A wise friend and mentor once told me to be very careful to cultivate what he called a “theology of holy interruptions.” “Sometimes God speaks in the unplanned, unexpected, even apparently annoying human interjections in our days,” he said. “Make sure you don’t allow your other ‘important work’ to trump the divinely appointed conversations that might cross your path when you least expect or want them.” While this is obviously a maxim that can be (and is) abused, the wisdom of my friend’s words has been borne out on numerous occasions in my relatively brief time in pastoral ministry.
Yesterday, I heard the church door open and I groaned inwardly. It had been an exhausting few weeks and a frantically busy weekend loomed on the horizon. About the last thing I wanted was another hour or so to slip through my fingers. Mercifully, this person had not come to talk. They had a few simple pragmatic tasks to take care of before moving on with the rest of their day. Whew.
No sooner was I sighing with relief that I wouldn’t have to dutifully put on my pastor hat and do all kinds of unplanned talking and listening, than my mentor’s advice came crashing back into my consciousness. I sighed, got up and went to ask this person how they were doing
(It’s a good thing holy motives aren’t a prerequisite for good outcomes in God’s economy!)
Our conversation started ordinarily enough. Things were fine, etc. (“Fine.” Such a useless, safe, boring word.) But soon, we found ourselves in different, wilder territory. This person had read something that made them angry and confused. They were unsure how to process it. There were so many people with so many opinions about God out there, it was so hard to make sense of it all, to know what was right and what was wrong, to sort it out, to know what God wanted… “I just find it all so overwhelming,” they said. And then the tears started to trickle out. “I worry that I’ll never get it… that God will be displeased with me. I grew up so frightened that I would never be able to know enough, do enough… It’s just so hard sometimes.”
What followed was a marvelous conversation about grace and mercy, failure and fragility, love and hope. This wasn’t a pastor dispensing advice to a wayward parishioner who needed their course recalibrated; it was, rather, two human beings, very different in so many ways, and yet not so very different after all, reflecting together on the contours of a shared journey. Both lovers of truth, both periodically beset by fears and anxieties, both overwhelmed by the demands of life and the complexities of the human condition where we never seem to know enough, see enough, believe enough… Both starving for grace, hungry for hope.
We talked about Jesus. We talked about how difficult he makes things for us, how maddeningly impossible his commands sometimes seem to be, about how elusive his “peace that passes understanding” often is. We talked about how simple he makes things for us. Love God. Love your neighbour. This is the path to eternal life. We talked about a Father whose arms are open wide to his prodigal daughters and sons—a Father whose favour is not earned but given freely. We talked about a God who might just delight in his children, even when they don’t know or do everything they (think they) should. In the end, we simply gazed together at God for a while. And we landed on love. Where else could we land with this God?
There are a few lines from a song called “Infallible” on Pearl Jam’s new album that I’ve been thinking about for the last few days.
Of everything that’s possible
In the hearts and minds of men
Somehow it is the biggest things
That keep on slipping
Right through our hands
Today, I am glad for moments when God gets my attention and says, “Pay attention! Of all the things you might imagine are possible and necessary, don’t let the big and important things slip through your hands.”
Today, I am glad for holy interruptions.
Image above courtesy of Russell Berg at Seeing Berg.