One morning last week, I grabbed my pen and notebook and set out to do my daily fifteen minutes of writing. The boys were watching some morning cartoons and I pressed pause to let them know I was starting my writing.
“Please don’t interrupt me for the next fifteen minutes,” I said. They nodded, eager to get back to their show.
I sat down at the little side table by the window, opened to a brand new page, and started to write. I was in the zone, eight minutes in, when I heard my six year old walk up behind me.
“Mommy?” he asked.
I threw my pen down and spun around.
“What? Didn’t I ask you NOT to interrupt mommy?”
Tears streamed down his face when he saw how upset I was. I tried to soften. “Are you having an emergency?” I asked, still unable to hide the exasperation from my voice.
“No, but I just wanted to show you something,” he blubbered.
Resigned to this interruption, I walked over to kneel beside him, willing myself to show more patience. “What is it, buddy?”
“My top front tooth is loose!” he told me as I wiped his cheeks dry.
Ohhhh. My heart melted. I tried to make up for my terrible mommy moment by oohing and ahhing and making a big deal out of this event. Satisfied, he went back to his TV show, and I went back to my writing, remorseful over my behavior.
On the one hand, didn’t I have every right to be upset? Had I not clearly set a boundary and communicated my expectation? And on the other hand, didn’t my behavior communicate what mattered most to me? By reacting the way I did, I let my son know that my writing was more important to me than he was. Ouch.
In Brian Dixon’s book on marketing, “Start With Your People“, he says “People have a way of out-shining our to-do lists.” This has stuck with me, and I’ve tried to keep it in mind as I fill out my planner, as I think through each day’s agenda. “People over projects,” I remind myself, but it’s easier said than done. There is no better time to test my resolve to put people first than when I am dealing with interruptions. Whether they are in the form of my children, or a friend who wants to talk, I am challenged to set aside my own projects and meet the needs of others. I can respond with resentment or with love.
I love reading about the way Jesus dealt with interruptions when I read the gospels. No one could argue with the importance of Jesus’ ministry. He was here to proclaim the kingdom of God, and yet over and over, he dealt with interruptions. I think of all the times Jesus tried to withdraw to a private place.
My favorite is in Matthew chapter 14. John the Baptist has just been beheaded, and his disciples go to tell Jesus.
When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (v. 13-14)
Jesus needs some space, maybe to grieve, maybe to pray. He gets into a boat to find that “solitary” place, only to find that the crowds had followed him! He would have had every right to dismiss them then and there, or at the very least, get back into the boat and find another shore. He has a good reason! His beloved cousin has just been killed at the hands of Herod.
But he doesn’t. “He had compassion on them.” He stayed. He healed their sick. He fed thousands of them with five loaves of bread and two fish. After dinner, when they pick up the twelve basketfuls of leftovers, here’s what he does:
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone … (v. 22-23)
Finally Jesus is able to claim his alone time! Eventually, he is able to accomplish what he set out to do, but in the meantime, he treated the interruption as if it was just as important as his agenda.
The Ministry of Interruptions
This is how I’d like to see my job as a Christian whose purpose is to further the kingdom of God: to serve through the ministry of interruptions. In my role as a mom, a wife, a friend, and an employee, I want to spend my days with the understanding that ministering to people during interruptions is just as important as my tending to my own projects and agenda. I want to respond to interruptions with grace, compassion, and kindness. But I know myself enough to realize that I can’t simply will myself to have this kind of response. I need to lean on God’s strength to have that kind of patience. I need to pray for God’s help in responding to interruptions like Jesus did. Won’t you join me?