Interruptions: Blessings in Disguise?
You sit down to eat supper and the doorbell rings. Or you settle down to watch your favorite TV show, and one of your kids yells, “MOM!” Or you go to use the bathroom and the phone rings.
We all have them: interruptions—those things that break into our world and disturb whatever we are intent upon doing. Interruptions are an inevitable part of daily living. Yet sometimes we get impatient, upset, or even angry when they occur. Let’s look more closely at interruptions and we might gain a more positive attitude toward them.
Why can interruptions be so difficult? First, they require change. Being interrupted means we must stop one activity and change to another. We are happily puttering outside in the garden, for example, and now we have to stop, get into the car, and drive to the store for something. Or we’re trying to talk with a friend and now we have to stop because our toddler is pestering us for something. Interruptions are hard because change is hard. As the old proverb says: “The only person who welcomes change is a wet baby.”
Interruptions are difficult also because they infringe upon our freedom and control. We live with the illusion that we control our lives. Interruptions are a constant reminder of how little freedom and control we actually have. At any moment we can be stopped from doing what we want to do or have planned to do—usually by someone in need.
Which brings us to the third reason interruptions are hard: they demand self-sacrifice. If we are reading a novel and someone asks us a simple question, the sacrifice may be a small one, requiring only a short response. But if we have planned to do a major project, and a desperate elderly neighbor calls and asks if we can take her to the doctor, the demand may be considerably greater, requiring hours of our time. Interruptions demand self-sacrifice—and since when is self-sacrifice easy?
The question arises, then, how might we cope with interruptions more patiently, more gracefully? Here are two ways. First, expect them. Why can we act so surprised when we get interrupted? Do we really expect our days to be a seamless garment? Or are they more like a beautiful patchwork quilt of many pieces?
And secondly, we can see interruptions more positively if we focus on the interrupter rather than the interruption itself. Most interruptions are caused by a person who needs our help. Focus on the person who is doing the interrupting. By doing this, we can grow in charity and compassion.
In all of this we can look to Jesus who not only experienced interruptions, he used them to impart his blessings. He was relaxing at a wedding reception when his mother interrupted him with the words, “They have no wine.” We all know what happened next. Later on Jesus was on his way to cure a little girl when an ailing woman interrupted him by touching the fringes of his garment. Instantly, power went forth from him and she was cured. After giving his attention to this woman, Jesus moved on to the little girl.
But Jesus’ greatest interruption was his death at a relatively young age. In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus struggled profoundly with his impending death, but in the end he was able to say to God, “Not my will but yours be done.” In accepting this interruption, Jesus brought salvation to the world. Let us pray that we, like Jesus, can view interruptions as opportunities to live more fully and freely for others. If we do this, then interruptions can become blessings in disguise—for the people who interrupt us and for ourselves.
How do you ordinarily respond to interruptions? Have any of them turned out to be a blessing in disguise for you?
Dear Sr. Melannie,
As I look towards a very busy week ahead, I am sure that I will be facing many interruptions. Typically, I view interruptions as a way of getting off track with my plans and losing control. Maybe I can take a few breaths and rethink my reaction.
I have often found that when a student presents a pressing need to me, I have to put down whatever I am doing and figure out how to help them. Most times, it requires a little extra effort but it can make a big difference for that person. The initial delay of other matters always seems worth it.
Dear Kathleen, You make a good point: that the “little extra effort” can make a “big difference” for the peron who has interrupted us. Thanks for putting it so well! Melannie
Dear Sister Melanie
Thank you for this ‘new’ way to view and embrace the coming changes in the weeks ahead. I have to go away for surgery +, and this need brings changes to my present life and most probably the future. I don’t want this, but choice is not a given. So – this is an interruption! Thank you for this advice on change and movement into it.
Dear Maureen, My readers and I will hold you and your surgery in special prayer…Yes, surgery is often a major interruption, isn’t it? Blessings on the days ahead! Melannie
This reflection is very helpful. As much as I want to see the interruptions as not interfering with my life, but actually my life, I can slide into annoyance that things are not going as I planned. This is a very gentle and well expressed reminder. Thank you! Cathy
And thank you, Cathy, for your response. Yes, interruptions can be annoying–unless we view them as our life–as you say so well. God bless you! Melannie
Dear Sister Melannie,
Do we really expect our days to be a seamless garment? Or are they more like a beautiful patchwork quilt of many pieces?
What a comforting way of looking at the interruptions in our day or our life.
I look forward to my patchwork quilt of many pieces.
Dear Kendra, I’m glad you like the image of a patchwork quilt. Most quilts are made with “scraps.” But when pieced together, they form lovely patterns. Thank you for writing! Melannie
I enjoy your blogs and would like to be included to receive your readings
Dear Marie, You can sign up to receive my blog through email if you wish. Just see the home page for information. Thank you! Sr. Melannie
Wonderful post again! Fr. Ron Rolheiser once wrote a column on this topic, comparing a mother’s life to that of someone in a monastery, their work always interrupted by the call to prayer. That has stuck with me, and although our children are now grown, I’ve tried (not always successfully!) to regard interruptions as a call to holy work. Thanks for the reminder!
Dear Chandra, Thank you for adding a beautiful insight to my reflection: our work being interrupted by prayer. And therefore the interruption can be a “holy work.” That’s good to remember! Melannie