You know the sort of person who thrives on crisis? She’ll leap up from the dinner table when out with friends or family to take a phone call because something came up at work, and for whatever reason she is the only person on the planet who can deal with it. Around the water cooler in the morning she’ll lament the poor night’s sleep she got due to one of the many projects she’s involved with, or a late night phone call from someone who absolutely had to talk to her. It’s easy for people to get hooked on the thrill of being needed, and to court interruption as a way to break up the day and beef up their own self-importance.
I’m ashamed to admit that to an extent I could be describing myself. To have been in a situation like Jesus’ in the Gospel today would be a dream come true. Speaking to the crowds, already the center of attention, from a distance I spy someone dashing through the crowd: “Your mother and brothers want to speak to you!” Hear that, everyone? I’d think to myself. I’m needed. While I went to speak to my family I would only half listen to their concerns, instead imagining the wonder of the crowd at my sudden and mysterious absence. Best of all, I would get to melodramatically complain about it when I got back. What could be better than that?
Once again the Scripture reminds me that God’s ways are not always my ways. Jesus’ reaction to interruption is not to fly into a tizzy or to use the pause to keep the crowds wanting more. Instead he stays present, saying “my family is here”. My people are here. My work is here.
So the moral of the story is not to get interrupted, right? I wish it were so easy. When I look back over my life some of my most important moments can only be described as interruptions. When I decided to throw an application to Boston College into my ambitious Ivy League pile during my senior year of high school, I didn’t know a Jesuit from a hole in the ground, yet now the fact that I completed my undergraduate education here affects nearly everything I do from the moment I get up in the morning until I go to bed at night. Senior year of college I had big plans to go straight on to conservatory, but I came back to my mod one day to find a flyer for a Nativity School on my door. “I like urban education” I thought, and off I went to a life that I had never ever expected.
I was struck two weekends ago by the first reading from Amos, when Amaziah hollers at Amos that enough is enough, and that Amos should get the heck out of Israel and prophesy somewhere else. Amos replies that he wasn’t a professional prophet, that wasn’t his gig, he was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. In other words, “I didn’t ask for any of this, buddy. This is not what I had planned. God started talking, and that was that.” More often than not, God’s will is not the same as our plan.
I wish I could take credit for my many blessings by claiming some magical powers of knowing when to let God interrupt my life, but there are just as many times that I have let my life interrupt God’s work, and I struggle every day with knowing the difference between the two. All of us have so many responsibilities in our lives, and I spend a good portion of my prayer on the hope that my responsibilities will never come into conflict, that the tightrope I’m walking will stay taut and still.
I have often imagined God’s call like a tide, rocking me back and forth, pulling me slowly toward God as long as I’m calm enough not to struggle against it. But man, are there days when I splash away against the current, stupidly thinking that I won’t ultimately be overcome by the will of God. I am lucky that I have had experiences of things being just right, so that I can measure my gut reactions against those moments of blissful congruence with God’s will. There has been a lot of ink spilled on what discernment means, but for me the best description I can think of is going with my gut, and making a habit of being present and attentive to God’s working in the world so that I can recognize the action of God when it manifests.
Even on days when I am sick of trying to do the right thing, sick of playing by the rules, I can say along with the psalmist “Your words are spirit and life, O Lord,” because I know that I am most myself when the only interruptions I allow are from God. I have to trust that I have followed God’s words well, that like Jesus in the Gospel I am where I am supposed to be, doing the work that God wants me to do. Then I need to shut up and get out of the way.
On that note, I am going to shut up and get out of the way, with a prayer that both during our silent reflections and in the chaos of our lives we are so attuned to God’s call that it ceases to be an interruption or an anomaly and simply becomes who we are and how we live.