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Intersection of Life and Faith

Interruptions are Opportunities to Grow

  • 2002 1 Jun
Interruptions are Opportunities to Grow
Much of life is not controllable. That's my quarrel with these books and seminars that seem to say, "Just figure yourself out, and your life will fall into place." Sometimes life doesn't fall into place; it falls into pieces. Your problem may be that you know very well what's important to you, but somehow your family, your boss, and your balky car haven't gotten the message. You've finally made the time to get away by yourself at a friend's lakeside cottage, and on the way there your car breaks a belt and you're forced to spend the night in Upper Armpit while it gets fixed.

I once heard someone say that Jesus' life, as recounted in the Gospels, is mostly a story of interruptions and His response to those interruptions. Jesus did not wake up each morning and say, "Okay, Peter, let's go over the appointment schedule." ...

Jesus was sinless, so how can I ever be "Christlike"? Yet He was also fully human, minus the sin. Maybe there were times He was tired and would rather not have been interrupted. Scripture doesn't really say, but I think it's possible. But He always used these encounters as a means to draw people closer to the Father, to teach something about the Kingdom.

So, too, life is always waylaying us in one sense or another. There will be times you might have to teach toddler Sunday school whether you're "led" to or not. A friend might call, desperately needing your help. You might find yourself pregnant with twins - or just pregnant. Your company reorganizes, and suddenly you're out of a job. You're expecting out-of-town guests for the holidays and your boss drops a major project in your lap and says, "Finish this by the New Year." Several major appliances (probably conspiring via your house current) decide to give up the ghost simultaneously. Your mother falls and breaks her hip and the doctors say she can't live by herself anymore. ...

Often, though, when we're confronted with the interruptions and derailments of real life, we're inclined to respond with a variant of, But, God, this wasn't in the program! This wasn't how it was supposed to be! I was supposed to stay married! My parents were supposed to live till ninety and die in their beds! My husband was supposed to keep the same job forever! Even, This was supposed to be my one day to myself, and my in-laws just called from the interstate rest stop outside of town and they're on their way!

Normal reactions. And, as we've already observed, it's constructive to have a sense of who you are and where you're going. But all the plans and designs and lists and goals in the world can't buffet us against life's unpredictabilities. In the last year alone, for example, my close circle of family and friends has been shaken by divorce, cancer, and other changes. You can probably name some similar upheavals among those you're close to. Everybody can.

When It's Least Expected ...
Just the ordinary course of life can knock us for a loop. One day our kid is ... well, a kid, fairly predictable and easy to handle. The next (or so it seems) she's an oily-haired preadolescent who takes half-hour showers and surprises you by suddenly deciding she wants to clean out her closet. We visit our parents and notice something we'd rather not see: They're getting old. We get that long-dreamed-of work opportunity, and we find it's almost too much to handle.

Kids grow up. Parents age. Life happens. It becomes clear, then, that if we aren’t able to roll with the punches, life is going to flatten us. This does not mean that we abandon all hope of any cohesion and context in our lives and just sort of careen from one thing to the next. We can bring meaning out of the chaos.

God may send us these challenges for a reason - to teach us or stretch us or remind us who's really in charge around here. I suspect, however, that He doesn't want us to waste time wailing about how things didn't work out the way we planned.

Let's say, for example, that you and your siblings have determined that if Mom is to continue living independently, she's going to need help. As the person who lives closest to her, it's fallen to you to juggle your work and your family and drive an hour each way several times a week to help her with cooking and cleaning and shopping and finances. It isn't easy - some days it's a big headache - but in the process you realize that you haven't spent this much time alone with your mother in years, and you're thankful for the opportunity to reconnect.

Some of these upheavals can help give us a sense of proportion. Too many women, and I include myself, have a tendency to dramatize everything, to blow things up into huge crises. The stove broke down, and isn't that typical of my life, everything falling apart, I think machines hate me, and we're already broke, and woe is me.... No. It's important to be able to pick apart problems - not to view them as some vast, malignant ball of wax - and ask ourselves, "What's really happened here?" What's happened in the case of the stove is that an appliance that functioned faithfully for twenty years came to the end of its useful life, as appliances do, and, because one can't do without a stove, one will have to go out to Sears or wherever and purchase a new model. As Robert Fulghum has said, we have to learn to distinguish between problems and inconveniences, and there are many interruptions that fall into the latter category.

Upheavals can teach us humility and an openness to God's working. I have a feeling that many of us, especially those of us who have been around the church for a long time, have preconceived and even arrogant notions about how God should work. Who He touches. Who He uses. It's a prideful sort of clutter that can obscure our vision of the Almighty.

Many of us are very good at controlling our environment. A "good day" for us is a day when we've gotten everything done we set out to do. We take pride in our achievements, our organization, our ability to execute our plans to match the vision. Too often my prayers are a variant of, "Lord, help me to get everything done today." What I, perhaps, should be praying is, "Lord, show me your face today." ...

Painful Steps
Sometimes, of course, there is no neat lesson to be drawn. Some things happen to us that seem chaotic, purposeless, hurtful. There's a lot of hard stuff that has to do with faithfulness and trust and just plain hanging in there, clinging to Jesus, taking it "step by step," as the chorus goes. ...

In the end, it's all we have. He's all we have. And whether you're dealing with an annoyance or a true grief, you must know that God is right there with you. You may even feel the touch of His hand - and the drop of His tears.

The way it's supposed to be? You and me and all of us, trusting in the Lord, resting in His sufficiency, confident of His purposes for us. There's a hymn we occasionally sing in church, and I can only think of a few words from it, but they're enough: "Ask me what great thing I know ... Jesus Christ, the crucified."

Excerpted from God, I Know You're Here Somewhere, copyright 1996 by Elizabeth Cody Newenhuyse. Published by Bethany House Publishers, Minneapolis, Mn., www.bethanyhouse.com, 1-800-328-6109. Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.

Elizabeth Cody Newenhuyse is a retreat and conference speaker whose byline appears frequently in Christian periodicals. A contributing editor to Marriage Partnership magazine, she is the author of Sometimes I Feel Like Running Away from Home.

How have you recently been interrupted by something or someone? What challenges did that interruption present to you? How did you handle the interruption? Did you learn anything from it, and if so, what? How has God helped you deal with the interruptions that occur in your life? Visit Crosswalk's forums to discuss this topic by clicking on the link below.

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