I was in the early stage of writing Overcoming Shyness,
my computer crashed. It was an unforgiving hard disk failure,
and all data on it was lost. Because I hadn't backed up or
printed out what I was writing for over a week, I lost about
two chapters that I had carefully crafted for the book.
probably don't need to tell you that nothing is more
devastating to a writer than losing material you've written.
You feel like you'd rather be mugged on a subway.
one thing, though, that's almost as hard as losing what you've
written--and that's purposely deciding to discard it and start
over. We writers just don't like to do it; yet sometimes it's
exactly what we should do to get the best results. In this
case, I had no choice. The decision was made for me.
I had to start on a clean slate when I began writing again a
few days later, I decided to try a different approach to the
book. I was pleased to find that this new direction seemed to
work better, and I wasn't struggling for ideas as greatly. In
the end, I never did rewrite those chapters I lost that
morning. I'm now convinced that material would have bogged the
book down and that the book is stronger for leaving it out.
incident is an interesting example of one way that an
unwelcome interruption sometimes brings us a surprising
benefit. We're headed fast down a track that we don't realize
is less than the best for us, but the interruption allows us
to pause and reconsider our options. Apart from the computer
mishap, I'm certain I either would have left that material in
the book or taken much longer than I did to decide not to use
friend of mine received a similar benefit from an unwanted
interruption in her life. She had carefully planned a major
move, but then fell ill and had to cancel her plans. "I
realize now that God simply stopped me," she says.
"With hindsight, it's clear to me that this move wouldn't
have been right for me."
may work to our benefit in other ways as well. They may be
God's way of bringing new opportunities into our life, or new
relationships, or his means of providing us with information
that we need. Interruptions also bring us some of our best
opportunities for sharing our faith, and for giving help and
encouragement to others.
Interruptions in Perspective
not blithely suggesting that every intrusion on our schedule
is the gateway to an unexpected blessing, or that we're less
than spiritual if we don't feel like singing the Hallelujah
Chorus every time an interruption occurs. I scarcely need to
describe my own feelings at that moment when I realized that
my computer absolutely, positively wasn't going to boot any
interruptions are simply that--interruptions. They are
diversions from what God wants us to do, and we need to treat
them as such--to slough them off, or to deal with them as
quickly and efficiently as possible. We can get too analytical
about such interruptions, and try to read guidance into them
that simply isn't there.
the other extreme, we each experience from time to time
setbacks that are major broadsides to our life--like the death
of a loved one, the breakup of a relationship, or the loss of
a job that we love. God never expects us to respond to such
misfortunes like robots. It takes time to work through the
pain of a major loss, and to come to the point where we are
able to think more optimistically about our future. We need to
be patient with ourselves at such times, and grief is often
our most appropriate immediate response.
we also experience many less severe but still aggravating
interruptions that have the potential to frustrate us more
than they should. Some people are natural optimists, to be
sure, who see a hidden blessing in every curve ball life
throws at them. Yet most of us instinctively are unsettled by
the common interruptions of life. We view them as nettlesome
at best, and at worst, as ominous signs that God has turned
here that our faith usually needs to stretch a bit.
Interruptions sometimes truly are serendipities in disguise.
Most of us can benefit from developing greater optimism about
them, and about the possibility that God will use them to our
advantage. A higher expectation of God's extending help to us
through interruptions not only will keep our blood pressure
down when they occur, but make us more alert to the ways that
he may be working for our benefit through the unexpected.
Surprise of His Life
can't read much Scripture without finding encouraging examples
of God's giving someone a golden opportunity, or help they
dearly welcomed, through what they initially perceived to be
an unwanted interruption. One of the most fascinating of these
incidents is the first story recorded about Saul, Israel's
first king (1 Sam 9:1-10:13).
donkeys belonging to Saul's father, Kish, escape, and Kish
sends Saul and a servant to look for them. Saul spends some
considerable time searching for the donkeys, wandering through
the countryside and traveling a good distance from his home.
Finally, his servant suggests they consult the prophet Samuel,
who lives in a nearby town. As Saul and his servant are
approaching the prophet, God reveals to Samuel that Saul is
his choice to become king of Israel. Samuel then hosts Saul at
a feast and, following the festivities, explains God's
intentions to him.
is most interesting about this incident is that, while God
could have brought Samuel and Saul together, and revealed to
Saul that he wanted him king, through any process that he
wished, he chose to do so through a classic interruption of
life. The story points profoundly to the fact that
interruptions in our own life that seem annoying and
purposeless may be the entrée to remarkable blessings from
God. We're reminded that there may be more to a setback than
meets our eye. We have reason to stay hopeful when the
Our Response to Interruptions
it helps greatly to raise our expectations about
interruptions' bringing us benefit, we are still left with the
challenge of judging the importance of specific interruptions
that occur. When should we assume that an interruption
deserves our attention, and when is it best to disregard it?
some cases the answer is obvious. We have an emergency on our
hands, and ignoring it isn't an option. When my computer
crashed, I had little choice but to put my writing on hold and
spend the time needed to fix the problem. Saul probably faced
a true emergency when his family's donkeys escaped, and had no
choice but to drop everything and look for them.
many interruptions present us with a choice--to respond, to
say no, or, in some cases, to delegate the problem to others.
