I Choose To Be Interrupted
If you have small children with you at the moment, and you are trying to read this, it is unlikely you’ll get to the end without being interrupted by some need, big or small that requires your attention. Even if your children are older, there’s a chance you’ll be reminded of a permission slip that needs to be signed or asked where their soccer cleats are before they head out to practice. Even grown children might call or text for advice or to ask for help because the baby was up all night teething or sick and could you, grandma, please come by and take over for the morning so the parents could rest? Just now as I’m writing this my oldest is home from school, feeling sick, and my youngest is just waking up from his nap and will need to be fed. I’m writing this in 5 minute increments, in pockets of time between responding to both the anticipated and unanticipated needs of my children. Of course, they are the priority, as my vocation right now is to care for them. But I’m only human, and in the back of my mind I had other plans for today too. Maybe I was going to mop my kitchen floor (super exciting, I know), or go out for coffee with a friend, or try to type something halfway coherent or work on a home project. It seems fitting as I live out small scale “interrupted plans” today, to jot down my thoughts as they come. It will probably take several days at this pace. This day, like most days of motherhood, is unfolding a little differently than I had planned.
As we go about our lives, if we truly aim to love those around us, we will experience the interruption of our daily plans for their sakes. This isn’t limited to parents either. It’s just a reality of discipleship.
“St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a Carmelite nun in 19th century France, did not like having her work interrupted. Sometimes she was asked to do work requiring quite a lot of concentration such as painting something or writing a dramatic sketch for the community. The schedule of the Carmelite community was so intense that she had very little time at her disposal. When she finally found an hour or two to devote to the job, she applied herself in the following spirit: ‘I choose to be interrupted.’ If a good sister then came by to ask her for some little service, instead of coldly sending her away Thérèse made the effort to accept the interruption with good grace… in everything she could do her will, because her will was to accept everything.” (Jacques Phillipe, Interior Freedom)
We have here, in the life of a young nun, a shining example of what can be called “a ministry of availability”. What would it look like if I were to view interruptions as part of God’s will for my life each day, instead of obstacles to it? What would it mean to choose to let my will be thwarted, to choose to have my plans messed up, to choose to be interrupted?
This is a daily struggle for me. I’m not writing about it because I’ve figured out this area of handling interruptions with grace; I’m writing about it precisely because I haven’t, but I believe there’s grace in the struggle and power in sharing in case anyone else struggles too. The other day, I read something online that hit home. It said: “Every moment of every day, I either feel like I need to be getting more done or like I need to be spending more time with my children.” I often feel this inner turmoil when I try to accomplish a list of tasks and find that my children have other plans. Then, stuck between productivity and giving them my presence, I feel guilt and frustration. Or, if I do try to put my list away and focus only on the children, I find it impractical and frustrating when we run out of clean clothes or there’s no plan for dinner, or we’re late for the appointment because I didn’t prepare, and in the process of trying to free myself from my tasks I feel the very opposite of free, weighed down by undone tasks that have now piled up even more.
And this is just on the micro-level in my life as a stay-at-home mom with four kids. What about when our macro-level plans get interrupted? What about when your child is born with special needs you didn’t anticipate and you have to rethink your parenting game-plan? Or when you find yourself surprised by a pregnancy you weren’t planning on? Or your plans for a large family are met with infertility or loss? Or your dream of growing old with your spouse is interrupted by chronic disease? What then? If I struggle to find peace in interruptions on the micro-level, how can I hope for peace in the macro-level curve-balls of life?
When I begin the day with the mindset of “These are MY plans”, and then things don’t go according to plan, I feel like something has been taken from me. I resent the interruption, whether it’s an unforeseen circumstance, a child’s need, a friend’s request for help, or a task that takes me away from quality time with my child. I make myself into a victim of circumstances, a slave to my plans. And as I wrestle with this daily, I sense freedom from this tug-of-war only in my own choice of how to handle interruptions, specifically how to define them. I cannot control the circumstances themselves, only what I choose to call an “interruption”. Because if I, like Thérèse, can choose to be interrupted, then in some paradoxical way, there will be no interruptions. If I choose to be interrupted, then that becomes my plan: a ministry of radical availability and acceptance, and every disturbance is only another chance to live it out. I am no longer a victim of circumstances but freely participating in submitting my will to whatever God sends my way.
“Consider Jesus’ words: ‘No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.’ (John 10:18). Here is a paradox. His life was certainly taken from him: he was put in chains, condemned, led to Calvary, and crucified. But as the liturgy says, this was ‘a death he freely accepted’. In his heart was a deep acceptance of what his Father wanted. Jesus remained supremely free in his death, because he made it into an offering of love. By his free and loving consent, the life that was taken became a life given.” (Jacques Phillipe, Interior Freedom)
Could I, in seeking to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, make every interruption an offering of love? It is the offering of it that is key. Even though it might not look different outwardly, there is all the difference in the world inwardly between something that is taken and something that is freely given. My time that is taken is an interruption, but my time that is given is an offering of love. My plans thwarted are an interruption, my plans offered are a conscious sacrifice of love.
What’s exciting about this realization is that no matter where I find myself - in the workplace, at home with children, even living in a cloister, I’d have the freedom to see my time as given instead of taken, and so imitate Jesus in my acceptance of whatever comes. I am probably going to fail at this in about 3 minutes or less, the way things are going today, but hopefully I’ll dust myself off and try again and again until it sinks a little deeper into my soul with each attempt. Motherhood, that microcosm of the christian life, is nothing if not rich in opportunities to practice :)
By Amy Hughes
For more about Amy, see her bio on the “About Us” page