felt so confident about how well I could fit into this corporation. In the meantime, Bill, the Director of Continuous Improvement was sending me emails with some of the great ideas he had about initiatives to be considered. He was really excited about the direction this company was going.
The following Friday was my off Friday. My company had a 9/80 work schedule. That meant we did our 80 hours of work in nine days instead of 10 days. That gave us every other Friday off allowing us to have three day weekends every other week. It was tax time. I took my paperwork to my accountant, and she said it would take a couple hours to complete the return. I was still preparing for my first 5k in April, so I found a local park to take a run. I had just completed a three mile run and was walking around the park and taking photos when my cell phone rang. I answered it and it was Marsha, the recruiter. She said that she just called because she wanted me to know that she would be calling me on Monday with good news, and she wanted me to have a really good weekend. Now I am on Cloud 9! I was going to get an offer for my dream job. I proceeded to call my four sons and told them that I would finally be leaving my current job and a boss who had no respect for me and no respect for the field of Human Resources. I had a great weekend!
I was ready to hear this offer, hoping it was somewhere close to what I had said I wanted. Remember, I didn’t really want to interview with this company because of its location, so when Marsha asked me on our first call about compensation, I gave her a number that would make me feel it was worth the drive and the extra tax work of living in one state and working in another. Monday went by and I did not receive a phone call. I understand in the world of Human Resources, things can unexpectedly happen, and all of a sudden, everything is pushed back on the calendar. I don’t panic over such things. Tuesday came and went, and still no phone call. Now I was getting a bit concerned and very curious. Finally Wednesday morning, I called Marsha to find out why I have not heard from her. She stated she was going to call me that morning, but then she said, “I don’t know how to say this, but Dave pulled the offer. I had the offer on my desk Friday afternoon when I called you and it was for a number you would have been thrilled about. I was told not to offer it yet, because it needed a couple more signatures to make it official. I have worked as Dave’s recruiter for fifteen years, and he has never pulled an offer like this before.” She continued to say that all the executives had signed it except for Dave. When he was talking with the Vice President of HR, he expressed that he had some uncomfortable feelings but couldn’t put his finger on it. She said he was told that if he didn’t feel comfortable, he had the final say. So, he pulled the offer. The recruiter was in shock because he gave no reason.
I was stunned. I really thought God was opening a great big door for me. Now it just slammed shut. I replied to her, “I think I know why. I gave him all the paperwork before I went to the last interview. When I came back to his office after that interview, he was in a rush to move me out, and as I thought about it, his responses about the job had changed. I thought it was odd, and in fact, I had mentioned one of the responses to the Marsha after the interview because it was so odd, and she assured me that I must have misunderstood him. I continued, “He looked at that paperwork for the background check, and he saw my birthdate. He is looking to find his replacement, and I am a good ten years older than him. He doesn’t know what to do with this information. He is afraid I’m going to be a short termer and retire.” The biggest dilemma he now had, was that legally he could not ask any questions about my age. I hate that his hands were tied because I could have assured him that I planned to have a long tenure there, and that I would be there to get the job done. In fact, none of those execs are there any longer, and they accomplished their goal of rebuilding this company and selling it. But, he couldn’t ask. So all he could do is worry, and start a search for a younger person. She exclaimed, “Oh, no, I’m sure it’s not that!” I so clearly remember saying to her, “He’s human. He saw it, and he didn’t know what to do with it.”
Yeah, I could have fought, and filed for age discrimination, but that’s not in my blood. I wanted a bigger outlook—what was I to learn from this? Why wasn’t God giving me this opportunity? Why did he shut the door so abruptly? I wasn’t really as upset that I did not get this job as much as I was upset that I was still reporting to someone who did not like me. It took the wind out of my sails and I took a long break from job hunting.
Side note: One of the hardest things for people to do, one of the hardest things that can slam against your self esteem is job hunting. I know I was an excellent HR professional. I knew my stuff. I was great with employee and labor relations. I could solve people problems well. I was proactive. I loved new initiatives. I wasn’t afraid of change. Then we send our resumes and wait, and finally someone calls. We get all gussied up, walk in with our best foot forward, and then get rejected for the job. People used to tell me that they knew I would get the job I was interviewing for, and I would inform them that they didn’t call me in for an interview and three losers—they called in four of us who are of pretty much equal ability, and they need to figure who would fit their culture best. The shocking thing was when the recruiter said they pulled the offer, she then said I was the only candidate they interviewed because I fit everything they wanted. They eliminated the other candidates at the start!
