Feeling lonely is one of the most common symptoms of going through a faith transition. This has been confirmed over and over the more I talk with people. However, it turns out it’s not just people in faith transition experiencing it. A study by health service company Cigna found that 46 percent of U.S. adults report sometimes or always feeling lonely and 47 percent report feeling left out. Cigna calls those “epidemic levels.”
When I was a pastor, I had an experience with a woman once that has forever changed my life. There were two buildings at the church: my office was in one and our weekly pastor’s meeting was in the other. One day, I was literally running to a meeting from one building to the other because I was late. On the way, I ran past a woman whose son had been struggling with depression. As I got to the door, I turned around and jogged back to her. “How’s your son,” I asked, a little out of breath.
We chatted for about 5 minutes and then I went ahead to my meeting.
A week later I got an email from her. I don’t still have it but I wish I would’ve kept it because it was a sermon. And to this day, it still preaches to me. I’ll summarize.
“I know you were busy last week but it meant the world to me that you stopped on your way somewhere else to ask about me. As I thought about it, it occurred to me that most of Jesus’ ministry was “on the way” somewhere else. He was willing to be interrupted – and that’s where his interactions happened. In the interruptions. Thanks for being interrupted – thanks for being like Jesus.”
I don’t tell that story to toot my own horn. In fact, I was moved by the email but realized she caught me on a good day. I’m a very purposeful and efficient person. I hate interruptions.
To call something an interruption is to assume two things about the situation:
First, you assume a goal. You are definitely headed somewhere. There is no interruption if you are not “on your way” to do something or go somewhere. Second, you assume that your goal is more important than the interruption. There is no interruption if you are on your way but are diverted by something you think is more important.
So then, an interruption is something less important that “gets in the way” of going somewhere or doing something more important.
Now, when we read about the life of Jesus, he seems to have a different take on interruptions. In fact, his story seems to be more about interruptions than anything else. Think about it. It’s almost like the gospels are written as strings of interruptions tied together by “And now Jesus decided to go here.” Almost every single time Jesus heals someone, he is “on the way” to somewhere else. He is rarely “on the way” to heal someone. Some of the most important moments in Jesus’ life are what we would call “interruptions.”
But Jesus seems to invite these interruptions.
I think what we call “interruptions,” because we are obsessed in our culture with “accomplishing things,” Jesus would consider “inter-ruptions,” (<–see what I did there) that is, opportunities for two human beings to have a moment, to connect in a way that date-books, deadlines, and over-inflated senses of purpose and importance simply will not allow.
The story of our culture says that we have too much to do and not enough time to do it. In this story, people are “interruptions.” They will make me 3 minutes late to my meeting, they will make me miss the first part of the newest episode of Queer Eye, etc ad nauseum.
The people in front of me at the grocery store: interruption.
The people who crowd the department store: interruption.
The friend who calls as I’m walking out the door: interruption.
The family member who drops by unannounced: interruption.
The stranger who strikes up a conversation at the airport: interruption.
But the story of the Gospel tells us a different story. In that story, people are more important than a list of to-dos. Our success is no longer what we accomplish but whether or not we value people for who they are instead of for how they contribute to my accomplishments. That is, the life of Jesus calls us to transform our daily lives in such a way that people are no longer “interruptions” but “inter-ruptions.”
I am slowly learning that a Jesus-informed way of life must pry my hands away from the need to “get things done” toward connecting with people in such a way that my encounters with them “rupture” me “internally,” they change my heart, my perspective, my life.
Perhaps one antidote to our loneliness is an openness to being interrupted.