My dog, Vincent, approached me one day, peering at me through his warm, innocent eyes, tail wagging from side to side. Pounding away at my laptop, I had been trying to finish my latest blog post before my self-imposed deadline. I was in the groove.
I thought to myself, he must need to go outside, but I’ll go with him after I finish this paragraph. I also noticed two eye boogers smeared on his snout. I’ll get it later, I thought again to myself.
As he continued to stare intently at me—eye boogers and all—I did a double-take and jolted myself out of my “productive work state.” I’m being ridiculous, I thought to myself, I can take care of his eyes right now. I got up, gently wiped his face clean with a Kleenex, and took him outside.
Sometimes, I can be so productivity-minded and focused on the current project or task at hand that I miss the needs of others around me. This is a particular challenge for those of us who are goal-oriented and live by our time management systems, those of us who are tempted by the idol of efficiency.
Contrast this with Jesus, who was interrupted frequently to the point that His interruptions were interrupted. In Mark 5:21-43, Jesus is returning from restoring a man possessed by a legion of demons when He is stopped by a prominent synagogue leader named Jairus, who asks Jesus to come with him to heal his dying daughter. Jesus goes with Jairus but is then stopped by an ailing woman who had been bleeding for 12 years and wanted healing.
What does Jesus do? He doesn’t get frustrated that He wasn’t able to finish His current teaching moment with His disciples. He doesn’t get annoyed that His already packed schedule has just gotten busier. He doesn’t get irritated with the increasing throngs of people following Him.
Instead, He tenderly addresses the woman who was healed by touching His robe and acknowledges the faith that healed her.
In Luke 10:25-37, we encounter a man who is robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the road going from Jerusalem to Jericho. A priest and Levite both walk by and ignore the man. A Samaritan man then walks by and stops to help the bleeding man. The Samaritan wraps his wounds, puts him on his own donkey, and pays for him to stay at an inn.
That means that the Samaritan scrapped his plans for the day to take care of this man! I’m sure that the priest and Levite were busy with important responsibilities, but Jesus says that the Samaritan did the right thing that day.
Interruptions Are Part of Our Work
We can learn how to handle interruptions from Jesus as our example. In his book Turn My Mourning to Dancing, Henri Nouwen wrote of a now-famous conversation which helped him change his mindset on interruptions. An older professor reflected to him, “You know…my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.”
Even when we are being faithful in our calling and work, God might have something else planned for us on any given day. It may take the form of a friend calling with bad news, a co-worker asking for a favor, a sick child requiring attention, a stranger asking for directions, or a neighbor stopping to chat.
Part of walking together with God starts with being willing to hold time loosely. After all, time is not ours, but a gift that God has given us. Proverbs 16:9 says, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps” (NLT).
On certain days, we fulfill God’s purposes by choosing to lay down our daily schedule, to-do list, and projects for the good of our neighbor. We die to ourselves and our desires. As Jesus says in Mark 8:34, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (NIV).
Slow Down, Seek Discernment, and Prioritize
To recognize which interruptions are God-ordained, it’s necessary to first slow down. For how can we address the people in need around us if we are in too much of a hurry to notice them? How can we make time when we have not added margin to our schedules? How can we see people if our heads are down, buried in the online world of our phones?
In the modern world of ceaseless stimuli and demands, we also need to pray for God’s discernment to follow His leading. In Ephesians 5:15-17, the apostle Paul writes, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”
Finally, let’s prioritize people before projects and plans. By making the intentional choice to change our mindset to one of open-mindedness, we loosen the grip on our own timelines enough that we are receptive to any interruptions that God brings our way. Whether it is a family member, friend, co-worker, neighbor, or dog with eye boogers, let’s respond to these interruptions with warmth, patience, and kindness.
By doing so, we love in the same way that Jesus loved Jarius and the Samaritan woman. We reflect God’s character to the world around us—one interruption at a time.
How willing and able were you to be interrupted in your plans this past week? Ask God to help you respond with grace to any interruptions that come your way this week.
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”
Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)