I was in packing mode. Maybe you can relate. When I am in packing mode, my mind, like a well-oiled machine, inventories our worldly goods and ticks off each item that makes it into the “to-go” pile. I tend to get grumpy and irritable if interrupted—I just want to get up early, get packed, get going, and “have fun faster!” (I am the opposite of my laid-back husband, for whom the holiday starts when we get to sleep in and have a leisurely morning.)
Packing for camping is even more demanding: I have to remember things like bug spray, dish-washing stuff, kerosene for the lantern, rubbish (trash) bags, and that cool collapsible cup. As I was rushing around, occasionally muttering “charcoal!” “hiking boots!” or “camera!” under my breath, Paul the engineer was eying the growing pile of gear and assessing whether it would fit into the boot (trunk) of our dented red Peugeot.
In the midst of the activity, we heard a timid knock on the door. It was our neighbor, Shaniqua—a lady we don’t know well but occasionally smile and wave at. There she was, looking worried, with her cute one-year-old, Alfie, in a push-chair (stroller).
“I’m sorry to disturb you,” Shaniqua said, “but I’ve locked my keys in the house…” Her partner, with the other set of keys, was out of town for the day, and she was clearly upset and didn’t know where to go. So we invited her in, apologizing for the mess and clearing the sofa of camping stove and sleeping bags. Paul went out to see if he could break in to her house somehow, while she and I talked. Alfie, with his irresistible little afro, tottered the few steps back and forth between us, falling into our arms at the end of each journey.
Why did it take an “emergency” like this to make us actually talk with each other? I wished I had stopped to talk with Shaquila before, but I was glad she had come to us when she was in trouble. Thirty minutes later, Paul returned triumphant, having managed to reach into an open window, unscrew it from its fittings, climb inside, and open the front door! Engineers are so useful.
We got away on our camping trip later than we had planned. But we got to know Shaniqua a bit, and were able to help her and Alfie out of a tight spot. For once my mental lists and time-lines didn’t seem so important.
A friend in our small group was talking last week about how Moses might have viewed the burning bush as an “interruption”—but instead of responding with annoyance or apathy, he turned aside from his agenda and ended up meeting with the God Who Is. The interruption became an appointment. I believe we had an appointment with Shaquila and Alfie—maybe just to serve them, or maybe to start a friendship that will lead to other things… God knows.
Later, on our trip, another would-be interruption in the form of a Hungarian girl in the rain with nowhere to go became, maybe, another appointment—but that is another story of which only God knows the end.
C.S. Lewis sums it up well:
The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day; what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination. This at least is what I see at moments of insight: but it’s hard to remember it all the time.
(The Quotable Lewis. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1989. p. 335.)
I love Lewis’s honesty here—it is hard to remember to accept interruptions with a gracious attitude. But how we react in moments of unexpected stress reveals a lot about our hearts and shows what we prize most dearly. I am sorry to say that I very often treat interruptions, not as appointments, but as inconveniences. I prize my plan over other people and over God’s providence. Next time you get interrupted, will you cling to your schedule, or will you embrace God’s appointment for you?
I want to get better at seeing interruptions as appointments from God—as the “real,” full, and abundant life that he is sending me day by day. As long as I don’t forget the bug spray, I’ll be happy.