A few years ago my father was hospitalized with pneumonia and I flew to New Mexico to be with him. Late one evening I was stretching my legs while wandering the halls of Lovington General Hospital. I wound up at the nurse’s desk chatting with the nurse on duty. As we talked, I noticed a little sign on the wall by her computer station. It read: “People don’t interrupt my work; they ARE my work.” I remember thinking, “I bet they do have trouble getting all their work done with beepers and alarms going off all night long and patients always needing something.” Of course, I quickly realized my response was exactly the kind of the thinking the nurses were trying to combat with the sign. Perhaps the sign at least partially explains the great care my dad always received at Lovington General.
I have thought a lot about the nurse’s sign as it relates to being in ministry. I confess there are times when I feel interrupted by people:
- The phone rings. A student needs to talk right now.
- Someone wants to meet for coffee in the middle of a crazy busy week.
- I get an email asking if I can Skype this afternoon.
- Someone texts to ask if they can drop by the house on their way home
- A friend calls. “I’m having car trouble. Can you come pick me up?”
I’m ashamed to confess that my first thought is frequently, “Aack! I have so much to get done today!” Then, I remember. “Oh, wait. THIS is what God has called me to – people.” Yes, there are things that must get done: paperwork and planning and support development and study and a whole host of other important tasks. There are times when it is perfectly appropriate to say, “No” or “Can this wait until tomorrow?” But generally, I want to be available to people. And when I am with them, I want to be present. Not thinking about all that awaits me back at my computer. Not hurried, but listening and entering in to whatever is going on in their lives.
I think Jesus was like this. Read through Mark and notice how many times Jesus was interrupted or “crowded” by the needs of people. Here are a few examples:
“Jesus withdrew with his disciple to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed.” (Mark 3:7)
“Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat.” (Mark 3:20)
“So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them.” (Mark 6:32-34)
Or what about the time Jesus was on his way to heal the daughter of Jairus, the synagogue ruler, and he was interrupted by the bleeding woman? (Mark 5) How kindly he dealt with her. There was no hint of frustration or impatience.
I want to offer a taste of God’s grace and nearness by my own imperfect attentiveness to the people who “interrupt” my life. It is in some ways a spiritual discipline to put aside my “work” to pay attention to someone's need. It is a way of dying to my own agendas and sense of self-importance. It opens me up to moments where God might want to use me to be the face of Christ to another.