In Part 3 – Father and Son, Eric has a dramatic encounter with God. In today’s episode he is made redundant.
Eric had had it up to here. He slammed the door and shouted at the top of his voice: “******! ******! *******!” His face was flushed red with anger.
Jenny, looked up from her marking. “Whatever’s the matter, dear? Come and sit down and let me make you a cup of tea.” She led him through into the kitchen where he slumped at the breakfast table, grim and silent, until the tea arrived.
“The bastards have only gone and made me redundant haven’t they. I’m out, just like that. All I get is six weeks’ pay. What the **** am I going to do? I’m 40 years old for crying out loud; where the **** am I going to get another job?”
Jenny let him talk. She reached out and touched his hand.
“They hate me, that’s what it is. I’ve been ‘re-organised’ out.” He paused before starting again, “It’s all God’s fault. I asked him for promotion and this is what I get: ****ing redundancy!”
For three days Eric stomped around at home so angrily that Jenny and Gemma kept out of his way. His prayer notebook, so hopefully started, lay unopened in the small bedroom where he had left it. On Saturday he went for a long walk by himself; on Sunday he could hardly bring himself to go to church.
To make matters worse, Ben, the curate preached on 1 John 5:13-14: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” Eric muttered to himself all the way home.
After a lunch of roast beef with all the trimmings, including horseradish sauce, followed by apple crumble and ice cream, he was in a slightly better mood. Gemma saw her chance and took it. “Dad, can I say something about your job?”
Eric looked at her suspiciously. “What?” he replied.
“Well, you know Ben was talking about God’s will, maybe you weren’t meant to get promoted. Maybe he’s got a different job for you, one that’s even better?”
Somehow, Gemma’s concern reached through his anger and despair. She was the one who had the problems and now she was comforting him. “Maybe you’re right, Gem. Maybe you’re right.” Jenny gave a little nod of her head and smiled encouragingly.
“Don’t call me that, Dad. You make me sound like a lettuce.”
“Sorry, Sweetie,” he replied absently. Gemma grimaced.
“Listen you two, I’m sorry I’ve been such a grouch this week; it’s not your fault and I shouldn’t take it out on you. Look, is there anything good on at the Odeon tonight? Perhaps we could see a movie?”
“Thank you, God,” thought Jenny, “he’s back.”
The next morning, she popped a packet of mini chocolate eggs in Gemma’s lunch box.
Eric sat in the small bedroom come office pecking away at his laptop. With Gemma at school and Jenny at work, it was actually peaceful in here. He updated his CV and searched for jobs online, with the words “something better” at the back of his mind. After an hour or two, the sun came out and a shaft of warm golden light fell on the notebook on the armchair beside him. He pretended not to notice.
He went to the kitchen, made some coffee, came back, picked up that book he’d been meaning to read for ages and settled down in the armchair. But his eyes were drawn inexorably to the notebook. After the third time, he gave in and opened it. He bowed his head and after a moment took up his pen and began to write.
“OK Father, I forgive them. I’m still feeling red raw from being made redundant, but I forgive them. Thank you for my daughter’s wisdom. I choose to believe you have something better for me. Let me find a job where I can be your agent.”
The next day, he applied online for Job Seekers’ Allowance. The interview at the Job Centre was OK. His interviewing officer was professional and helpful but the other claimants looked down at heel and somehow defeated. He’d have to come in every four weeks for a follow up interview. He bought local and national newspapers and scanned the jobs pages in the coffee shop around the corner.
Over the next month the job applications began to flow out online and in the post. There were a fair number of new entries in his prayer notebook too. Not every day, since there was always live sport on TV, another Netflix series to watch, or games to play on his phone. He felt a bit guilty about wasting time but when he did come to pray, God didn’t condemn him; he was actually quite nice. Encouraging. Always ready to talk.
For the first time in years, Eric had time: he had time to think about life, the universe and everything; he had time to think about Jenny and Gemma; he had time to pray. He realised now why Jenny was always tired. It was so obvious; how could he not have seen it? Holding down a full-time head of department teaching job, caring for her mum, who had early stage Alzheimer’s, and doing two sets of household chores, was too much for her.
He wrote down his ideas for helping Jenny and Gemma in his notebook and asked God about them. Some seemed to fade on the page, while others seemed to light up.
Sensing God’s approval on the shiny ideas, he began to put them into practice. He started with vacuum cleaning and ironing. He was surprised how appreciative Jenny was.
He really enjoyed working with Gemma to decorate her room. A shared project and time to talk without pressure, helped draw father and daughter closer than they had been for a long while.
Often when he was alone, his thoughts returned to the way he’d been made redundant, and then he felt hurt, bitter, angry and bewildered all over again. At these times, when God seemed far away, he clung to Gemma’s words: “Maybe he’s got something better for you.” It was easier to contemplate a brighter future than the painful past.
He started to read the Bible – they were always banging on about that at church – and he found it helpful, confusing and challenging in equal measure. It really began to bother him, for example, that God was sometimes so angry in the Old Testament but seemed more lovey-dovey in the New Testament. What was that about?
He went to see Ben and enjoyed the chocolate biscuits again. Ben was very encouraging about the prayer thing; he said it was a great source of strength and hope in difficult times. They prayed together to ask God for a new job. But Ben didn’t give him any answers about God at all. Instead, he invited Eric to go to an Alpha course.
And so it was that on a wet Wednesday evening, Eric found himself in the Church Hall tucking into a baked potato, a slice of cheese flan and a dollop of coleslaw, all on a cardboard plate. He was sandwiched between old Mrs Wilson, who was slightly deaf, and a young man called Jono, who sported a spectacular handlebar moustache. It was so unmistakable that he recognised Jono immediately as a fellow frequenter of the Job Centre. Jenny hadn’t come (too busy) but surprisingly Gemma had. She was deep in conversation with her mate, Seven, on the other side of the table.
The speaker for the evening rose, adjusted his tie and cleared his throat noisily. “What have I got myself into?” thought Eric.
In Part 5 – Abide With Me, Eric learns to walk and talk with God
©Peter Hendra May 2018