It’s accurate to call most day-to-day life ‘interruption.’ The phone rings when I’m in deep thought and I have to swim to the surface to deal with a question about who is buried where in the cemetery. The kid, whichever one, wakes up with a warm forehead and the Sesame Street binge begins. I get up to cook dinner and Eden will cling to my leg and say, “Dadda, be the monsta!” Both kids are down for a nap, which is a miracle in itself, and I try to write something. Ten minutes later Pax needs to work out some gas and I quit writing mid sentence to put his legs in bicycle mode. I never thought that there would be a time in my life that I’d forget to brush my teeth.
I also wonder why I keep a bulletin journal, because anything I plan to get done will not be completed in my timeline. I must be a masochist. When I was young, my mom had hung a sign in our kitchen that said, ‘raising kids is like being pecked to death by a duck.’ Every disturbance is another dull peck and I’m slowly wasting away. I used to wonder if I was going to precipitate my parents’ premature death. Now, I wonder if these kids are contributing to mine.
Schedules and to-do lists leave all parties in a bad mood.
I’m working on a sermon on ‘The Good Samaritan,’ and there’s absolutely nothing new to say, so I try to just say the same ole’ really well. It is, perhaps, a story about being interrupted. It starts with an interruption from a lawyer testing Jesus about how to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ willingness to be interrupted might be the hardest virtue for me to imitate—people always trying to touch him, trick him with questions, catch him in the act of defiling the sabbath day. Sure, he stole moments here and there, often alone on the mountaintop, but didn’t he ever want to lock himself up in the bathroom where the children couldn’t find him?
Jesus goes on to tell a story to this lawyer about a Samaritan who is willing to have his life interrupted. It's a difficult story, not because we don't want to be merciful, but because of our own agendas and schedules. I'm sympathetic to the two religious professionals who walk past the man in the ditch. It’s not that they are bad people, it’s just that they’re going over notes for the Bible study, or trying to reconcile some contradiction in the Torah, and they don’t see the man struggling for help. I’ve never felt so understood and exposed at the same time.
Every time I write on “The Good Samaritan” there is some kind of interruption, but I think it’s because the story makes me more sensitive to them. Either that, or the guilt is heavier when I ignore them. This time, there was a knock on the door. A frowning woman limped in and and asked if I had a toboggan. Wait a second: first, it’s the middle of April. Why are we still asking for toboggans? Second, can we settle on what to call these knit hats we wear on our heads? Is it a toboggan? Is it a beanie? Both sound ridiculous. Can we name it something else?
I decided that perhaps God was calling me to be the ‘Good Samaritan.’ I ask her to come into the church to sit down and talk. We go through the clothes lying around the lost and found. I direct her toward the easiest place to locate a knitted hat. Did I just pull someone out of the ditch? Probably not. I'm never quite sure who rescues whom.
It later dawned on me that she was the Good Samaritan, an unlikely hero rescuing me from worship planning and phone calls. It’s rare that we consider that we are the one in the ditch—maimed and in need of help. But it’s possible that I was, and there, right in front of me, was a hand helping me from the ditch of self-importance, busyness, and general anxiety. I often forget the reason why I sit in that office in the first place.
Maybe the point is that we can be saved by interruptions, like a flash mob on a mundane Wednesday. Not always. But sometimes. They are at least a reminder that you are not the author of your own life. What would my life be if I wasn’t interrupted by a girl, a child (then another one), or this God?
This seems to be the way that God works—interrupting people with road trips, pregnancies, and dreams in the night. It’s never convenient. Lives are flipped upside down. Uprooted. Or, they take a hard u-turn. This is, after all, a God who interrupts our world by taking on flesh, and then asks to take residence in our hearts and minds. Christianity asks us to be wasteful, and profligate, that we take a break from efficiency and embrace the interruption as an opportunity to see God's face in a new and unexpected way. Unfortunately, there is all the time in the world to be interrupted. It hurts and then it might save. We're rescued from the ditch.
“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’, or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life – the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.” CS Lewis
Last night I planned to continue slogging through season five of The Americans. This is a joyous slogging, but I am punctual in my 9:30 pm appointment with sleep. And recently, a toddler who will not sleep due to this fear of monsters will interject loudly over the television saying things like, “I don’t have a mommy or a daddy.” There's nothing worse. Not because it's pitiful, though it is, but because I'm tired of parenting for the day. And I have no choice but to rest with the orphaned girl until she falls asleep. She rubs my elbow (weird, we know) until she drifts off to sleep.
Can I find a way to allow it to save me?