I was about eight years old when Mr. Ball, the old man across the street, knocked on our door.
“How would like a job?” he said.
“Well…sure. I guess so.”
“Collect all the eggs from the chicken coups in my backyard for two weeks while I’m gone, and I’ll pay you 5 cents a day." Seemed a little chintzy, but I said okay. And so, for two weeks, I opened Ol’ Mr. Ball’s gate and ventured into his giant backyard by myself and carefully reached my hand into about 20 of the most foul-smelling chicken coups imaginable and placed the eggs in pales and boxes. I filled water bowls, then said goodbye to the chickens that seemed strangely proud for being behind bars, and left.
After two weeks, Ol’ Mr. Ball saw me in my front yard and called me over to his house where he stood waiting on his porch.
“Ready to settle up?” he said.
“Sure,” I answered, eager to see a little green.
Ol’ Mr. Ball took out a rubber pouch, squeezed it so that it puckered open, exposing a small crowd of silver coins, and then began to count out dimes and nickels. I thought, “Is this guy serious? I get that he said he would pay me five cents a day, but he’s not going to simply give me a bill or two? Nobody’s that cheap!”
“Put out your hand, there, young man,” he said. I did. “Sixty. Sixty-five. Seventy. There you go.”
I looked at the change sitting in my hand like a big disappointment. “Thank you,” I said without a bit of sincerity.
“Thank you,” he said in kind. Then he continued. “Before you go, I’d like to ask you a question,” he said.
You mean I get nothing more than a handful of coins for all my work, and I still have to answer questions? I thought.
“Do you know how long eternity is?” he asked.
Even though I had heard all about eternity in Sunday School till I was blue in the face, I really didn’t feel like giving him a real answer. “Not really.”
“This is eternity,” he said. “Take a snail and put it on a lead ball the size of the sun, and have that snail travel around that lead ball over and over again until it wears it down to the size of a BB. And that’s just the first day.”
Oh brother, I thought. “Okay, thanks, Mr. Ball,” I said, and I left.
That was 1969. My 70 cents was gone a long time ago. But my idea of eternity, the amount of time I will spend in the presence of God in heaven has stayed with me, and I have reflected on it numerous times over the years when the topic of heaven has come up, or, when life got painful, and I needed it. It is an indelible image. Ol’ Mr. Ball paid me a lot more than 70 cents after all.