I stood in amazement. It had been announced that I was leaving to become Orthodox. I expected a lot of theological questions, but instead my clergy peers had questions like how I would earn a living, what would become of my pension, and how I would handle the loss of medical benefits. Not a single theological question was asked that day. I replied that as a father and a husband I knew that these issues were important and I had dealt with them, but I wondered, of such is the kingdom of heaven?
I had no delusions that the skills I had developed over the years in the church would have any value in the marketplace. When I went to an employment agency, I knew it would be like a Saturday Night Live skit I once viewed. A soldier returning from the Vietnam war was seeking employment. The interviewer assured him that they loved to employ veterans. So he asked the soldier about what he could do, what skills he possessed. “Well,” he said, “I can parachute out of a plane.” The interviewer filed through his cards and said that they didn’t have anything in that area of expertise. The soldier went on to say that he could throw a grenade, shoot a rifle, etc. Each time the interviewer was sad to report no jobs were available for that kind of skill.
Of course, today’s veterans are more highly skilled, and we value their leadership abilities, but I had a similar experience after I became Orthodox. When the employment interviewer asked me what skills I had, I listed things like public speaking, training volunteers, forming budgets, planning, fund raising, counseling, etc. He replied that he would have no problem finding me a job. Then he asked me where I had employed all those skills, and when I replied that it was in the church, he put his cards away and asked if I had ever done any carpentry, plumbing, etc. Since that day I’ve been a telephone operator, a fork-lift driver, an installer for heating and air-conditioning, and an installer of security devices -all jobs that I never trained for or had any skills.
It’s amazing the things that we consider to be unimportant and of no value; but we waste a lot of the time and energy pursuing things that in the end prove to be false. It has been my experience that the things that seem small often turn out to be the best things in life, and the so-called important things turn out to be like fool’s gold.
I’m sure that it comes as no surprise when I say that there are actions and events in my past of which I am ashamed. These things demonstrated my moral and emotional weakness and my lack of faith in God. I rejected so many good things and embraced so many bad things that I wondered if I would ever get over the legacy of my actions and choices. Yet, God, in his mercy, redeemed so much of my past by perfecting His strength in my weakness. The areas of my failures became a platform from which I could help others who struggle. In fact, some of these things, now redeemed, have become the cornerstone of my life. This is truly the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in my eyes.
The Lord told the parable of the Vineyard to the Jews and he ended the story by saying that what is rejected becomes the cornerstone (Matt. 21). They did not understand the scope of what He was saying to them. They did not value or esteem Jesus at all. They would despise and reject him. They did not know that Jesus would become the cornerstone of the new Israel, and upon him the foundation of the Church would be built. He would build with living stones-the Apostles -who were themselves considered to be rejects and throw-a-ways by the world.
A movie that I use with catechumens and inquirers is Babettes’ Feast. One of the lines of dialogue says that “Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed.” (Psalm 85). Reflecting on the verse, the actor says that because of the love and mercy of God, who brings mercy and truth together, even that which we rejected will be restored to us. So, it has been in my life. So much has been restored to me, but it is sad that in spite of this grace, I am a very ungrateful person.
If nothing else, this truth has given me the awareness that I need to keep my eyes open for the things that I consider to be of little value. Also there are people that the world considers to be small and insignificant. This fact alone ought to cause me to take notice of these people. It could be a neighbor or friend, or even someone in the Church family that goes unnoticed. It could be someone at work, or someone that I have excluded from my circle of friends. As I said before, it can even be something in my own soul or personality to which I have paid little attention.
Think about it. It’s the way God works with us. What we reject can become a cornerstone in life. If we have the mind and heart to see this, life will be filled with endless possibilities.
It is the Lord’s doing and it is truly marvelous.