BY JOSH PALMER
I'm not a huge fan of interruptions, but I am growing to appreciate them. When I think about a very generic definition of interruption I think of the following- interruptions slow progress, distract me from my task or to do list, stop the proverbial wheels from turning. But interruptions are good right? Well... for me, in this season of life and ministry, I am learning to appreciate interruptions more and more.
Have you ever been so focused on completing a task or job that the slightest interruption feels like all is lost or that the momentum you were once carrying has been squashed? A little dramatic I know. Recently, I have realized just how much I have done to position myself in a place where there are little to no interruptions so as to finish and complete tasks on my to-do list. That is not inherently bad, right? RIGHT?
One particular morning I woke up determined to complete my early morning tasks to start my day on the right foot. I had my breakfast. Check. Cleaned up. Check. And thought to myself, "I am looking pretty good on time so why not pop out for a quick cup of coffee before I continue on with my morning rhythms?" Mistake... Or so I thought. As most of you know, my wife Kassi and I live and serve in the Tenderloin of San Francisco and we love it here. It is a neighborhood full of life, diversity and great food. Over the years I have become friends with quite a few people who call the streets of the Tenderloin home. I enjoy the conversations and the banter that takes place on the streets. I love my friends. But what about on the days when I am in a hurry? When I have things to accomplish? When I am, wait for it. Busy?
This "particular" morning that I have previously eluded to, I had a to-do list a mile long. I had places to be. As I (tried to) step outside the front door of our buildings, I was met with someone sleeping across our doorway. I did my best to speak through the glass and politely ask them to move. No response. I tried again. Nothing. I looked at my watch to observe the time he was passing and decided to use a different door. On my way, by our front door, I ran into another one of our friends asking if our (staff) had started work for the day. I quickly responded in passing that they had not yet started setting up for work. As I finished this brief conversation; almost in the same breath, I asked our friend sleeping in the entrance of our building to please wake up as we would have people entering and exiting our doors in the next 15-20 minutes. I looked at my watch, picked up the pace and headed for a local coffee shop. I just made the light; YES! Making up time! As I rounded the corner on Geary Street, I saw a gentleman whose eyes immediately connected with mine. He said, "Hey sir, can I talk with you for a second?" My first reaction (not verbalized) was I'm running behind and I got places to be! My actual response though, was, "sure." He began to share a little of his story. He was living on the streets and was in need of a little help. As we ended our conversation I felt something start to stir inside of me. I made it to the coffee shop, grabbed my cup of coffee and started to walk back down to YWAM. Something was still stirring inside of me but I couldn't quite put a finger on it. I made it back to the front of our building and our entrance was no longer blocked. I looked at my watch.. Right on time! Yes!
As I sat down, that stirring I was feeling got stronger and I began to ask the Lord, "What is going on inside me?" In only the way that Holy Spirit can, I felt like He was putting the finger on one thing. Just a short question. “Josh, are you too busy to be interrupted by me and by those I have put in your path?" Instant conviction. Wow. Yes, I had become so focused on doing that I was missing out on being available and present with those around me.
I was reminded of the gospel accounts of the woman bleeding for 12 years (Matthew 9, Mark 5, Luke 8). The story doesn't start with that encounter though. It starts with Jesus moving, walking, sitting, and teaching. Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, sees Jesus, falls on his face and asks Jesus to bring his daughter back from certain death. In Matthew 9:19 (NRSV) it says the Jesus got up. He got up, interrupted; and followed Jairus. As Jesus was walking, a woman who had been bleeding or suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years, had been to the physician after physician, spent all she had, and whose condition had only gotten worse, sees Jesus and reaches out to touch the fringe of his clothes. Instantly she is healed. Now Jesus, could've kept going, but He stops, interrupted, and asks, "who has touched me?" After He focuses His time and attention on this woman, He continues onto Jairus' home where He brings Jairus' daughter back to life. I have read these encounters and many like them over the years and was reminded of the importance of allowing myself to be interrupted.
Summed up for me... Interruptions are an invitation from God. An invitation to life, ministry, relationship, connection, healing, and the list goes on. As I write, I feel reminded of two quotes by those that lived community and understood the importance of allowing interruptions in their lives.
“We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“My whole life, I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.” -Henri Nouwen