For most of us, our days are filled with surprising turns, the unexpected, including those darn things known as interruptions. Calls from people we know, things that come up both good and bad, stuff with our bodies, intrusive thoughts and feelings, not being able to finish a sentence when talking, co-workers knocking on a closed door, etc.
While we experience a range of thoughts and feelings due to being interrupted, and as I reflect upon the whole topic, I am coming to realize that interruptions and how we respond to them can be deeply spiritual occurrences that impact our faith journey.
In some ways, in fact, interruptions can be great opportunities to grow, learn, and deepen our walk with Christ. And if we pause for a moment, we will discover that Jesus was a master at responding to interruptions in profound ways. When a person interrupted Jesus, he or she was never the same.
One day, at the end of a long shift of fishing, Peter and Andrew are at work cleaning up and getting ready for a bit of sleep. Jesus came along, sees them, and says, “Hi boys. I know you work hard and I know you are fisherman. But I have an idea for your life. Follow me, right now, and I will make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch women and men instead of perch and bass.”
Talk about an upending workday interruption. Talk about an unexpected career move. Take a fellow named Jairus. Jesus was standing sea-side just having made a trek across the water. Jairus, a prominent religious leader, approached Jesus and said, “Jesus, my 12 year old daughter is really sick. I think she may die. Please come with me. I know you can heal her, please.” Jesus accepts the request and begins to walk with Jairus to his house. A large crowd of people, jostling for position, began to follow.
While walking, a woman who had suffered a terrible medical condition for many years and had lost everything as a result, slipped in behind Jesus and touched his robe. She believed by touching Jesus’ robe, she would be healed. Jesus stopped and turned to look at the woman. She was healed and her faith was strengthened.
Although Jesus was on the way to deal with one big problem, Jairus’ daughter, the sick woman’s interruption did cause Jesus to stew. He took on both big problems at the same time.
Fast forward to sometime later. Jesus and his apostles had been working tirelessly. Clearly they are exhausted and needed a break. Just a bit of down time to collect themselves and get some much needed rest. We even learn they were so slammed with work they didn’t have much of a chance to eat anything.
In response, Jesus invites them all to find a quiet place to chill out. So, they all climbed into a boat to head off to a remote place. But someone saw them get into the boat and launch from the beach. Word got out. Quickly, literally thousands of people started running along the shore after them.
When Jesus and his crew landed, Jesus saw the crowds and his heart broke. In response, he began to teach the people. As time passed, near the end of the day, his apostles pointed out it was time to leave so the people could get home before dark to eat.
This turned into the well known feeding of the five thousand in which thousands of people were miraculously fed by some fish and a few loaves of bread. Nothing like finally finding some time to rest only to have it interrupted by the needs of thousands of people.
We have just looked at a few stories of interruptions happening to Jesus. There are so many more. So I have to wonder. Why are there so many stories in scripture in which interruptions are part of the central story line? Might it be that interruptions are something we need to pay close attention to. Are there opportunities to be found? Here a just a few thoughts.
Interruptions remind us that ultimately we are not in total control of things. We may have a plan. We may have a strategy. We may have clear cut hopes. But interruptions, big and small can remind us we are not in control, God is. Most of us like certainty, at least when it comes to some areas of life. We seek clarity and predictability. But interruptions remind us, if we let them, that there is ultimately not much we can be certain about, other than the love of God and that nothing will ever separate from God’s love.
Interruptions can remind us too that none of us has everything down pat. Interruptions can create awareness that nothing is perfect, that imperfection is the norm, and can help us release perfectionism and learn to relax.
Throughout scripture, patience is a virtue and lack of patience often gets people into big messes and a lot of trouble. Interruptions, if we allow them to teach us, can help us practice, practice and practice patience, patience that will help us in many areas of life.
Interruptions can teach us to be more sensitive to others, to learn what compassion entails, and what lies at the heart of empathy. Needing help is rarely if ever convenient.
One key thing at the heart of our walk with Jesus is learning to be other not self-focused. Interruptions, if we allow them, can teach us to live from the place of being other focused, not self-absorbed. Said another way, interruptions, if we let them, can teach us to live more like Jesus, accepting interruptions as they come and attending to what is right in front of us in the midst of what else is going on.
Yes, I think I am coming to learn that interruptions are in fact islands of grace in the sea of too much busyness and getting things done. And I believe the more we accept interruptions, even embrace them, the more and more we will become like Jesus, full of hearts of compassion and the love of God. And I pray that when we are interrupted, we might learn to hear such interruptions as God knocking at our door.
Recently my family and I traveled to Upstate New York to visit friends and a community of faith where I served as Rector a number of years ago. While the Finger Lakes region of New York is not where I am from, it is spectacularly beautiful and rural, with stunning vistas and gorgeous glacially carved lakes.
On one particular afternoon, my son Peter and I joined our friend Mark to explore an area known as Carpenter Falls. In this specific area of Upstate New York, there are a number of waterfalls, but the main one Carpenter, is around 90 feet high. Typically, as described on a state website, “the falls fall as a powerful ribbon that cuts through a notch in the massive overhanging limestone caprock where it plunges into a deep pool.”
The water flow is described as variable and over the years I have seen just a trickle of water to quite a bit more. When the three of us recently went, it was an entirely different story. Such a massive amount of rain had fallen that Carpenter Falls made those at Niagra look small.
As we walked we stood at the top of the falls. We were each silent as the roar of the falls and the scene of the volume of water flowing was breathtaking. After a few minutes, we hiked across the top of a hill to gain access to a trail that one can take to get near the base of the waterfall. The ground was muddy and slippery as ice as the trail was covered with clay over limestone.
Our son Peter, nimble and flexible Peter, had no difficulty on the trail. I, on the other hand, when I tried to follow Peter, slipped and fell down a 70 degree pitched hillside nearly 50 feet through trees, branches, and rocks. Both Peter and Mark thought at first it was the end of me. A bruised body, sprained wrist, and cuts on my torso was all I sustained.
As I was lying at the bottom of the hill recovering, Jesus’ parable of a house built on sand came to mind. Clearly sand is not something to count on as Jesus points out in the story. Jesus, in Matthew’s Gospel chapter 7 said in essence, “When you build your life upon me it is like building a house on rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit, but nothing moved that house. It was built on rock.” After my experience at Carpenter Falls, I can make the same point using the metaphor of hiking on wet clay or a dry trail as an example.
This week is July 4th. A wonderful holiday with fabulous traditions that have been part of our great nation for a long time. It certainly is a day to ponder the blessings of what it means to live in America, to reflect on all who have made our country possible, and to give God thanks for freedom, which is from God to begin with.
While our nation’s independence is central to who we are, I believe it is important we not view our relationship with our creator in the same way. When it is all said and done, our loving God does not seek our independence from Him, but rather our complete and utter dependence. And while we live in a great incomparable land whose DNA is grounded upon freedom, I believe it is essential for us to remember this July 4th, that Christ is our rock, our foundation, and the basis from which we are called to live.