"Hey Pastor, do have just a minute?"
Those dreaded words, how often I hear them. My ears perk up, my eyebrows hit the ceiling, my head jerks up to meet the voice interjecting itself into my study with those words, such intrusive words. I struggle to suppress a frown with an obvious over-smile.
"Sure," I reply. "Come on in." And before I know it, "just a minute" turns into "just an hour."
Although I work at a rather small church, approximately 120 members, every time I hit the office someone meanders in to interrupt my day. Pastors of large churches, I don't know how you manage. The Lord bless you and keep you. However, you don't have to be a pastor to appreciate this scenario. Life is full of interruptions and intrusions of a similar nature, be it at the grocery store, the post office, or watering the plants in the front yard.
We can allow these interruptions to be one of two things for us. We could treat them as nothing more than frustrating speed bumps - get over them as quickly as possible without too much damage to the car, the relationship, or our witness - or we could choose to see them differently, perhaps as divine interruptions placed in our daily path by the Holy Spirit for a holy purpose.
This is how Dietrich Bonhoeffer encourages us to view them in his simple book on community, Life Together. There Bonhoeffer says, "We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God, who will thwart our plans and frustrate our ways time and again, even daily, by sending people across our path with their demands and requests."
Allowing divine interruptions into our daily schedule, in Bonhoeffer's estimation, is an act of service. Specifically, it is the service of "active helpfulness."
The solution, according to Bonhoeffer is to humble yourself. "Nobody is too good for the lowest service. Those who worry about the loss of time entailed by such small, external acts of helpfulness are usually taking their own work too seriously."
Perhaps this was the sin of the priest and the Levite in Jesus's parable of the good Samaritan. "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side (Lk. 10:30-32)."
Bonhoeffer observes that we often do the same today with those who interrupt us with their needs and "just-a-minutes." "We can, then, pass them by, preoccupied with our more important daily tasks, just as the priest - perhaps reading the Bible - passed by the man who had fallen among robbers. When we do that, we pass by the visible sign of the cross raised in our lives to show us that God's way, and not our own, is what counts."
For us pastors, the sting is especially keen. Often, I am preoccupied with things I believe are of more religious value than pausing my day to help someone. Surely my sermon, my reading, my writing, my prayers, my emails and meetings take precedence over the daily interruptions, right?
To assume so is deceiving. It deceives us by making us believe that God's primary work and presence is in us. The thing we are doing is the thing God is doing. The work I am engaged in is the work God is engaged in. Which may be the case, I pray. But to assume it, what arrogance! Humility, therefore, is paramount.
We need the humility that opens our schedules and hearts for divine interruptions. We need the humility to see that we are on God's time, not our own. "We do not manage our time ourselves but allow it to be occupied by God," Bonhoeffer says. This is not an excuse for listlessness or laziness, but attentiveness.
Open your eyes this week. Someone is bound to come across your path needing help. Don't treat them as a speed bump. Don't swat at them as you would a buzzing fly. It could be an interruption planned and placed before you by God, a divine interruption.