My cell phone buzzed as I sat at the table for a quick bite to eat on Sunday morning, five kids whirling around me, ready to hop in the car and leave for church as soon as I got up. The phone call coming in was from a woman who usually called when she had a big favor to ask of me, and I didn’t think I had time to listen to whatever it was that I thought she needed.
It will probably be a long conversation. I just need five minutes to eat by myself before I load up the car and go to teach Sunday school, I thought. I’m doing so much for other people already that surely, it’s okay to let this call go. She probably doesn’t realize how busy I am. I’m getting five children ready for church all by myself, and I can’t be late to teach. I’m the teacher! As I froze to validate my reasons for not answering the call, the phone eventually stopped buzzing, and I went on with my breakfast.
Soon afterward, a call came in from my husband, who is a pastor of a local church and who had been at church since before sun-up practicing his sermon. “Do you have the jumper cables in the back of the van? Mine aren’t in my trunk, and I need to come home and get them.”
“I can go check. But, why? What happened?” I asked.
“I was working on my sermon in my office with the door closed when the church cleaners knocked on the door. I was honestly a little irritated.” My husband gets to church early so he’s the only one in the building and can practice preaching without anyone listening. “I don’t know why they came to church on Sunday morning instead of Saturday! Well, it turns out they were asking if I could jump their car, which wouldn’t start. And I realized I was glad I could be here to help them with their car. Isn’t that awesome?”
“Wow, I’m so proud of you for seeing that as an opportunity rather than an inconvenience! Let me check on the jumper cables and call you back.
I walked out to the van to look in the trunk for the jumper cables, and although I could see them through the window in the back, I suddenly realized I couldn’t get them out because I’d locked my keys in the car the night before.
I laughed as I called my husband back, “Honey, the jumper cables are there, but the funny thing is that my keys are locked in the car! If you hadn’t called me about the jumper cables, I wouldn’t have realized my keys were locked in the car until it was time for me to leave for church, and then it would have been too late for you to come and get me and the kids in time for me to teach Sunday school! Your interruption, which allowed you to bless the cleaners, also turned into my blessing!”
My husband and I both encountered interruptions to our busy mornings. But I handled my interruption much differently. Cloaked in self-righteousness and believing myself to already be doing enough for others that I could excuse myself from answering the phone, I missed an opportunity that God may have prepared for me.
My husband, on the other hand, answered the knock and handled the interruption with grace, elated at the opportunity to serve others, even at the expense of time working on his sermon before the church service. Sometimes our spiritual growth comes at the expense of a part of us that must die – that part of ourselves that believes our work is accomplished by our own merit, the part of us that is proud of being busy, or the part of us that sees people as a problem rather than a priority. My husband gave God the authority over his time that morning, and he trusted that God would work out his sermon by His Spirit.
Jesus also had important work to do, and He was very intent and focused on going to the cross. But what would Jesus do if He was interrupted, if while on this mission, something unexpected sought His time?
In Matthew 19, we read about how the disciples exasperatedly tried to get the children out of Jesus’ way as they interrupted Jesus’ time healing and preaching in a large crowd. The disciples must have been impatient watching what they thought was a waste of time. This isn’t what the crowds had gathered to watch! Why wasn’t Jesus sticking to the agenda? Like good event managers, they thought they’d put an end to this unscheduled hiccup by walking up and down the line scolding parents for thinking their children were Jesus’ priority. But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14).
Author and theologian Henri Nouwen said on Twitter on July 31, 2012, “I used to complain about all the interruptions to my work until I realized that these interruptions were my work” (@HenriNouwen). After Jesus blessed the children, He went away, as though He had accomplished there, in that place, all that He needed to accomplish! The interruptions had become His work and took over His ministry that day!
Let’s be challenged by Jesus’ example to allow our interruptions to be our work!
- Can we see interruptions as divine appointments?
- Can interruptions be met with grace and love rather than impatience and irritation?
- Can we boldly and bravely hand over authority of our time to the Lord?
- Can we pray over our own plans and ask God to bless them while also humbly giving God permission to rework our schedule according to His will?
It turns out that the woman who called me while I was busy that Sunday morning called me back at dinner to FaceTime. I stepped out of the kitchen where I could give my attention for a moment, and I was delighted to learn that she just wanted to share good news! Our family had been providing assistance to her and her children, and she wanted to let us know how well she was doing now. This is the kind of phone call everyone wants to get! I can’t tell you how good I felt that night at dinner to repeat back all the successes of this woman to my family that had helped to bring them about. We had the honor of being a part of God’s kingdom work.
That morning, when I had been focused on myself, the interruption gave me dread, but with a new perspective God had worked into my heart over the course of the day, I was able to meet the next interruption with joy and anticipation. God did not disappoint! The interruption was my gift.