Today we are hosting a blog tour for the new book The Messy Quest for Meaning: Five Catholic Practices for Finding Your Vocation, by Stephen Martin. Stephen offers us a guest post about a topic that is near and dear to my own heart. Read on, he speaks with wisdom!
By Stephen Martin
The average person needs 17 minutes to get back on task after being interrupted by an e-mail, according to a magazine tidbit my wife found. What was I doing when she said this? I don’t remember. Indeed, the idea for this post first came to me a month ago – and it’s taken that long to write the first sentence.
With a busy job, two young kids and too much stuff going on in general, I’m obsessed with managing time and eliminating distractions. But I never succeed. Thus I’m perpetually frustrated. And you might be, too. There’s an important spiritual lesson here that I’ve only begun to grasp by writing this post. I’ll get to that in a minute. In the meantime, I’ve turned down 15 straight lunch invitations from my colleagues, ignored the last 10 calls from a pesky salesman and the vines overtaking my backyard are thick enough to conceal a small lion.
My boss, a retired admiral who holds up well under a barrage of nagging reminders from me, believes in embracing interruptions. If you’re not being interrupted, he says, you’re just stuck inside your own little world – and you’re not learning a whole heck of a lot there. A recent reading of the Gospel of Matthew convinced me he’s probably right.
Jesus has just descended from his Sermon on the Mount, more than a good day’s work in itself. But things are just getting started. Immediately he’s accosted by a leper who begs for healing. He barely sets foot in Capernaum before a centurion hunts him down on behalf of a dying servant. Having handled that crisis, Jesus walks into Peter’s house, presumably ready for well-deserved rest. Instead, Peter’s mother-in-law is gravely ill, requiring another miracle. Jesus’ reward: an evening spent cleansing the townsfolk of demons.
It cheers me, quite honestly, that even Jesus begins to show a little frustration. “The Son of man has nowhere to lay his head,” he says – and, indeed, he’s right. That very night, he’s finally asleep on a boat with his apostles. Then a storm rolls in, and, terrified, they jolt him awake. Before rising to calm the winds, he laments, “Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?” And who can blame him? In one sequence, he’s delivered arguably the most influential speech in the history of the world, cured a leper, delivered two people from death’s door and healed a village full of possessed people. Yet he still can’t buy a few hours of shut eye. Jesus’ public ministry, when it comes right down to it, is nothing but an unending series of interruptions.
Unlike me, however, Jesus thrives in these situations, a little testiness here and there notwithstanding. And he does it by letting opportunities come to him in the moment, instead of creating a rigid plan and hewing to it desperately. His encounter with the centurion, for example, serves as a source of inspiration for him. Jesus, the Gospel tells us, “marveled” at the centurion’s obedience and told everyone listening, “Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Shortly thereafter, Jesus is approached by a scribe who promises to follow him wherever he goes. Jesus basically tells him that he has no idea what he’s signing up for, that he will never find comfort in this world. In this case, an interruption offers a teachable moment about a hard truth. Jesus builds his entire three-year ministry on an unending string of such encounters, moving from town to town in seemingly haphazard fashion, teaching, preaching and healing through all the situations he encounters.
I’m trying to learn at least a little bit from the ceaseless flow of interruptions in my own life. It’s easier than trying to pummel them into submission. It’s also more fun. I’ve learned a lot, for example, from setting aside writing projects to help my kids with their homework. Did you that a blue whale’s heart weighs 1,500 pounds? That a camel enjoys eating thorns? That you’re now free to go back to whatever you were doing before this post distracted you?
Stephen Martin is a speechwriter and journalist who blogs at www.messyquest.com. His first book The Messy Quest for Meaning: Five Catholic Practices for Finding Your Vocation, was just released by Sorin Books.
Leave a comment and you might win a copy of this book, you don’t have to say much, just interrupt us and say something! And come back at 4pm, to read my review of this book.