Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan — a man is on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho. He was robbed, stripped, beaten, and left for dead on the side of the road.
Three people stop by. First, a priest. He walks by, pretends he doesn’t see it, and moves along. Second, a Levite. He ignores the man (not looking good for the religious folks). Finally, a Samaritan walks by (the “enemy” of the Jew), fixes him up, and makes sure the man is in good care. Only the Samaritan was willing to have his day interrupted.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together,
We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks. . . . It is a strange fact that Christians and even ministers frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them. They think they are doing God a service in this, but actually they are disdaining God’s “crooked yet straight path.”
God has used these passages to spark conviction in my life when I find myself placing the day’s plans above people, my agenda over others’ “claims and petitions.” Bonhoeffer notes that the priest and Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan not only fail morally to bring aid where it is needed, but also fail to see the visible sign of the cross that God has laid in their path.
What if we learned to experience interruption differently? Rather than viewing all outside interruption as the enemy of productivity and creativity, what if we viewed our lives as communicative vessels for the sake of the other? If we open ourselves to embrace a theology of holy interruption, we may usher in newness, revelation, life, and story to inform our work and craft and life in ways that otherwise would simply not be possible.
Now, you might wonder whether Bonhoeffer disregards “prioritization” and the practice of managing a schedule. Without priorities, nothing gets done. What about productivity? What about sermon prep? What about our daily responsibilities? Surely such things warrant stringent management of our daily routines. After all, didn’t the early church install deacons for such a reason?
Bonhoeffer’s point of concern isn’t so extreme. It’s quite simple: The Christian’s job is to listen to God and care about what God says above all else, in every moment. For the pastor, this is done in hundreds of ways, not excluding faithful exegesis and sermon prep. However, the moment we make our priority an ultimate thing, and give no allowance for God to interrupt us, we need to be careful to pause and examine ourselves. Have we become so deluded and self-absorbed that we actually think we’re being good stewards of our time? Or does the situation give cause for uninterrupted work?
True productivity isn’t about tightly controlling ourselves and our calendars, but about unleashing ourselves in love towards others. As Matt Perman observes, “All productivity practices, all of our work, everything is given to us by God for the purpose of serving others” (What’s Best Next). If we view our work in isolation from others, and a potential interruption must be avoided at all costs, we’re probably functioning out of a wrong motivation and certainly operating under faulty assumptions about the purpose of work.
A Theology of Disruption
Bonhoeffer’s point is worth careful consideration. Personally, I find God consistently using those interrupted moments of life not only to use me as a means of grace in the lives of others, but also to shape me and change me, and perhaps knock me off the well-beaten path of agendas and give me a fresh awareness of himself through the lives of others. The same is true for any follower of Jesus in any work environment.
Bonhoeffer petitions every Christian to stop and allow for interruption — to cultivate a disruption theology, as it were. This benefits both the one doing the interrupting, as well as the person being interrupted because it is in those instances God reveals himself in ways we may never have seen or experienced otherwise. God is erecting visible signs of the cross in our path for our benefit to show us that his kingdom is at hand — to invite us in his work.
For those of us in a creative field, we have the peculiar privilege of weaving all of these interactions and experiences into something artistic and meaningful for the love of neighbor. To stiff-arm such interactions for the sake of productivity is to stiff-arm the very means of love for the other and to make us wholly unproductive.
Interruption is God’s invitation. God is inviting us to see him all around us, in the lives of others, in our conversations, in our serving those in need. Interruption is not simply a matter of our heart developing patience; it’s about experiencing true life. It is one of God’s ways of waking us up to what’s around us to see there’s more to be done than our self-appointed tasks for the day, as important as they may seem.
Interruption is God’s enhancement of our craft and our work, and his tender way of encouraging his creatures to be a part of the kingdom come.