The right response to an interruption isn't always obvious,
and no one rule of thumb works for every situation. It is, in
fact, the unpredictability of our lives that most throws us
back to our critical need to live by faith and to depend upon
Jesus' Example Teaches Us
example of Jesus himself is especially helpful in this regard.
During his three-year ministry, Jesus' daily life was riddled
with interruptions. It is fair to say that his ministry was
largely a response to interruptions. As a personality, Jesus
seemed to thrive on them--much as a physician or high-energy
leader might. Yet he also displayed uncanny wisdom in handling
many cases Jesus did respond to them, and the Gospels give
numerous examples. He put an especially high premium on
healing physical and emotional wounds people experienced, and
never turned down anyone's request for healing in the Gospels,
regardless of the intrusion on his schedule. While he never
taught that every Christian must have this same commitment to
healing in their personal ministry, it was a high priority for
he did turn down certain requests for help that were made to
him. He refused to arbitrate a man's dispute with his brother
over their inheritance (Lk 12:13-14), for instance, and denied
a man's request for permission to travel with him (Lk
the most interesting example of Jesus' saying no to an
interruption involved a request upon his time that a group of
people made in the early days of his ministry, described in
Mark 1:35-39. His disciples come to him and tell him that many
people from Capernaum, the town they are visiting, are looking
for him. In this case Jesus has a waiting audience--a
significant opening to teach and heal. Yet he chooses to turn
away from this opportunity and, instead, to travel to other
towns. He replies to his disciples, "Let us go somewhere
else--to the nearby villages--so that I can preach there also.
That is why I have come" (v. 38).
was Jesus able to reach this decision so quickly and
confidently, particularly when it meant walking away from a
wide open door for ministry? Mark gives us an important clue,
in noting that Jesus was praying when his disciples approached
him with this opportunity (v. 35). It was also early morning,
so he was likely praying about the day before him and
establishing his priorities. Quite possibly, he had already
resolved in prayer that it was time to move on to new
communities. If so, then the offer to stay and minister in
Capernaum was a diversion from what he had determined God
wanted him to do, and so he had to say no. Even if Jesus
hadn't made up his mind yet to leave Capernaum, Mark obviously
is implying that prayer helped him decide what to do.
records another incident when Jesus resolved his priorities
through prayer, although in this case he decided to go along
with an interruption and accept the agenda others had for him.
Through an intensive period of prayer in Gethsemane, he
determined to allow Herod's soldiers to capture him and take
him away for crucifixion (Mt 26:36-46).
together, these examples indicate that through prayer Jesus
gained wisdom and courage to respond decisively to
interruptions--sometimes to say yes, sometimes to say no.
Daily Step That Makes a Difference
examples from Jesus' life, and others like them throughout
Scripture, suggest that prayer can play a vital role in
helping each of us better manage and respond to interruptions
in our own life. Most of us will benefit greatly from having a
regular time--preferably early in the day or late the night
before--when in prayer we establish our priorities for the day
ahead of us.
good approach is first to ask God to guide us, then to spend a
few minutes thinking through a schedule for the day. Then we
should commit this schedule to him, asking him to help us
recognize if and when we should deviate from it to handle
interruptions that occur. We should ask him to give us, as
much as possible, clear reasons for making exceptions to our
schedule. It is just as important to ask him to guide our
instinct-to give us the right "sense" of what to
do--at those moments when we have to make a quick decision
about responding to an interruption and don't have the luxury
of time to think things through carefully.
praying in this fashion won't guarantee that we make no
mistakes in managing our time, it will increase our confidence
about the choices we make, our alertness to what God wants us
to do, and the likelihood that we will make the right
responses to interruptions. And over time, as we make praying
in this manner a daily priority, we'll likely find that our
judgment about interruptions improves--to the point that we're
better able to recognize by instinct which ones truly deserve
our attention, and which are simply part of "the tyranny
of the urgent."
should ask God, too, to increase our optimism about
interruptions--especially about those that seem to be
setbacks. We should also make a point of reflecting often on
examples--from Scripture, the lives of others, and our own
experience--of cases when an unwelcome interruption in the end
brought about welcome results. These steps will go a long way
toward helping us develop a more positive attitude toward
interruptions, which in itself will contribute to our having
better judgment about them.
past week I received an e-mail from a woman with some comments
about an article I had written on the challenge of waiting for
God’s provision. She notes that for the first time she is
realizing that "Godly anticipation is part of God's
tapestry for building our faith." I like the way she puts
it. Christ desires that each of us develop Godly
anticipation--about daily life and about our future.
the way we think about interruptions is a good place to start,
for in them we sometimes encounter the unseen hand of God.