I was bruised. I couldn’t imagine that there was any other reason I was rejected. Did God hear my prayers? Why could this have happened to such a nice girl as me? Once again, I looked at the verse of scripture that I had on my desk at home and at work, just pointing to me when I was sitting at it: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” ~Jeremiah 29:11. I truly believe that verse—God has plans for me, not to harm, but to give me hope and a future. But what were these plans?
I also trusted the scripture verse, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 4:6-7
What I do know is that my job ended the following year. It was coming, but I couldn’t stop the freight train. I wasn’t shocked, but I was shocked by the reasons, because the truth was stretched to make it look bad. I know I did a good job at my work. I know that my boss would give me an assignment that was impossible to complete for him. Oh, I would complete it, and then he would say, that’s not how he wanted it. But he wouldn’t say that when I completed it. He would wait months and then tell me, when it was too late to change it to the way he wanted it. He loved giving vague instructions. I learned to ask him for further explanation or help, but he actually would tell me he didn’t have time to tell more. One time I did a Powerpoint presentation for the management team and our superiors at the headquarters. Six months later, my boss said I never gave him the report. I said I did and even presented it at our Senior Management Meeting, of which he said, “No, I wanted a 30 page written report. Everyone who works for me knows that.” No, not everyone who works for you knows that. You used to manage the engineering department—maybe they knew that, but my report was in the same format it was for my past boss, and bosses at my other companies. Wow! That was when I knew no matter what I did, I would not meet his standard, nor would he tell me in a timely manner for me to make it to his standard.
The same month I left my job, I met Dennis. Yes, Dennis, my husband. When I lost my job, I told Dennis that if he didn’t want to see me anymore, I would understand. We had only had a couple dates by this time. He asked my why I would say that. Dennis was a retired CEO, and I figured he would think I must have done something terrible to have my CEO boss let me go. He said that he knew many people who were bad bosses and this would not change his mind about me.
Today we talk about what would have happened if I got that job in Illinois. We both know that if that would have happened, I would have been devoted to that new job. I would have been working a ton of hours putting these new initiatives together. We also know that I would not have been on match.com had I had this job. I would not have met Dennis. I would not be retired and married to him.
When I asked God to help me leave my current job, I had in mind what he was going to give me a great new job, and do it soon. I was thinking he was my vending machine—I would put in my request, and out would pop a new and wonderful job. But God did hear my prayer. He promised to give me hope a future. When I think about those verses in Philippians, God wants us not to be anxious. He doesn’t want us to worry. He wants us to ask him for what we need, but we are to ask with a thankful heart. I am thankful for all I have gotten in my life, good and bad. Both have gotten me to where I am today. But the thing that God does promise if we ask with thanksgiving in our hearts is that he will give us peace that transcends understanding. I was filled with peace after that job interview experience, even though things did not work the direction I was asking. Even while job hunting, I was at peace that I would find the place to be. My relationship with Dennis grew, and we started talking about marriage. The only problem was that if I married Dennis, I would be moving 85 miles from my home. God knew where I was to be, and allowed the way to open. Having any of those jobs would have made it more difficult to decide that my life was to move in this very different direction.
There are so many other instances of God answering my prayers, and not always the way I expected. He said “no” to the Illinois job, and “wait” because something much better is coming. If he answered those prayers the way I was hoping, would I be where I am today? God’s silence isn’t always silence. It is a “no” or a “wait.” It is no different than with children. We as parents know that our kids ask us for a lot of things. Sometimes, for reasons they don’t understand, we have to say no, and sometimes we need to tell them to be patient and wait because we have a better thing for them. God loves us like his children. I believe God answers all prayers, the same way we answer our children’s requests. It can be yes, no, or wait. We see the bigger picture for our kids, and God knows the bigger picture for us.
Being married to Dennis is a great adventure. I never thought I would ever be married again, so even this marriage is a gift from God. My life is richer than I have ever expected, not because of Dennis, but with Dennis. God knew that was the next step for me. I had no idea. Waiting sometimes is really hard. But if you ask God with thankfulness, he will give you peace that transcends understanding, and when you look back, you will see how all those puzzle pieces did fit together after all.