Embracing Life’s Interruptions

Priest and author Henri Nouwen once shared this rumination from a friend, “My whole life I have complained that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.” While I would like to say that such a discovery is one that has also stuck with me, I must admit that it is one of those life lessons that I need to be regularly reminded of.

Once, while sitting at the kitchen table and pounding out a paper in my first year of seminary, my then four-year-old daughter approached me. I could see out of the corner of my eye that she was holding a piece of paper. “Just a second, sweetie,” I said, not looking up. That second turned into minutes, and soon I realized she had gone back to playing. I found the piece of paper on the table. It was a multicolored masterpiece of connecting lines and circles. My daughter had been looking to give a gift and maybe receive a little affirmation. However, I was too busy trying to thread the needle of some theological point or another to stop and see the little interruption of goodness and grace that had been right in front of me.

Allowing for interruptions in the regular flow of life is not always productive or efficient. Yet, without them, it can be so easy to fall into the traps of living in the past or trying to force the future. Life’s little interruptions remind us that it is right in every moment that we are faced with what just might be the most important challenge, wonderful joy, meaningful interaction, or greatest need we might encounter on any given day.

Once, when talking with a man who was nearing the end of his days, I asked him if his life had mostly gone according to the way he had planned it. He looked at me and grinned, saying, “If it had, I wouldn’t be here talking with you.”

Interruptions are going to happen, some good and some not so good. Unexpected good news or wonder interrupts the sometimes drudgery of everyday work and buoys our spirits. At the same time a pandemic interrupts our regular routines and even life itself. While we may not be able to control every interruption in life, we can control how we respond to them. We can embrace them, rise to their challenges, and find in them whatever goodness and grace they might have to share. Or we can try to ignore them, shove them aside, and pretend as if they are not real.

Whether we embrace life’s interruptions or not, they unavoidably become a part of our work and who we are. They shape our days and life directions as much as our own most well laid out plans. They are always right in front of us should we have eyes to see and ears to hear, and they are always giving us all chances, some great and some small, to be more in the moment and more aware of and attuned to both beauty and the brokenness that is all around us.