God in the interruptions
I am participating in the President Book's Kick Some Glass reading and discussion group. In one of the chapters, the authors quote Dana Born, a retired Air Force brigadier general and current University professor on the ways she codes the duties of the day and week: “Must be done, Probably get done, and probably won’t get done“ (p. 146). I have never included that last section in my thinking about the day. Clearly, it ALL MUST BE DONE!
If you are like me, you have a list of things that need to be done, that must be done, and that could be done, that you’ll do when you when you can, or when they are due and bearing down on you. Really, I could spend all day everyday working on the list and never get it all done. And then, there are moments of the day that just happen, that are not planned, but that are urgent and necessary, that then replace list. This is the story of my life. Is it yours? We make plans for how to spend a work day, or even a weekend afternoon, and then something gets in the way and every plan we had has to give way.
My first spiritual director gave me a great gift in understanding interruptions. “We plan and God is in the interruptions,” he used to say to me. This was, of course, before Outlook calendars filled with color-coded meetings. And the context was about life’s interruptions rather than daily ones. But I do still see this principle at work. If people in need are the ministry to which I am called, then the work I daily plan to accomplish must at times give way to those who interrupt. The plans I make are solid and helpful, and those who cross my path are also my work.
Of course, we can’t let the interruptions take over our whole day, but occasionally that very thing happens to me. I plan and then I respond.
The trick is to keep plugging away at the Must be done list while paying close attention to those who need us beyond the list. It is not easy. It’s a balancing act, and sometimes strenuous. But what if we saw the interruptions as less aggravating and more as invitation to see another energy at work in our days, in our lives? We might be calmer in the face of “the list”. We might be more flexible with ourselves and others.
It’s an idea: to wonder what gift might be accessible, what urgent or useful service might be rendered, as a result of an interruption.
We will certainly, then, need to create a “probably won’t get done” section on our calendar. That might be a relief--at least over here.
Jan Fuller is the University Chaplain and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org